Four trades in 48 hours wasn’t enough for Padres general manager A.J. Preller. The Padres announced Monday the acquisition of right-hander Mike Clevinger, outfielder Greg Allen and a player to be named later from the Indians in exchange for a six-player package of outfielder/first baseman Josh Naylor, catcher Austin Hedges, right-hander Cal Quantrill, minor league shortstop Gabriel Arias, minor league left-hands Joey Cantillo and minor league infielder Owen Miller.
When Summer Camp was booting back up, a trade sending Clevinger out of Cleveland at a time when the Indians sat atop the AL Central standings would’ve seemed far-fetched. The club had already dealt away Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber in the past 12 months, setting Clevinger up as a front-of-the-rotation workhorse.
Much has changed since that time, however. Clevinger drew ire from organizational higher-ups not only for breaking Covid-19 protocols but then taking a flight with the team rather than being forthcoming about his actions. That led to Clevinger being optioned to team’s alternate training site alongside Zach Plesac, who also violated protocols but was found to have done so before traveling with the club. Reports after the pair was optioned indicated that some teammates were so furious with the pair that they threatened to opt out of the season if Clevinger and Plesac were permitted to rejoin the club right away.
All the while, the Indians were receiving better-than-expected performances from other arms. Shane Bieber had already established himself as an above-average starter, but he’s ascended to bona fide Cy Young and MVP-caliber performance in the first month of play. Righty Aaron Civale has become the latest Cleveland pitching prospect to rise from obscurity to what looks like a high-end arm (3.72 ERA, 3.07 FIP in 46 innings). Carlos Carrasco is rounding back into form after last year’s frightening battle with leukemia. Triston McKenzie punched out 10 hitters in an electric MLB debut. And the aforementioned Plesac turned heads himself prior to being optioned (1.29 ERA, 24-to-2 K/BB ratio in 21 innings).
That hardly makes Clevinger expendable, but the Indians do seemingly have the depth to field a strong rotation even when subtracting one of the most talented pieces. And while Clevinger may have fallen out of favor a bit with the organization and/or teammates, there’s little denying that he is indeed among the game’s more talented arms. Dating back to 2017, the 29-year-old has compiled a 2.97 ERA and 3.43 FIP with averages of 10.2 strikeouts, 3.4 walks and 0.94 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched.
Beyond Clevinger’s high-end performance on the mound, his remaining club control only added to his allure among other clubs. He’s earning $4.1MM in 2020 — which prorates to about $1.48MM (with $617K yet to be paid) — and is controlled for an additional two seasons beyond the current campaign. For the Padres, that means that their rotation over the next two-plus seasons will feature a blend of Clevinger, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino and Zach Davies (though Davies is controlled only through 2021). It’s an enviable stockpile of arms — one that doesn’t even acknowledge the likes of Joey Lucchesi, Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon. Of course, some from that trio could yet be shipped out in trades to address other areas of need.
While Clevinger is the clear headliner of this deal — and perhaps of the entire 2020 trade deadline — he’s not the only piece going to San Diego. The Friars will also pick up four-plus years of control over the 27-year-old Allen. He’s out to a rough start in 2020 and has yet to really hit much in parts of four big league seasons, but Allen is a switch-hitting speedster with an above-average glove and experience at all three outfield spots.
He’s unlikely to push for a starting job, but Allen is a nice bench piece who can provide a late-inning jolt on the basepaths, a defensive upgrade or a more advantageous platoon matchup. He’ll need to improve upon a tepid .239/.295/.344 career slash if he’s to stick with the club into his arbitration years, but he won’t be arb-eligible until after the 2021 season, so he can be a solid reserve option next year at just north of the league minimum.
If Waldron is indeed the third piece headed to San Diego in the deal, he’s more of a long-term play than anything else. The 23-year-old was the Indians’ 18th-round pick in 2019 and posted a strong 2.96 ERA with a 57-to-4 K/BB ratio in 45 2/3 innings last year in his lone pro season. However, he did so as a college arm pitching at Rookie ball and Short-Season Class-A, where he was comfortably older than the majority of his competition. It’ll be much more telling to see how he performs against more advanced competition in 2021, but the early results are still of some note. Waldron wasn’t in the Indians’ pool, hence his inclusion as a PTBNL.
Turning to the Indians, they’ll get a high-volume return — but one that does not contain any of the Padres’ top-ranked prospects. It always seemed likely that for the Indians to move Clevinger, they’d need to acquire MLB-ready talent that can step right onto the roster. They’ll receive just that in Naylor, Hedges and Quantrill at the very least, and Miller probably isn’t too far behind.
The 23-year-old Naylor was the No. 12 overall pick by the Marlins back in 2015 and was already traded once in the deal that sent Andrew Cashner from San Diego to Miami. He’s yet to cement himself as a big league regular but has fared quite well in the upper minors. The Padres haven’t exactly given Naylor an extended audition, but he’ll now presumably receive that in Cleveland. To this point in his career, Naylor is a .253/.315/.405 hitter in 317 MLB plate appearances. That’s not eye-catching production, but scouting reports have in the past credited him with plus-plus raw power and a potentially above-average hit tool. He hit .314/.389/.547 in Triple-A last year and .297/.383/.444 in a pitcher-friendly Double-A setting a year prior.
