The Indians made a statement over the weekend when they optioned right-handers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac to their alternate training site in the wake of the pair’s violation of MLB’s Covid-19 protocols.
Buster Olney and Jeff Passan of ESPN shed further light on the details leading up to the decision to option the two right-handers. Olney reports that multiple teammates considered opting out of the season if Clevinger and Plesac immediately rejoined the club. Passan further reports that veteran lefty Oliver Perez was one of those players, and he adds that Francisco Lindor “was outspoken as well” (though there’s no indication Lindor threatened an opt-out). Plesac took to Instagram last week to lament that the media had overstated his violation of the league’s protocols, but his six-minute rant only further angered teammates, according to both Olney and Passan.
Right-hander Adam Plutko was candid when addressing reporters on the issue last week. That was before Plesac’s video, wherein he stated, “I know how important it is that we must follow these certain procedures,” despite having violated those procedures just 96 hours prior. Asked if he’d seen the video, Indians skipper Terry Francona said that he had and plainly told reporters that he “was disappointed” (Twitter link via Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon-Journal). Plesac has since deleted the video from his Instagram.
Beyond the immediate competitive aspects of the move to option both players, there are also some potentially major service time implications. Passan points out that Clevinger, if he spends 20 or more days at the alternate site, would have his eligibility for free agency pushed back by a year. Because service time is prorated in 2020, each day of the schedule is akin to 2.77 days of big league service time. Clevinger needs to spend at least 48 days of this 67-day season in the Majors to cross into the next service class. That had been considered a given prior to the season but is now a scenario very much worth monitoring. Plesac will graduate to the next service class regardless, but he may no longer be on pace for Super Two status, as he previously was.
The Indians, of course, have a noted high-risk player in Carlos Carrasco, who missed much of the 2019 season following a leukemia diagnosis. Carrasco stunningly was able to return to the mound in September, earning American League Comeback Player of the Year honors in the process. Even looking past any health risks in the locker room, though, both the Marlins and Cardinals have had their schedules blown up by Covid-19 outbreaks within their clubhouses. Violation of the league’s health-and-safety protocols comes with the risk of creating a third such situation. Given that the rest of the team — and the overwhelming majority of big leaguers in general — appear to be following those protocols and remaining at the team hotel when on the road, it’s understandable that teammates were outspoken in their disapproval.
The manner in which the club handles the situation moving forward remains to be seen. Optional assignment rules dictate that both Clevinger and Plesac will need to spend 10 days at the alternate training site unless either is recalled as a replacement for a player who is being placed on the injured list. There will surely be trade speculation leading up to this year’s Aug. 31 deadline, although there’s no indication yet that the organization would take such a drastic action.
For now, the Indians can carry on with a still-strong rotation of Shane Bieber, Carrasco, Aaron Civale and Plutko. Lefty Logan Allen, already on the big league roster, is one option to make a start if needed. Right-hander Jefry Rodriguez, who made eight starts for Cleveland in 2019, is another option down at the team’s alternate site.