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There's Still No Reason for the Indians to Consider Trading Mike Clevinger

“The Indians trading Mike Clevinger? It absolutely makes no sense.”

This was the headline to a piece I wrote back in December, when Cleveland’s ace inexplicably started seeing his name in trade rumors.

Admittedly, it was unclear if the Indians were actually shopping Clevinger this past winter, or if clubs were aggressively leaking their interest to the media. Either way, it didn’t make the idea itself any less absurd.

If teams were calling upon Cleveland to discuss a Clevinger trade last offseason, it’s not crazy to think it’ll happen again this coming winter. This is especially true when you consider what kind of revenue losses the typically cost-efficient Indians are about to face in the months ahead.

Does this change Cleveland’s situation? With a year of navigating unforeseen financial hurdles preceding another salary negotiation with Clevinger, would it make sense for the Tribe to explore a trade this winter?

You may think it sounds insane, but not everyone feels that way.

If you ask me, though, the idea of trading Clevinger still absolutely makes no sense.

Don’t get me wrong, hard decisions are coming next winter whether there’s a season or not. Some players (Carlos Santana, Brad Hand) have pricey options which could get declined. Some (César Hernández) are on expiring contracts. One (Francisco Lindor) has spent so much time in the trade rumor mill he’s practically paying rent there.

Still, whatever happens this year, there remains no reason for Clevinger to suddenly be labeled “expendable,” no matter how big of a financial hit Cleveland takes.

Yes, Clevinger approaching his second year of arbitration eligibility adds a bit of uncertainty to his situation. He’s not the only member of the team in this boat, but outside of Lindor (provided he’s still here), he’s the only arbitration eligible player looking at a potentially significant pay raise.

That said, I still don't think this should scare Cleveland into exploring the trade market.

Clevinger landed himself a spike in salary heading into the 2020 season. It’s understandable, considering he’d spent the previous four years making the league minimum.

It’s also understandable because, well, he more than earned it.

Saying Clevinger is coming off a career year is hardly doing it enough justice. Instead, just look at his below numbers from last season compared to the 2019 league average for each respective stat.

Clevinger

Clevinger’s ERA- was 44% better than league average last year. His FIP- was 45% better than average. His fastball velocity (95.4) has never been higher. His whiff rate of 35.3% was ranked in the 94th percentile by Baseball Savant.

So, yes, Clevinger earned the right to demand a higher salary when he entered arbitration negotiations.

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Said salary ended up being $4.1 million. After he put up some of the best stats of his career.

Clevinger’s 2020 pay is being highlighted for two reasons. For one, that’s an absurd discount for a pitcher of his caliber.

More importantly, it highlights some financial wiggle room the Indians have as he approaches his second round of arbitration eligibility.

Yes, predicting how much a player is going to request ahead of arbitration is tricky, especially before the season even takes place. We at least know he’s not going to demand another 592% pay increase like he did last winter.

For a reference point, we can look at a pitcher Baseball Savant views as similar to Clevinger -- New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom.

Like Clevinger, deGrom entered his first round of arbitration eligibility ahead of his age-29 season, eventually agreeing to a salary of $4.05 million. He performed well the following year, going 15-10 with a 3.53 ERA and an fWAR of 4.1. That winter, he and the Mets landed on a salary of $7.4 million for 2018, a year-over-year pay increase of 83%.

Let’s say Clevinger has another phenomenal showing during a shortened 2020 season, and pushes for a similar hike. For the sake of the argument, we can round up to a 90% year-over-year increase.

Under that scenario, Clevinger’s 2021 salary would be $7.79 million.

Heck, even if he pitches so well that he gets the same 130% year-over-year increase deGrom landed after carrying a Cy Young award into 2019 arbitration negotiations, that'd still put him at a little under $9.5 million for next season.

This, like Clevinger's 2020 salary, would be both a solid increase for him and a laughably low price for Cleveland to pay considering what he can offer.

It’s hardly high enough to pressure the Indians into considering a trade, no matter what kind of revenue losses they’re attempting to recover from.

These salary projections are hypothetical, sure. Still, considering an abbreviated season would mean Clevinger is looking at a max of about 16 starts, they feel pretty realistic.

There’s one wild card that does need to be considered, though, and that’s the unpredictability added to arbitration discussions after a season like this.

Teams may feel compelled to take a harder line with all eligible players in an effort to save money after suffering such significant financial hits.

This could increase the likelihood of heated negotiations, making settling on a mutually beneficial number more difficult.

Even with that said, there’s still no reason the Indians should explore other routes with one of their best starters.

Again, the ramifications from what happens over the next few months will be significant. Cleveland will undoubtedly be looking for ways to help itself financially. It won’t be shocking to see Clevinger’s name pop into those conversations.

For all the reasons laid out above, bringing Clevinger up as a potential player to move should be about as far as those conversations go.