Cleveland didn’t repeat as division champions last season. Despite the team’s disappointing failure to win a fourth straight title, the Tribe seems more interested in cutting payroll than in maintaining a dominating roster.
The biggest Hot Stove news in Cleveland isn’t who the Indians are getting, it’s who they’ve given up and who they might yet give up. Instead of strengthening themselves after losing their grip on the AL Central to Minnesota, the Indians show strong signs of dismantling their championship roster and cutting payroll.
It started with the December 15 trade of Corey Kluber, a rotation mainstay during the Tribe’s title seasons. Although a line drive broke his arm in May and prematurely ended his 2019 season, Kluber won 58 games over the three straight seasons the Indians ruled the Central. And despite his nearly 100 career wins and excellent peripherals (134 ERA+, 2.95 FIP and 1.086 WHIP) the Indians shipped him to Texas for outfielder Delino DeShields and pitcher Emmanuel Clase.
It may continue with an even more shaking move: the Tribe may be shopping franchise backbone and best player Francisco Lindor, a five-year fan favorite who averages 26 homers and almost 78 RBI’s a season to go with a career .288/.347/.854 slash and 118 OPS+. Moving Lindor would likely be a more seismic deal than the infamous trade that sent Cleveland hero Rocky Colavito to Detroit in 1960.
Finally, the Indians may be willing to part with Mike Clevinger, another key rotation piece whose career 41-21 record and 3.20 ERA (141 ERA+), 1.188 WHIP and 10.1 SO9 make him attractive to contending and non-contending teams alike.
The club’s moves and possible moves are probably more money-based than anything; the Tribe saved millions by moving Kluber and would save many more millions if they trade Lindor, who is arbitration-eligible, or Clevinger (or both).
The Tribe’s return from the Kluber deal doesn’t match the sacrifice: DeShields is a speedy (106 stolen bases in five years) but light-hitting (.246 career average and 76 OPS+) part-time outfielder; although Clase has displayed good control and has a 1.114 WHIP and 226 ERA+, those peripherals are based on only 23.1 big league innings.
Cleveland also re-signed reliever James Hoyt, who it dropped from the 40-man roster just before the tender deadline; Hoyt appeared in eight games for the Tribe in 2019, posting a 2.16 ERA, 10.8 SO9 and 2.2 BB9. An Astro for three years before joining the Tribe, he has a career 11.7 SO9.
If the Indians are contemplating major additions, they’re keeping those plans quiet. It’s more likely that more outbound moves are coming.