Amid the circus of the offseason, a constant conversation has been brewing with what has seemed like every team in the league, and the Cleveland Indians: will they trade Corey Kluber?
Recently, rumors of a three-team deal that would send him to the Cincinnati Reds have evolved, with the San Diego Padres also being involved in the swap. While Kluber improves any rotation (including Cleveland’s), his impression in Ohio would not be as great as other places, due to a few factors.
The National League Central Division was one of the tougher divisions last season, as the Milwaukee Brewers took the divisional crown after forcing a game 163 with the then Wild Card-bound Chicago Cubs. Besides those two franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals have made immense upgrades, as bringing in both Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller have drastically improved their offense and their bullpen for 2019.
Outside of those teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Reds are left to fight for fourth and fifth place in the division, which is seemingly unfair for two squads that could make some noise if placed in other divisions.
After hallucinating on playoff dreams, the Pirates did the unthinkable and acquired Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer in a final-hour deal that ripped some of the Pirates’ prized farm system and young talent away, just so they could become one of the first ‘trying’ teams to be eliminated from playoff contention. While at the time of the trade deadline, the team was around five games out of the wild card, more than close enough to be willing to give up down-the-road talent to win now… except the whole winning part never materialized.
The Reds, who have drastically overhauled their roster this offseason, waved goodbye to center field speedster Billy Hamilton in free agency and traded away long-time Red Homer Bailey and two top-20 prospects in a big salary swap with the Los Angeles Dodgers, receiving Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Yasiel Puig, plus utilityman Kyler Farmer and cash.
Cincy also acquired Tanner Roark, and pairing Roark with Wood is a good two-three combination in the rotation. Adding Kluber to that rotation would put them a little above average in the National League, but still would not truly push the needle.
A big aspect of the Reds’ plan is to get youthful, something that the 32-year-old right hander would not add to. However, Roark is also 32, so age may not be the biggest factor anymore for the Reds.
Even after the salary swap, the Reds stand just above $94 million in salary, towards the bottom half of the league. While there is plenty of room for more salary to come onto the books, the idea of that happening is quite low, unless Kluber or someone of Kluber’s stature comes along.
Kluber’s current contract takes him into his year-35 season in 2021, with a $500,000 increase in base salary every year from this year’s $17 million on the books. This amount is a steal for any team who acquires him, as he has had six-straight seasons of 26 or more starts and a 3.85 or lower ERA.
While his value is well known, his impact on the Reds is not. Bringing in what would be the team’s second best in terms of star power (see Votto, Joey), the team would be smart to put out feelers around the All-Star break if they were to acquire him.
Knowing that the team is most likely destined for another cellar-dwelling or fourth-place tally this season, any team in playoff contention wanting to acquire an ace of Kluber’s stature would give up the farm for him, helping the Reds replenish their system that lost two key members in the Dodgers deal.
Reports also described that the order of the trade, if it were to go through, would be the Padres acquiring Kluber from the Indians, and then shipping him off right away to the Reds. Kluber, as he would in Cincy, would be on the older side of their future outlook and would be best to ship out now to recoup any prospect value.
San Diego has been rumored to want Reds top prospect Nick Senzel, whom the Reds would be smart to hold onto, seeing as how he has a bright future that could include being brought up to the big league club very soon. The number two overall selection out of Tennessee in 2016, the 23-year-old third baseman currently would have to battle with incumbent Eugenio Suarez at the hot corner, but Senzel has time to develop in the minors, as he figures to play heavily in the team’s development down the road.
If the Reds want to try and compete this year, then acquiring Kluber, either directly from the Indians or in a deal with the Padres would be smart. However, in order to hold onto prospect depth and help shore up their organizational ranks, the franchise would be smart to hold with what it has at the moment and assess the market down the road for Kluber.