By: Chris Larson
Over the past week, there have been rumblings out of Cleveland that the Indians are at least willing to listen to many of their players, with the exception of both, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. As news of this came out into the market, word quickly spread around the industry and teams started contacting the Indians to see if a potential deal would be worked out.
While it may be a bit of a surprise, on the surface, to see the Indians willing to deal some of their top notch talent, it really shouldn't come as a surprise given where the Indians stand in terms of payroll and their market size. Cleveland ended last season with a payroll a little north of $150 million dollars, which is, out of the range for a mid-market team that plays in a market the size of Cleveland. Not only was that a franchise record payroll amount, it showed that the Indians were once again "all-in" in their approach to trying to make it back to the World Series.
Ultimately, their efforts ended up falling short of that goal once again, which has forced Cleveland to take a step back and to evaluate what moves they need to make to set them up for the future. There are no guarantees that they will end up trading anyone, but listening to players is never a bad thing because as a General Manager, you never know what exceptional offer you might get for a headline player that's on your 25-man roster.
Of all of the Cleveland Indians likely to be traded, Corey Kluber is the guy that probably has the biggest chance of wearing a different uniform come 2019. Kluber has one year of team control remaining and the Indians don't want to be left with having to watch him walk into free agency with nothing to show in return.
Here are three logical destinations that would fit for Corey Kluber.
1. Houston Astros - On paper, the Houston Astros are an extremely logical fit and a team that makes sense for a number of reasons. Just a few days ago, the Astros announced that they would be losing Lance McCullers Jr. for all of next season, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, which will leave a big hole in their starting rotation. Furthermore, the Astros only have one more year of control on both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. For the past two seasons, the Houston Astros starting rotation has played a significant role in the team's overall success, but the end of that greatness is coming quicker than many people realize.
Therefore, insert Corey Kluber into the Astros starting rotation, who might only have one-year of control remaining, but gives the Astros one last shot to play deep for a World Series title in 2019. Essentially, by adding Corey Kluber, the Astros would continue their "win-now" mentality and would attempt to return to the Fall Classic before seeing three-fifths of their starting rotation depart in free agency the following offseason.
Given the credentials and resume of Corey Kluber to this point in his career, the Indians would likely want a significant return and could start the conversation based around the Astros number one prospect (OF Kyle Tucker) or the Astros number two prospect (RHP Forrest Whitley). Either prospect would be a huge get for Cleveland who could use more outfield depth and another starting pitcher, with a high ceiling, in their starting rotation.
2. Atlanta Braves - The Atlanta Braves certainly exceeded almost every expectation in the book this past season and it would be no surprise to see them enter the fold for Corey Kluber. Braves General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos, has given some indications that the team might be willing to part with, starting pitcher Julio Teheran, which could leave a hole within the Braves starting rotation. With Teheran potentially out of the fold, Atlanta would need to add another experienced, veteran arm to it's starting rotation and one that could preferably help to mentor the team's young starting pitching prospects, something that Corey Kluber could do and do extraordinarily well.
Given that, if Corey Kluber is inserted into the Braves starting rotation, he could slot in ahead of both Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb at the top. Not only would this add to a strength of the Atlanta Braves, it would also continue to allow them to focus on making the postseason again next October and have three legitimate starting pitchers who could start a playoff game.
From Cleveland's perspective, if a deal were to commence with the Atlanta Braves, who have a treasure trove of prospects, the conversation would certainly revolve around one of the Braves top prospects, all of whom are pitchers. The Indians might prefer to have the Braves number one prospect (RHP Mike Soroka), who put up a 2.00 ERA over 27.0 IP in Triple-A last season, or potentially the Braves number two prospect (RHP Kyle Wright), who many scouts project to quickly turn into a frontline starter. Either way, it's a win-win for both the Indians and the Braves.
3. Philadelphia Phillies - Turning the focus to another NL East team, the Philadelphia Phillies are another team that many expect to be in the market for additional pitching depth this winter. The Phillies finished the 2018 regular season sort of in an odd fashion, as their pitching staff wasn't necessarily awful, but Jake Arrieta underperformed and the team's defense let the pitching staff down a tremendous amount. Assuming the Phillies make a move or two to address the team's defensive struggles, Corey Kluber would slot nicely into the Phillies starting rotation and would give the Phillies a 1-2-3 punch to focus on contending for a postseason berth.
Assuming this happens, Corey Kluber could slot in front of Jake Arrieta or Aaron Nola and lessen the workload on the Phillies bullpen even more. Even though the Phillies would only have Corey Kluber for one year, it would allow there to be more development for the team's pitching prospects, such as lefties JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez, both of whom project to impact the Phillies starting rotation in a big way down the road.
For Cleveland, the trade conversation would probably start with one of the Phillies top prospects. One name to potentially monitor, if a deal like this were to be made, is the Phillies number four prospect (OF Adam Haseley). Haseley has the makings of being a potential everyday centerfielder, although, some scouts disagree with him being able to play only centerfield and see him more as someone who could play all three outfield positions. Even though Haseley has an average arm, some more development in the minors could change that and the Indians would once again have a potential outfielder of the future.
Again, there is no guarantee that Corey Kluber might be traded, but all three of the teams listed above are logical destinations and would have the prospect depth to give the Cleveland Indians for Corey Kluber. Regardless, given the state of the Indians, now might be the time to trade Kluber before it's too late and the team has nothing to show for him, during potentially his final season in Cleveland.