Kluber Dealt to Rangers for Outfielder DeShields, Reliever Clase

On the nine-year anniversary of the death of the team’s most prolific pitcher, Bob Feller, the Indians dealt another of Cleveland’s all-time pitching legends as the Tribe traded Corey Kluber and $500,000 to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Delino DeShields and reliever Emmanuel Clase.

In a corresponding roster move, the team designated infielder Mike Freeman for assignment.

After plenty of speculation over the last two winters, Kluber was finally moved for a package that seemed to some to be a little on the light side for a two-time Cy Young winner and screamed more of a salary dump. The 34-year-old missed all but the first month of the 2019 season after being struck by a line drive and fracturing his right forearm in a game in Miami on May 1 before later straining his oblique while rehabbing the break. In his shortest season of work with the Indians since his debut campaign in 2011, Kluber made just seven shaky starts, posting a 2-3 record with a 5.80 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP.

Team president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti spoke Sunday on the move that likely will rub some fans the wrong way.

“Obviously, trades like this are always tough, not only on the baseball side, but on the personal side. I think we had a chance to see Corey grow into one of the best pitchers in the American League,” said Antonetti. “He went from an unheralded prospect when we acquired him and through a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication, he turned himself into one of the best pitchers in the American League.”

Following the season, the Indians picked up his option for the 2020 season, locking him in for $17.5 million for the coming year with one more team option hanging in the balance for 2021. Kluber will gain an extra $1 million per a clause in his contract for being traded and his option for 2021 becomes a vesting one based on innings pitched and his status on the active roster.

Kluber became just the fourth Cy Young winner in Indians history in 2014, when he took home the top pitching honor for the American League. He followed that up with another piece of hardware in 2017, when he became the first pitcher in franchise history to be recognized with the award multiple times. He was a three-time All-Star and a postseason hero in 2016 when he helped a decimated starting rotation reach the World Series, but unfortunately, the dreams of a world’s championship fell short as he and the other pitchers on the staff ran out of gas in the seven-game loss to the Chicago Cubs.

“There were a lot of teams that had interest in Corey,” Antonetti shared with the media. “We had a variety of different packages, some of whom had players who were a little further away from the Major Leagues. One of the things we did like about what the Rangers offered were two players that could come back and help up in 2020 and help us try to sustain the level of competitiveness we’ve had over the last seven years.”

The return for Kluber appears much different than the club’s asking price from just one year ago, when teams would have been acquiring as many as three years of his service time at a reasonable rate for starting pitchers these days. Now, it looks like the team got pieces that would help out the big league club for the present while shredding $17 million off of the books.

The bigger story to come from this move will be how (if at all…) the Indians elect to use the money saved in removing Kluber’s salary from the mix for the next two seasons. Kluber was owed at least $18.5 million for 2020 and 2021 (if the team declined his option for 2021 and paid the buyout) and as much as $35.5 million if the two club options were picked up. Instead, the team could try to throw some of that money saved at Francisco Lindor, Mike Clevinger, or other young players in pre-arbitration or early arbitration status, spend the money on players from elsewhere, or pocket the difference and frustrate the fans further.

The new additions will bring something different to the field for the Tribe, but whether that proves to be enough for Kluber remains to be seen.

DeShields, 27, completed his fifth season at the Major League level with the Rangers last season. A first round pick by the Houston Astros in the 2010 draft out of Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia, DeShields was scooped up by Texas in the Rule 5 draft in 2014 and debuted for the club during the 2015 season. Known for his plus speed, good defensive work, and the ability to sacrifice successfully, he has worked primarily as the club’s center fielder over the last five years. He appeared in 118 games in 2019, posting a .249/.325/.347 slash with 15 doubles, four triples, four homers, and 32 RBI while stealing 24 bases in 30 attempts. Not a power threat, DeShields has stolen 20 bases or more in four of his five MLB seasons and has 33 sacrifice hits over the last three seasons, leading one to believe he will fit in nicely to manager Terry Francona’s offensive game planning that relies on a fairly frequent number of bunt attempts.

DeShields, whose father of the same name was similarly a high draft pick in the first round before spending 13 years in the big leagues with five different clubs from 1990 to 2002, made $1.4 million in 2019 and is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, when the gurus at Baseball Reference project him to be in the market for a wage increase of $1 million. He is not guaranteed to be the team’s starting center fielder for the 2020 season, but he could press rookie Oscar Mercado and could allow the team to shuffle pieces around in what remains an uncertain outfield mix once again this winter.

Clase is the more unknown commodity of the two after making his Major League debut in August of last season. The 21-year-old made 20 relief appearances and one start in the final two months of the season, posting a 2-3 record with one save, a 2.31 ERA, and a 1.11 WHIP with 8.1 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. Prior to that, he had pitched six times for the Down East Wood Ducks (High-A), working seven scoreless innings with a 14.1 K/9 rate, and 33 times for Double-A Frisco, where he went 1-2 with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP with eleven saves.

Clase’s upside may be in his tendencies to flirt with triple-digits. According to MLB.com, his fastball topped 98 MPH 238 times last season for the Rangers. By comparison, the Indians had just 12 such pitches on their staff across the entire season’s body of work. A filthy cutter and a plus slider made up his pitching arsenal.

“He’s been up to 102, averages around 100 with his fastball that has a unique cutting profile that makes it really hard to center up. He complements that with an above-average slider and we think he will slot into our bullpen and help be a weapon out there for us,” said Antonetti.

Clase was originally signed by the San Diego Padres in January of 2015, but he was traded to the Rangers in the early stages of the 2018 season as the player to be named for catcher Brett Nicholas (who spent that entire season at Triple-A for the Padres).

Through seven games of Dominican Winter League action for Estrellas de Oriente this offseason, Clase had posted a 1.29 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.

It marks the second big subtraction from the Indians’ starting rotation in the last five months. At the trade deadline in July, the team sent pitcher Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds as part of a three-team trade with the San Diego Padres. That move returned outfielders Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes, pitchers Logan Allen and Scott Moss, and infield prospect Victor Nova.

Bauer and Kluber have been viewed as expendable as both their ages and salary figures have continued to rise while younger and far cheaper alternatives have emerged from the farm system. Clevinger has cemented himself as a top arm in the American League and Shane Bieber successfully completed a clean sophomore season that included a trip to the Midsummer Classic and the exhibition’s Most Valuable Player award. The team was able to rely on other arms from the minors last season, including Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, and Jefry Rodriguez, and the club added Triston McKenzie to the 40-man roster this winter.

Like every trade, time will be the ultimate determinant for which team won the deal. The Rangers will get a front-of-the-rotation leader who should pair nicely with a rotation that includes recently signed Kyle Gibson and 2019 stars Lance Lynn and Mike Minor, who finished fifth and eighth respectively in this past season’s Cy Young voting. The Indians’ soft-tossing bullpen should get a little scarier by adding Clase, another legit and young flamethrower, to the mix (joining fellow rookie James Karinchak) while their outfield defense and offensive flexibility should see some returns from DeShields.

The haul for Kluber at present seems to fall well short of what it would have been had the club moved him last winter in some of the rumored deals with the Los Angeles Dodgers or others. If the Indians reinvest the saved funds wisely, the scales could tip some in the Tribe’s favor long term. Only time will tell.

Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

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