At the beginning of the month, Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that the Indians would listen to potential trade offers for their starting pitchers, and I don’t know about you, but I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if a million voices cried out in terror remembering dealing successful starting pitchers as the team’s way of running up the white flag.
And who can blame them? Nearly a decade ago, the Tribe became the first team to trade back-to-back Cy Young Award winners, dealing CC Sabathia at the deadline in 2008 to the Brewers, and Cliff Lee to the Phillies the following year – when he still under contract for another season. (Just for good measure, the Indians traded Victor Martinez two days after dealing Lee.)
It initially looked like the Indians got swindled on all three deals. Matt LaPorta, the centerpiece of the Sabathia deal, turned out to be a quadruple-A player, whose skill in the minor leagues never translated to the Show. And Jason Knapp, who was the big get in the Lee deal, has as much major league experience as I do.
But eventually, the deals bore fruit. Michael Brantley blossomed into an everyday outfielder for the Indians, and Carlos Carrasco – after Tommy John surgery – turned into the front-line starter the Indians so desperately were looking for. The Martinez deal remains a disaster, netting Nick Hagadone – who is probably best-known for injuring his pitching hand in a fit of anger in the clubhouse – and Justin Masterson. On a related note, remember when we thought Masterson was going to be the Tribe’s ace? Good times.
Masterson wasn’t the Indians ace, but then, he didn’t have to be. The Indians dealt for another pitcher in San Diego: Corey Kluber, who won two Cy Young Awards and is under consideration for a third this year (the winner will be announced today; A win by Kluber wouldn’t surprise me, given the season he had, but a win by either of the other finalists, Houston’s Justin Verlander and Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell, wouldn’t be a shock either). And not surprisingly, with his recent performance and hardware, Corey Kluber’s looked at as the most attractive piece of a trade.
The price would be high – and rightly so. He’s a premier pitcher with two years of relatively inexpensive team control left. But I think Indians fans need to be honest with themselves. Kluber was a late bloomer. He’s 32 now (but just completed his eighth major league season, it should be noted), so you have to make a serious consideration that he’s probably got more years behind him than ahead of him in the major leagues – certainly at a high level. Kluber’s market value will probably never be as high for the Indians as it is right now. They’re almost obligated to listen to offers.
But it’s just listening at this point. The Indians don’t need to trade Kluber – or any other pitcher. This team as it’s currently constructed is probably still the prohibitive favorite in the American League Central Division. However, as was laid bare in the American League Division Series, there’s a wide margin between the Tribe and teams like the Astros or Red Sox.
The outfield is littered with question marks and the bullpen is going to look vastly different than it did last year (although given their performance last year, that’s not necessarily a bad thing). The Indians need to get better. And unlike in years past, they don’t have a whole lot to offer. Prized prospects like Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier and Francisco Mejia were dealt. For the Indians, a team in win-now mode, they have to deal what they have a surplus of. And that just happens to be starting pitching.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Indians will do anything. Offering to listen is just that. And any deal that the Tribe agrees to has to be a blockbuster.
But as we saw in the last offseason, if you’re not getting better, then you’re getting worse.
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