There’s been plenty of trade speculation since right-handers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac were optioned in the wake of their health-and-safety protocol violations, and while it’s still doesn’t seem as though the club is motivated to trade either player, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes that Cleveland is “at least open to listening to offers” on Clevinger.
That’s a sentence that should be met with plenty of disclaimers, of course. Few players in MLB are ever truly “off limits” in today’s game. Front offices will typically listen to just about any offers. If anything, it’s more rare to hear that a player is completely untouchable than to hear that a team will listen. And ESPN’s Jeff Passan underscores that while it’s possible that a team will put together an offer too good for Cleveland to pass up, the team is also by no means shopping him. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal cites execs with other clubs in reporting that the team is “more open” to moving Clevinger than Plesac, which is no surprise given Plesac’s larger slate of club control (five years versus two) and Clevinger’s climbing arbitration salary.
The roadblocks to a Clevinger trade are plentiful. First and foremost is the simple fact that Cleveland is a better team with him in its rotation, and at 17-11, the Indians are a clear postseason favorite. Beyond that, Clevinger’s stock is at a low point. In addition to the recent demotion, the righty also walked 10 batters in 16 2/3 frames in his three starts this season. Most would bet on a pitcher with his track record righting the ship and bouncing back, but the most recent impression he’s made wasn’t necessarily a strong one.
The Indians likely wouldn’t weaken their current depth and sell low on a highly coveted asset simply to make a disciplinary statement; they’d need some big league help in return — perhaps in the outfield — and need to feel that they’re receiving long-term value as well … all without taking on too much salary. As a reminder, Cleveland spent much of the offseason working to curb its payroll, dropping from a $119MM Opening Day in 2019 to a $97MM mark in 2020 (prior to prorating for the shortened season). A club already working to trim its bottom line can’t be expected to add expensive pieces in the wake of substantial revenue loss.
All that said, it’s also not unthinkable that a deal might come together. The emergence of Plesac and Aaron Civale gives Cleveland what looks to be yet another pair of useful arms to add to a perennially deep supply. Triston McKenzie’s impressive debut over the weekend can only have made them more bullish on their depth. As we’ve noted here recently (and as highlighted by both Passan and Rosenthal), the Indians’ outfield has been a disaster. If they can line up on a deal that nets a big league outfielder with comparable (or greater) team control along with some legitimate prospect talent, that could at least speculatively be a framework.
There’s some uncertainty regarding Clevinger’s service time at he moment, as the Indians could technically push his path to free agency back a season should he spend 20 days or more at the alternate site on his current optional assignment. That scenario, though, would require keeping Clevinger on option beyond the Aug. 31 trade deadline — he was optioned on Aug. 14 — and his representatives could well take umbrage and explore a grievance. Clevinger’s track record is excellent, with a 2.97 ERA, 10.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 over 464 1/3 innings dating back to 2017. As it stands, he’s controllable through the 2022 season with a pair of arb raises still in the offing.
There’s no indication that Clevinger and/or Plesac are being dangled to other clubs, but given their recent demotions, it’s to be expected that other clubs will try to pry them away. Virtually every contender is in need of pitching help with injuries up throughout the league, and the idea of acquiring a player with multiple years of control remaining is far more appealing than giving up young talent simply to acquire a month’s worth of regular-season innings, which is all any club is guaranteed with a rental arm in 2020.