As the Trade Deadline approached, one question continued to emerge: Would the Indians feel comfortable enough with their elite rotation to trade a starter like Mike Clevinger? Now we know the answer is yes.
Hours ahead of Monday’s Trade Deadline, the Indians made the blockbuster trade, shipping Clevinger to San Diego in exchange for six players from the Padres -- a mix of prospects and big league contributors.
Indians get: C Austin Hedges, 1B/OF Josh Naylor, RHP Cal Quantrill, SS Gabriel Arias (No. 7 Padres prospect), LHP Joey Cantillo (No. 9), IF Owen Miller (No. 11)
Padres get: RHP Mike Clevinger, OF Greg Allen, Player to be named
In order to add Hedges, Naylor and Quantrill to the 28-man roster, the Indians designated outfielder Domingo Santana for assignment.
The Tribe’s top priority was finding an impact outfield bat, which means Naylor will likely take over the left-field duties. The 23-year-old has split the 2020 season between the Padres and their alternate training site, hitting .278 with a .732 OPS, one homer, four RBIs and four strikeouts in 18 games. The team hopes Naylor will provide a spark to an outfield crew that entered Monday hitting just .186 with a .287 slugging percentage.
“We feel he has a chance to be a very good contributor offensively,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said of Naylor. “He has a track record of hitting in the Minors, puts the ball in play consistently, makes really hard contact. We think those are two good ingredients for him to have a successful career as a Major League hitter.”
Quantrill will also join the Indians’ big league roster. The 6-foot-3 reliever has worked 17 1/3 innings this season (including one start) and owns a 2.60 ERA with 18 strikeouts and six walks. The Tribe also sees the potential for Quantrill to be a successful starter.
And while Cleveland already has two backstops in Roberto Pérez and Sandy León, Hedges will be another option behind the plate for the big league squad. The 28-year-old finished second in the Majors behind Pérez last season with 21 defensive runs saved but has slashed .158/.258/.333 with three home runs in 2020.
Arias, Cantillo and Miller are expected to start at the Tribe’s alternate training site in Lake County. According to MLB Pipeline, the three were ranked as the Padres’ No. 7, 9 and 11 prospects, respectively. Arias slashed .302/.339/.470 in the Class A Advanced California League last season as a 19-year-old, while ranking third in the Cal League in RBIs (75). Cantillo posted a 2.26 ERA in 22 starts between Class A and Class A Advanced in 2019 with 4.24 strikeouts per walk. And in 130 games in Double-A last year, Miller hit .290 with 28 doubles, two triples and 13 homers.
“A handful of guys that we think can not only impact our team this year,” Antonetti said, “but add depth to our system and position us to be successful in the years to come.”
Parting ways with Clevinger
With their tremendous starting pitching depth, the Indians felt comfortable enough to deal their No. 2 starter in Clevinger, who was 1-1 with a 3.18 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings (four starts) with the Tribe this season. He made just one start after being optioned to the alternate training site due to violating team protocols along with Zach Plesac on Aug. 8 in Chicago. Clevinger was slated to get the ball on Tuesday in Kansas City, and Plesac will take his place.
Although there will always be speculation as to whether Clevinger’s mishap in Chicago gave the Indians more motivation to move him by the Trade Deadline, it’s more than likely the trade would’ve happened anyway. With the Tribe currently sharing a lead in the AL Central despite its lack of offense, the club needed to attempt to find a solution that would create some separation in the division and provide a boost in a potential postseason run.
While their starting pitching depth in Plesac, Triston McKenzie, Allen, Adam Plutko and Scott Moss, among others at Lake County, allows them to make this move without feeling like it’ll be detrimental to their roster, the Indians are still losing one of the best starters in the game. From 2017-19, Clevinger pitched to a 2.96 ERA with 513 strikeouts in 447 2/3 innings.
“We felt that we had some options that we could turn to in our rotation that allowed us to fortify other areas of our team,” Antonetti said. “That’s what positioned us to do that. Without the starting pitching depth we have, we wouldn’t have been in a position to make a trade like this.”
Clevinger has two more years of arbitration remaining before he hits free agency at the end of the 2022 season. He and the Indians agreed to a one-year, $4.1 million contract over the offseason, and that figure will only increase over the next two seasons.
“I think I’ve shared in the past, one of the things we do need to do is manage our finances in a thoughtful way,” Antonetti said. “We want to do that in a way where we can remain competitive.”
Well-known trading partners
The two clubs are quite familiar with each other, as the Tribe acquired Franmil Reyes and Logan Allen at last year’s Trade Deadline in a three-team deal that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds. That move came a year after the Indians acquired Brad Hand and Adam Cimber for backstop Francisco Mejia at the Deadline in 2018.
“I think it helps in that we have a good foundation,” Antonetti said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on their system and feel like we know their players and have some familiarity with them. … We have asked about all of these players in the past. Every one of them.
“I would comfortably say, at this point, we’ve had hundreds of iterations of deals with the Padres.”
For the Indians to receive this large of a return, the team’s only option was to deal Clevinger. The Tribe had also been listening to offers on Francisco Lindor, but with the All-Star shortstop set for free agency after next season, it seems less likely that teams would be willing to give up a little more at the Trade Deadline to only secure Lindor for an extra four weeks of the regular season, plus any postseason play.
Now, the Indians will wait to see if this package was the answer they had been searching for since the 2020 season got underway.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t had outstanding offensive numbers in a variety of areas,” Antonetti said. “When you look around the game, there were a lot more teams looking to acquire players than trade players. So acquiring established Major Leaguers, it was not easy to do at this Deadline. We did explore a number of other options both on the offensive side and the pitching side, but ultimately weren’t able to. This is the one that made sense for us, and we think it does help us both now and in the future.”