“The Cleveland Indians pulled off the biggest trade of the 2018-2019 offseason.” Admit it, these are the words that you are waiting for. Whether you open up your laptop or newspaper every morning hoping to see Corey Kluber moving on to another team, or if you flinch, a sizable amount of Tribe fans are not-so-patiently waiting to see what Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff have up their sleeve to fill the roster after their free agent and trade losses so far.
Questions abound. Do the Indians have enough money to actually make a substantive move or three, or is the salary that they’ve cut represent the “new” reality for the club’s finances, which look like the “old” reality for the club’s finances? Will the Indians be aggressive in trade talks going forward with regards to Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, as a potential way to shift some of the talent away from their starting pitcher depth, and into the outfield? Will the Indians spend money on their bullpen if they don’t, or was their Brad Hand trade at the deadline in 2018 their only big bullpen move going forward? And my personal favorite, what in the hell are the Indians going to do with that outfield?
Seriously. These are the guys listed as the active outfield roster heading into 2019:
I’ll add Daniel Johnson there as well, who came over to the Indians in the Yan Gomes deal.
Jake Bauers is listed as an infielder, but it would be an absolute silly trade if they moved Yandy Diaz to the Tampa Bay Rays for a first baseman, or a DH, when the kid can play a corner outfield spot. It’s equally idiotic to mention Bauers as an infielder, when the club is also leaking that they plan on putting Carlos Santana out in the outfield here and there.
I love Carlos Santana. I love that Carlos Santana is back. I love that there were massive groans by a whole host of Cleveland fans that don’t quite understand Santana’s impact here in Cleveland over his entire tenure. But Carlos Santana shouldn’t start playing in the outfield, even though he no doubt would be willing to do whatever was asked of him, as he has been over the course of his career with the Indians.
Now I like a lot of these outfield players. Those that follow my writing here at WFNY will note that Greg Allen is one of my favorite players. I’ve noted that fact once or twice. I also think that Oscar Mercado has a ton more upside than most, as I noted when they picked up Mercado as a last minute trade in July. I’m a big fan of Leonys Martin, but he’s coming off a well documented life-threatening situation. Bradley Zimmer is still a player worth watching going forward, but his injury and bat woes aren’t going away over night. Everyone that I talk to like Jordan Luplow as a platoon player, or even something more.
While all of these players are interesting to me, I only want one of these guys as a full-time option out there, or at best, a combination of two that fit into a platoon situation. If the Indians walk into the season with this group as your full time outfield, like them or not, it’s not championship caliber. And listening to a season worth of “Jim, the Indians are the best team in the Central, what are you worried about” makes me want to stomp a mud hole.
The Indians are at a very interesting crossroads right now, trying to balance one of the greatest starting rotations in club history, continuing their chances in the next three seasons to win a championship, while figuring out a way not to see the bottom fall out, as they did in Kansas City and Detroit.
The biggest question here may simply be, can the Indians sustain playoff caliber baseball and take shots at the World Series when they see fit, while not falling into the “sorta contender every year, but not really.” The fact that the sorta irrelevancy of that last statement is a positive to many because of “playoff volatility” is sort of shocking. Using 2016 as a case in point of that volatility is annoying. I’ll just point to the last 70 years of non-World Series-winning seasons as my counter point. Volatility means nothing to me when your favorite team is always on the losing end.
But this “thread the needle” mentality is something that Antonetti and Chernoff are trying to figure out, and right now, we’re going through the growing pains of that.
Which brings me back to Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber.
I can’t define why WFNY readers love the game of baseball. I think it’s the one true sport that satisfies so many different brain functions, that it’s nearly impossible to define in one phrase or another. For me, it’s always been this blend of fantastic stories and a “day in the life” of a long season and sitting down with every number that I could get my hands on and sitting at a bar and talking about the greats and debating just about every move that was made in every game I’ve ever played and meeting friends at a ballpark to watch and talk and drink a beer or two while we’re at it.
Baseball is an all encompassing game, which makes this trade…or non-trade…so hard to stomach. This offseason is a total misery, because at the end of it, we’ll either lose one of the best pitchers in baseball, or we won’t, and somehow, neither one seems all that particularly satisfying. This is a move (or non-move) that is going to make one part of my baseball fandom really happy, while the other is ready to jump off a cliff.
And good lord, I’m going to feel this way on either side of it.
Corey Kluber is the pitcher that ends his career with the Indians, and is a guy you talk about building a statue for down the line, and who could potentially end up in the Hall of Fame as an All-Time Indians’ player. Corey Kluber
Kluber is also 32, has seen a decline in velocity, and struggled down the stretch last year, and in the playoffs the last two years, but he is still one of the most desirable targets in all of baseball for a top contender looking to find another ace. He’ll bring back a bevy of all star-potential talent.
