5 potential trade scenarios for Bauer, Kluber

December 6th, 2018

With off the free-agent board and the Winter Meetings fast approaching, the Hot Stove starting pitching market is beginning to solidify. That means all this talk about the Indians possibly moving a starter could be coming to a head in the coming days.
Here's what we know right now: The Indians have signed to an extension that keeps the man they call "Cookie" in Cleveland through at least 2022 and yanks him off the trade table. There also does appear to be merit to what USA Today's Bob Nightengale heard recently -- that the Indians appear more likely to deal than . Actually, some rival execs are still skeptical that the Tribe actually trades either pitcher, though last week's trade is affirmation of the idea that the Indians' payroll complexities are, indeed, influencing their actions.

Bauer, who finished sixth in the American League Cy Young Award voting in 2018 and would have finished higher if not for a comebacker that fractured his leg, has two years of arbitration control remaining before hitting the free-agent market. MLB Trade Rumors estimates he'll make $11.6 million in '19, and his '20 salary is totally up in the air.
Kluber comes with more cost certainty ($17 million in 2019, with team options for $17.5 million in '20 and $18 million in '21), an extra year of control and two Cy Young Awards under his belt (with a third-place finish this year). But he's also five years older than Bauer.

Just for fun, let's take a look at five trade scenarios involving Kluber and Bauer to get a sense of what a return might realistically look like.
Proposal #1
Braves get
: Kluber
Indians get: RHP , RHP Touki Toussaint, OF Cristian Pache
Atlanta appears to have more interest in Kluber than Bauer and is believed to be uncomfortable with this type of package for Kluber… which can only mean it's something close to the correct package! Kluber is exactly the kind of rotation-altering force the Braves could use to maintain their position atop a National League East race that grows more dynamic by the day.
While Cleveland is averse to a prospects-oriented trade and this obviously qualifies as exactly that, Wright (No. 29 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list) and Toussaint (No. 40) have made their big league debuts and provide potential immediate impact/depth. Pache ranks No. 68 but is probably a year away. Still, combine the immediate rotation options with the $17 million in salary relief, and it's a deal worth considering for Cleveland, even if it doesn't address the outfield need (that's where the money savings comes in handy).

Proposal #2
Dodgers get
: Bauer
Indians get: OF , LHP Caleb Ferguson, RHP Tony Gonsolin
With , , , Rich Hill, and on board, Los Angeles' rotation is not necessarily a screaming need. Still, the Dodgers and Indians have had conversations involving Cleveland's starters this winter, and Bauer, an L.A. native, fits the Dodgers' analytic bent.
Los Angeles has outfield depth aplenty, but Verdugo is the one outfielder who truly fits the profile of what the Indians would be looking for in a trade involving one of their starters -- young, cost-controlled, Major League-ready and capable of filling a position of immediate need in right field. Ferguson goes right into Cleveland's bullpen, and Gonsolin has mid-rotation potential, perhaps as soon as 2019. Honestly, this package might be a smidge high for Bauer given the cost uncertainty for '20, but Verdugo-plus is the gist of it.

Proposal #3
Mets get: Kluber
Indians get: 1B Peter Alonso, LHP , LHP David Peterson, SS Ronny Mauricio
We'll include the Mets out of deference to the recent reports of their interest in Kluber (and bidding boldly on a 33-year-old arm probably wouldn't be crazier than the deal they just swung for ). But these clubs might not be a great match right now, especially if New York is prioritizing catcher J.T. Realmuto in the trade market.
makes the most sense as an Indians target, but the Mets moving him in a deal for pitching -- even top-flight pitching -- isn't advisable given their overall offensive complexion. Alonso is interesting as a potentially better fit for the AL than the NL. 's departure in the Cano deal opens up first base for Alonso, the Mets' No. 2 prospect (and No. 58 in MLB). But if you're filling out your lineup based on defensive stats and not sentiment, Jeff McNeil should be at second base and Cano at first. Even if you don't move Cano immediately, he should be at first base eventually, and that could complicate Alonso's path. That's why this deal involves him and not Nimmo, which means Cleveland would likely have to apply the Kluber cost savings in free agency to get a reliable outfielder.

Another issue is the Indians still owe another first baseman named Alonso -- -- a minimum of $9 million over the next year. So they'd have to take what they can get for the elder Alonso in the trade market or take them both into Spring Training and see what develops. The bottom line is that the younger Alonso's right-handed power is a big plus moving forward. Matz would give the Indians their lone lefty in the rotation, is entering his arbitration years and is estimated by MLB Trade Rumors to make $3 million in 2019. The Mets' Nos. 4 (Peterson) and 6 (Mauricio) prospects round out this (admittedly imperfect) deal.
Proposal #4
Brewers get: Bauer
Indians get: RHP , OF , OF Corey Ray
In this swap, the Brewers deal from a position of depth in the big league outfield, sacrifice Burnes' live arm (which came up big for them in a bullpen role this season and is currently slated for the 2019 rotation) and give up the fifth overall pick from the 2016 Draft in Ray, who has a nice blend of speed and power and is coming off a solid season at Double-A. The tradeoff is the legitimization of their rotation.

The Indians would hold out hope that Santana can recapture his offensive breakout from 2017 (his 127 wRC+ from that year is higher than the Indians have gotten from any outfielder with at least 100 games played in either of the past two seasons), and Burnes would give them a versatile weapon on their pitching staff. Add in the cost savings for Cleveland that can be applied elsewhere, and this would be a trade in which you could feel both Major League clubs got better.
Proposal #5
Yankees get: Kluber, 2B
Indians get: RHP , RHP , OF , RHP
Bauer's Twitter account and the Yankees' media spotlight just feels like an ill fit. But Kluber could work.
There is clear incentive for the Indians to attach the roughly $17 million guaranteed to Kipnis (between his 2019 salary and '20 buyout) to Kluber to get a deal done. The Yankees are the rare club with the financial wherewithal to take on that money and a hole in their infield. (Granted, signing Manny Machado's the far sexier scenario, but New York could conceivably put Kipnis at second and have at short while Didi Gregorius is out.)
In this deal, we're swapping a pair of change-of-scenery guys in Kipnis and Gray, though, because the Indians are getting the better end of that deal (Gray is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make around $9 million in 2019), their return for Kluber is more limited than it otherwise would be (i.e., they're not getting or top Yankees prospect Estevan Florial).

But they'd still be doing pretty well in this deal with a bounceback candidate in Gray, a huge bullpen piece in Green (under control for four years), a near-ready pitching piece in Acevedo (No. 4 on the Yankees' list) and the return of Frazier (their former first-round pick dealt in the trade) to potentially impact the outfield in 2019. They'd also free more than $20 million for the 2019 payroll, which is obviously a game-changer for their offseason plans.