As baseball’s trade market churns leading into next week’s winter meetings, the Cleveland Indians continue to explore dealing Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber, their best starting pitchers and linchpins of the three-time reigning American League Central champions, league sources familiar with the talks told Yahoo Sports.
While the Indians in past offseasons have flirted with trading from their deep rotation, they’ve indicated to interested teams this winter that they’re far more serious about dealing a frontline starter and plan to do so, sources said. A combination of alleged payroll concerns and a desire to use a deep rotation to upgrade other positions is fueling the discussions, according to sources.
Kluber, 32, is the more well-established of the two, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who is under team control for three more seasons. His 2019 salary is $17.5 million, and the Indians hold options on him for $18 million in 2020 and $18.5 million in 2021. With a $1 million trade kicker, the outlay three seasons of Kluber for any team that acquires him would be $55 million.
Bauer, 27, could make upward of $12 million this season in arbitration after a breakout 2018 in which he thrust himself into Cy Young contention before a comebacker fractured his leg. Bauer’s ascent and age make him an attractive commodity to trade partners, and two sources involved in trade discussions with the Indians believe Cleveland is more inclined to deal him than Kluber.
That could, of course, be a feint. If Bauer repeats his performance, his 2020 salary could skyrocket into the $20 million range, and he will be a free agent after that year. Large-market teams wary of exceeding the luxury tax could be spooked by that potential 2020 salary, while the long-term deal Kluber signed in 2015 would count for about half that.
A wide swath of teams has expressed interest in the Indians’ starters, according to sources. Among those who are seen as matches: the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.
Cleveland’s desire to deal its starters does not end with Bauer or Kluber. The Indians also have discussed Danny Salazar, the talented but oft-injured right-hander who missed all of 2018 with a shoulder injury, according to sources. The talks come on the heels of Cleveland trading catcher Yan Gomes, who is due to make $7 million, to the Washington Nationals.
The Indians’ austerity comes after getting bounced in the first round of the AL playoffs with a club-record payroll that neared $150 million. Cleveland’s current projected payroll is around $120 million, according to Baseball Prospectus, though it could drop prohibitively after 2019 even if the Indians did hold on to Bauer and Kluber. For $8.5 million, they could buy Edwin Encarnacion, Jason Kipnis and Yonder Alonso – who this season will make a combined $44.3 million – out of club options. Bauer and star shortstop Francisco Lindor will be in arbitration, starter Carlos Carrasco will make a reasonable $10.25 million in the first year of a new three-year, $37.5 million contract he signed Thursday, and MVP candidate José Ramírez ($6.65 million) and closer Brad Hand ($7.58 million) are under team-friendly deals. Young standout starter Mike Clevinger will be in his first year of arbitration.
Owner Larry Dolan bought the Indians for $323 million in 2000. Since then, according to Forbes, the franchise value has increased to more than $1 billion, and the team profited more than $30 million in the 2017 season.
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