The Guardians are open to offers on All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase and willing to trade him for the right offer, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports. Even if the club is merely performing its due diligence, it’s a fairly surprising development, given the overwhelmingly club-friendly contract to which the 25-year-old (26 in March) righty is signed.
Early in the 2022 season, Cleveland inked Clase to a five-year, $20MM contract extension that included affordable $10MM club options for the 2027-28 seasons (each with a $2MM buyout). He’s entering the third season of that deal, slated to earn $2.5MM this coming season, $4.5MM the following year and $6MM in 2026.
It’s worth pointing out that Clase is well on his way to boosting the value of both those club options. The contract allows him to increase the value of each by another $3MM based on appearances, innings pitched and awards in the first five years of the deal. Clase has already secured a $500K bump for both options by winning the Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year Award in 2022. He’ll earn $500K bumps on both options for reaching 200 innings or games pitched (he’s at 145 innings and 152 games presently) and see another $500K tacked onto each option upon reaching 250 innings or games pitched. If he reaches 300 innings or games pitched over the life of the deal, he’ll boost the value of each option by another $1MM. In all, the options can top out at a still-very-reasonable $13MM apiece, and Clase would take home another $1MM assignment bonus if traded.
Even if Clase maxes out all of those remaining escalators, he can be controlled for up to five more seasons at a maximum of $40MM. That’s a bargain rate for a flamethrowing righty who has been one of the top relievers in the American League throughout much of his tenure in Cleveland.
That said, there are some red flags that merit mention. Clase hasn’t lost much life on his signature cutter, which still averaged better than 99 mph in 2023, but he posted a career-low 21.2% swinging-strike rate and saw his walk rate (5.3%), ground-ball rate (55%), swinging-strike rate (13.3%), opponents’ chase rate (35.1%), average exit velocity (88.4 mph) and hard-hit rate (37.6%) all trend in the wrong direction over his 2022 levels. Granted, most of those numbers are still excellent, but Clase’s 3.22 ERA doesn’t look nearly as dominant as the combined 1.33 he posted in 2021-22 — and he blew more saves (12) in 2023 than he did in his entire career prior to this season (9).
While it’s never good to see any pitcher begin to trend in the wrong direction, the 2023 version of Clase was still excellent — and the price tag on his contract is still well shy of what he’d earn if he were on the open market at present. Bullpen help is always in demand, but trading a reliever of this caliber with five years of affordable contractual control remaining is virtually unprecedented.
The Phillies traded five years of Ken Giles to the Astros back in 2015, though Giles was a pre-arbitration player with 115 career innings under his belt to that point; Clase is more established. The Mariners traded four years of Edwin Diaz to the Mets but did so largely as a means of shedding the remainder of Robinson Cano’s contract. Both trade packages netted former top-six overall draft picks (Mark Appel, Jarred Kelenic) in addition, plus at least one other top prospect/young big leaguer of note (Vince Velasquez, Justin Dunn) and other near-MLB pitchers. None of those names from those trade returns have gone onto MLB stardom, but at the time of those swaps they were highly touted young talents. Clase could arguably command an even larger haul, potentially netting the Guardians multiple top-100 prospects and/or young MLB-ready players.
It should of course be emphasized that Clase is far from a sure thing to move. Because of the massive amount of remaining control on his contract and his eminently affordable salary — even for a low-payroll club like the Guardians — the Cleveland front office might simply opt to hold onto him. The Guards project for a $94MM payroll in 2024, per Roster Resource, which is only a $5MM jump from last year’s Opening Day mark and about $40MM shy of their franchise-record mark of $134MM.
There’s no financial urgency to deal Clase, especially since that $94MM mark figures to drop if Cleveland ultimately moves Shane Bieber — a far likelier trade candidate given his projected $12.2MM salary (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) and his status as a free agent at the end of the 2024 campaign. Cleveland has previously traded Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger all before those players reached the open market, and if they continue that pattern, Bieber will be on the move between now and Opening Day. The Cubs and Reds are among the teams with interest, although the 2020 AL Cy Young winner has surely commanded a broader array of inquiries than just those two teams.