The Reds need a starting pitcher. The Padres are looking for a third baseman. The Indians would like to add outfielders. Could there be a match that would help all three clubs?
The Athletic reported on Monday that the Padres had explored a potential three-team trade between the clubs that would send ace starter Corey Kluber from Cleveland to Cincinnati, with Reds top prospect and infielder Nick Senzel going to San Diego. It was not reported who the Indians might acquire, although the team needs outfielders, which the Padres have to deal.
The report noted that no deal was close to being finalized.
Why the trade could work
The Reds, who have been trying to overhaul their rotation all offseason, already acquired starters Tanner Roark and Alex Wood in trades. Both are solid middle-of-the-rotation pieces, but Cincinnati could still use someone for the top of the starting five. Enter Kluber, the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner and the kind of frontline starter the Reds haven't had since dealing Johnny Cueto in 2015. The club, which has space with an increased payroll, has been linked to Kluber in various rumors throughout the Hot Stove season.
Kluber, 32, has one guaranteed year left on his contract, with club options for 2020 and '21. If both options are picked up, the total outlay for his services would be $52.5 million. It's a lot of money for a small-market club, but it's also not a risky long-term contract that would hamstring the Reds for the future.
Senzel, who is ranked as the Reds' No. 1 prospect (No. 6 overall) by MLB Pipeline, is a natural third baseman and can also play second base and the outfield. He is currently blocked from a starting spot in the infield by third baseman Eugenio Suarez and second baseman Scooter Gennett, but he will be competing for the opening in center field.
The Indians and Padres have had a good working relationship, with their last transaction coming in July when Cleveland acquired relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. The Tribe is looking for young outfielders who are cost-controlled and can make an impact in 2019 and beyond. Last month, the Indians were linked to San Diego outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, both of whom check the majority of the Indians' boxes.
Margot, 24, is under team control through 2022, while Renfroe, 26, wouldn't be a free agent until after the '23 season. Margot is a right-handed-hitting center fielder who slashed .245/.292/.384 with 26 doubles, eight triples, eight homers and 51 RBIs in 2018. Renfroe, a corner outfielder, could bring some much-needed power to the Indians' lineup after hitting .248 with 26 homers and 68 RBIs last season.
The Padres have a glut of outfielders, with William Myers, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski also on board. They can afford to lose one or both of Renfroe and Margot -- if it means acquiring a third baseman. Right now, unheralded rookie Ty France is slated to start for the Padres at third, though that's likely to change in the coming weeks.
The Indians could also take a look at the Reds, who have plenty of corner-outfield options. Recently acquired Matt Kemp is coming off an All-Star season, hitting .290 with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs. Although Kemp could give the Tribe another option in both the outfield and as a designated hitter, the Indians may prefer younger, cost-controlled talent. The 34-year-old is owed $21.75 million in 2019, though a portion of the Dodgers' $7 million that was sent to the Reds in last month's blockbuster deal will help pay that salary. But the team already has shed roughly $20 million from the payroll and also would be dealing away Kluber's $17 million, so it could be an option.
Why the trade might not work
Because of Senzel's near Major League-ready skills that include an advanced hitting approach, the Reds would likely be apprehensive about moving him. For the Padres, they will probably take a long look at his medical files as Senzel was limited to 44 games at Triple-A last season because of a bout with vertigo in May and a fractured right index finger in June that required season-ending surgery. During instructional league in the fall, he had to stop playing to have bone chips removed from his left elbow.
The Indians may decide they just don't need to deal Kluber, a rotation anchor for three straight postseason teams. The main reason his name came up in the first place was a perceived need to cut costs, and they've already done that this winter -- shedding about $20 million in dealing Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes. Because of this, the Tribe could simply keep its rotation intact. Cleveland has been listening to potential offers for both Kluber and Trevor Bauer throughout the offseason, but it has a specific return in mind that clearly has yet to be met. In order to part ways with its ace, the club would have to receive enough talent to meet the high bar it has set for Kluber.
A trade could still happen, but maybe not with the Reds. Another option for both the Padres and the Indians would be giving the Yankees a call to see where they stand on Miguel Andujar. With the Padres looking for a third baseman, the 23-year-old Andujar, who finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting, may be another option. The Yankees are still looking to deal Sonny Gray, and with Carsten Sabathia's recent heart procedure and ongoing troubles with his right knee, it would seem logical that New York would be interested in adding another arm, especially of Kluber's caliber. The Yankees also have outfielders Clint Frazier and Aaron Hicks or reliever Chad Green who could be of interest to the Indians.