The Cleveland Indians have traded two time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. and right-handed pitching prospect Emmanuel Clase. The motive for Cleveland here was clear: the trade is a salary dump. Even with Kluber’s injury in 2019, he should be expected to return to form as an elite pitcher in 2020, making this deal look considerably lopsided. Kluber was set to make $17.5 million in 2020, and getting that kind of money off the books is the Cleveland special.
The most intriguing part of the deal for the Cleveland side is Clase, who ranks 30th among Rangers prospects according to MLB Pipeline. The righty’s fastball sits in the 97-99 mph range, and has gotten as high as 102. This would be something new in Cleveland, as none of their current pitchers, except for maybe James Karinchak, can touch that velocity. Clase made his debut in 2019 and is only 21 years old, so the years of team control are enticing for the Indians. However, Clase’s potential only goes about as far as a very good relief pitcher, and certainly does not project to bring the type of value that Kluber did.
The more confusing part of this trade is the acquisition of Delino DeShields Jr., who posted 0.8 fWAR with Texas in 2019. While Clase will likely be in Cleveland for years to come, DeShields becomes a free agent in 2021 and only has one waiver option left on his contract, which might make it difficult to maneuver a crowded Indians roster. What this really comes down to however, is that DeShields has a career high fWAR of 2.1, and hasn’t posted a season of more than 0.8 since 2017. He also has never proven himself to be much of a capable major league hitter, as he finished 2019 with a wRC+ of 72 and a wOBA of .295. DeShields certainly adds value to some extent on the Cleveland side, but it remains a question as to how much he will even see the field in 2020.
On the side of the Rangers, they got what most believe to be a steal. Kluber’s 5.80 ERA in 2019 is obviously alarming, but that came in an injury-shortened season where his ERA was much higher than it should’ve been. His FIP, for example, was well over a run lower than his ERA at 4.06. His xFIP and SIERA in 2019 were also quite a bit lower than his ERA, at 4.88 and 4.68, respectively. While none of these figures suggest he performed the way he has in the past, he made only seven starts in 2019 and it would be unfair to judge his future solely off of that. In 2018, we saw the Kluber we’re used to with a SIERA of 3.23 and an fWAR of 5.5. Kluber could certainly regress in 2020, but it is most likely that the Rangers get a solid rotation piece at the worst, and they certainly are getting more value than they gave up.
The most important part about this trade for the Indians was obviously the saved money, but that money only means something if they decide to use it. If, while it is unlikely, this money were to go towards a Francisco Lindor extension, fans would be quick to forget about the fleecing in this trade. The money could also be used to resign outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was a big contributor in Cleveland’s offense in 2019. Unfortunately, there remains the somewhat likely scenario that this move is simply to decrease payroll for 2020, and nothing is to be done with it. If that were the case, this trade would be a complete failure for the Indians. However, fans should stay positive for the time being, because there’s a lot a team can do with $17.5 million free to spend.
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