There are so many gray areas in sports, where both sides of the debate are easily accepted. Rare is that gray area in sports where both sides of the coin are accepted, and rejected, with equal vehemence. This is one of those for me. The Indians need to do this, and better not. Corey Kluber isn’t Roger Clemens, who pledged his allegiance to Boston for 13 years, then kicked them to the curb the second he had a chance, for not one, but two different American League East competitors. Kluber, instead, signed a long-term deal with the Indians that was team friendly, to a fault. But that’s exactly why trading him makes sense. The deal is enticing to just about any team, and the statistics are just too good, regardless of the trends.
The whole thing makes me want to puke. One thing about THIS Cleveland Indians fan that will always be true is how big of a sucker I am to watch this team play, and root for them no matter what. I don’t care if they’re good, or bad, or somewhere in between. I don’t care if they overspend, or don’t spend, or find that happy medium. I don’t care if they let their best and their brightest leave via free agency, or trade them for players I hate.1 In sports, there isn’t anything greater. I loved having LeBron James in a Cavaliers’ jersey. Seeing Baker Mayfield take the NFL by story has been a joy. But neither will match how I feel about Kluber and Carrasco and Lindor and JRam. Perhaps it’s because their 162 game schedule makes them a part of my daily life, and not in a contrived, “shock jock” radio sorta way either.
They’re there…every day, good and bad, no matter what.
As an Indians’ fan, I grew up watching really bad baseball teams. I had to find the quirky to find the great players. There were greats in there too, but we all knew that the “great” Indians of the 1970s and 1980s were just shopping their wares to better teams. Buddy Bell wasn’t sticking around, nor was Joe Carter. Sooner or later, they were getting traded to another team, and likely for chump change.
The hope of growing up with a great player, following an entire career, and seeing that player end his career as an Indians’ player was few and far between.
Then came the 1990s and 2000s, with players so great, that MVP became part of the equation. The irony there was that they became so good, the Indians couldn’t afford them anymore. The best we could hope for was a late-career return, like we did with Lofton. So many left for “money-greener” pastures, like Belle, Ramirez, Lofton and Thome, and others left via trade right before greener pastures, like Sabathia, Martinez, and Lee.
And as good as Sabathia and Lee were in winning Cy Youngs, Corey Kluber won two. He won two Cy Youngs, and nobody thought he could do it.
On July 30, 2014, it all came clear, as Kluber faced off against Felix Hernandez. Hernandez had already been anointed the “greatest pitcher of 2014” by most, but Kluber was hanging around. Hernandez came into the game leading everyone’s list as the Cy Young winner, and was working on a stretch of 13 starts with at least seven innings pitched, while giving up two runs or less. That tied him with Tom Seaver as the pitcher with the most in the modern era. One more game of 7+ and 2- would break the record…
…and against the Indians, he did it. He broke the record. He went seven innings, and gave up two runs.
Only Kluber was better…a lot better.
On the night, Seattle would stack the deck against Kluber, and Kluber would meet the challenge. He only faced one more than the minimum, 28 batters, and 25 of those at bats were against lefties. He struck out eight, walked none, and gave up three singles…and only made 85 pitches…
…and it was the same day they traded Justin Masterson…their former ace.
It was Kluber’s team, and it was Kluber’s first official volley into the Cy Young race of 2014. While Hernandez was the clear favorite before the game, Kluber emerged as a dark horse candidate, and carried that momentum through the end of the season, winning the award out of nowhere.
But that start from the 27-year old was everything. It was dominant, and nonchalant. It was ice cold. It was Kluber.
Kluber became our pitcher…my pitcher that night. At 27, I saw Kluber as a potential “retire as an Indians’ guy.” I was going to get to follow Kluber from virtually day one, all the way until the conclusion of his career. When he signed with the Indians for five years and $38.5 million in 2015, with two club options, I knew he was going to retire with the Indians.
As dumb as I can be regarding matters of the heart, I never in a million years thought Kluber would end up as a trade candidate, and the thought of watching him wear Dodgers’ blue, or worse, across the state in Cincinnati makes me insane…
…but it also makes me hopeful…because the Indians can get better, by trading away the best.
Baseball is so damn confounding.
WFNY’s EHC podcast returns to discuss the possibilities of trading Corey Kluber once again. With reports that the Indians are likely going to keep all of their starters, it’s still difficult to believe that the Indians aren’t going to try and do something big to improve their team. Will they use Corey Kluber to reallocate their assets, and acquire position player help?
Gage Will, Jim Pete, and Mike Hattery take to the airwaves one more time discussing the possibilities of an Indians deal happening sooner, rather than later.