Naylor’s long-term home on defense could be either left field or first base, but with Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes currently occupying first and the DH slot, respectively, Naylor seems likely ticketed for left field. In some ways, this is reminiscent of Cleveland’s bet on first baseman/outfielder Jake Bauers, but the club will hope for better results out of Naylor than they’ve received from Bauers so far. There’s certainly everyday upside present with Naylor, who can be controlled all the way through 2025, but it does seem a bit surprising that Cleveland brass didn’t focus on a more established young hitter.
Also going to Cleveland is Hedges, a 28-year-old defensive standout who has never provided much offense in the big leagues. The former top prospect has shown a bit of pop — career-high 18 homers in 2018 — but in total owns just a .199/.257/.359 slash through 1339 trips to the plate with San Diego. He’s obviously not a clear upgrade over Roberto Perez, but the Indians now possess two of the game’s very best defenders behind the dish.
Hedges, in fact, is widely regarded as MLB’s premier defensive catcher. Hedges was MLB’s best pitch framer in 2019, per Statcast, and has graded out at elite levels in that regard in each season of his career. He’s also thwarted 32 percent of stolen-base attempts against him while consistently drawing above-average marks for his pitch blocking abilities at Baseball Prospectus. Hedges is controlled through the 2022 season.
Quantrill, 25, brings another former first-round pick (eighth in 2016) and top prospect to the Indians organization. He’s shined in 17 1/3 frames as a multi-inning reliever in 2020 (five runs, 18-to-6 K/BB ratio), but he also struggled in a rotation role a year ago.
Quantrill has a low-spinning sinker (which is good for a sinker, as opposed to a four-seamer, where high spin is preferred) and has generally limited hard contact well, per Statcast. He may not have found his groove yet in the big leagues, but the Indians develop more quality arms than the vast majority of teams in the league. Getting their hands on a former top pick who was once a rather well-regarded prospect could yet yield some strong results, and Quantrill, like Naylor, is controllable through 2025.
Among the pure prospects headed to the Indians in this deal, Cantillo and Arias are regarded a bit more highly than Miller, though all three rank firmly in the middle ranks of an absolutely stacked farm system. Cantillo, 20, was a 16th-round pick in 2017 who has elevated his stock with a strong showing to this point in his pro career. He split last season between Class-A and Class-A Advanced, working to a combined 2.26 ERA with 11.6 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen writes that he’s currently tracking as a back-end starter but has a projectable frame that could allow for further growth and add some extra life to his pitches.
Arias, also 20, is regarded as an elite defender at short with some questions about his abilities at the plate. Baseball America ranked him ninth in the deep Padres system, praising his surprising raw power but noting that his current inability to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone leads to untenable strikeout numbers. Arias is young, though, and he hit .302/.339/.470 in Class-A Advanced last year, so the tools are clearly there. Depending on how the bat progresses, he has everyday upside at shortstop.
Miller, 23, plays second base, shortstop and third base, and he turned in a solid .290/.355/.430 showing in a very tough Double-A setting last year. Miller has hit at every minor league stop and struck out at just a 15.4 percent rate in Double-A last season. MLB.com tabs him as a potential regular at second base, citing an arm that doesn’t quite play as a regular shortstop, or a utility man who can play three infield spots with a quality bat. He’s yet to make his big league debut, but Miller is the closest of the three minor leaguers in this deal.
We might not see a more franchise-altering deal than this at the 2020 deadline. For the Indians, it’s the type of trade fans are used to, painful as it might be. They’ll shed a player whose arbitration salary is on the rise and replace him with a bevy of young talent — a luxury that was possible due to the team’s superlative record in terms of developing starting pitching. They’re still in the driver’s seat as far as a potential postseason berth goes, but the club is quite likely weaker for the balance of the 2020 campaign. The long-term benefits should help the club sustain its long run of contending seasons in the AL Central, but that’ll be more of a challenge in and of itself as each of the White Sox, Tigers and Royals near the end of arduous rebuilding efforts.
The addition of Clevinger to an already formidable Padres rotation mix only further solidifies them as a win-now club for the foreseeable future, and they’re now a clear-cut postseason favorite in the NL. And unlike the last time the Padres went on an aggressive win-now tear, the Padres have the young foundation necessary — fronted by superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. — to support their recent wave of high-profile veteran acquisitions. They’ve completed a dizzying five trades since the weekend began — including a seven-player swap with Seattle last night — to remake an already strong club. The “Rock Star” GM is back, it seems, and the Padres certainly appear to be positioned better than they have been at any time in Preller’s tenure.
Ryan Spaeder reported last night that a deal sending Clevinger to Padres was in the works, though as of last evening he’d heard of some potential holdups in the deal. Robert Murray first reported that the deal was done (via Twitter). MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, ESPN’s Jeff Passan, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller all broke varying elements of the other players involved in the deal (all links to Twitter).