The Indians have won five straight games. If the postseason began today, they would host the American League Wild Card Game at Progressive Field. On Thursday night, Trevor Bauer struck out 10 batters as Cleveland completed a four-game sweep of Detroit.
The Indians can’t trade Bauer now.
The club remains open to discussing Bauer with other teams, but Cleveland’s recent hot streak adds an important qualifier: Out of respect to the players who have pushed the Indians to the precipice of a fourth straight playoff appearance, the Tribe must receive immediate Major League talent -- likely an impact hitter -- in order to move Bauer.
One source said late Thursday that the Padres have emerged as the most serious suitor for Bauer, with less than two weeks before the July 31 Trade Deadline. San Diego is interested in acquiring Bauer as the veteran anchor to its rotation -- he’s under control for 2020, as well -- and could move one of three young position players to Cleveland: Franmil Reyes, Hunter Renfroe or Luis Urías.
A large part of the Indians’ motivation in trading Bauer pertains to their 2020 payroll. Bauer is due to receive a sizable raise in salary arbitration next year, and Cleveland holds a $17.5 million club option on longtime ace Corey Kluber. If both right-handers return, the Indians would need to allocate roughly $45 million to three pitchers: Bauer, Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. That projects to roughly one-third of the club's 2019 Opening Day payroll figure of around $120 million -- creating a significant imbalance, particularly in light of arbitration raises for shortstop Francisco Lindor and right-hander Mike Clevinger.
The Padres have favorable leverage in talks with the Indians -- at least for now -- as there are more starting pitchers available on the trade market for San Diego to pursue than aggressive suitors for Bauer.
The Dodgers, Yankees, Braves, Rays and Reds had scouts in attendance for Bauer’s start on Thursday night, according to Jason Beck of MLB.com, but it wasn’t immediately clear if they were there to evaluate Bauer -- or Detroit counterpart Matthew Boyd.
The Dodgers have interest in acquiring Tigers closer Shane Greene, sources say, although one scout observed that Greene throws his fastball at a similar eye level to current Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly. Thus, Los Angeles may not want to have Kelly and Greene pitch back-to-back innings -- possibly nudging the Dodgers toward targeting a left-hander such as Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vázquez or San Francisco’s Will Smith.
Tigers dealing within division?
The Twins have checked with the Tigers on Boyd and Greene, sources said on Thursday, although there’s been no substantial progress toward a deal.
Detroit likely would insist on an overwhelming offer from Minnesota -- for Boyd, in particular -- in order to consider moving either pitcher within the AL Central.
Minnesota is working to add both a starter and reliever before the Trade Deadline, although not necessarily in the same trade.
GCL relevance in the Majors
Whitley has thrown fewer than 80 innings since the start of last season, due to suspension and injury. He’s currently on the Triple-A injured list with shoulder fatigue, pitching with the GCL Astros on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment.
Rival clubs interested in acquiring Whitley are sure to monitor his performance on Friday -- especially his control. Whitley has issued 18 walks in 26 innings this season overall. If he can’t show improved location, it’s difficult to envision him carrying significant value in a trade.
The Astros are looking for a starting pitcher on the trade market, but they may have difficulty assembling the best offer in a competitive negotiation, since Whitley’s value has dropped while fellow pitching prospect Corbin Martin will miss more than one year with Tommy John surgery.