Cleveland Indians

Mike Clevinger’s Trade Value

A latent question facing Chris Antonetti, and Mike Chernoff, has as the result of Mike Clevinger’s seeming apathy towards clubhouse relationships, and team protocols, been forced to the forefront. While Mike Clevinger offending teammates has brought his trade value, and potential trade timing to the forefront, Clevinger was never long for this roster.

However, Jeff Passan’s article from August 17, 2020, highlighted a dire situation:

During a testy meeting Friday, Cleveland Indians players scolded teammates Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac for breaking protocol and going out in Chicago, and at least one player said he would opt out of the season if the two remained on the active roster, sources familiar with the meeting told ESPN.”

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29679378/sources-choices-mike-clevinger-zach-plesac-break-protocol-caused-rift-cleveland-indians

As of now, Clevinger has two years of arbitration remaining following 2020 prior to free agency. However, the Cleveland Professional Baseball Club playing service time games resultant from his behavior could result in a third year of arbitration ahead of him, if he is in the minors for 20 games.

Clevinger reaching his second and third seasons of arbitration while below market value is above what the Cleveland Indians have been willing to pay for other players. a reasonable projection for 2021 would be $8-11 million, and for 2022 would be $13-18 million. This creates an expected cost of $21-29 million on Clevinger for the next two seasons. The team instead of paying similar figures to Trevor Bauer moved him for Franmil Reyes, Yasiel Puig, Logan Allen, and a few other projects. This is not to mention Corey Kluber’s $18.5 2020 salary, which the organization happily moved on from despite his brilliant tenure.

The team has done well trading pitchers on the middle or back end of the aging curve with rising prices for expanding the long term window. Entering 2020 Clevinger appeared to be the next, and even the previous offseason there were real rumblings about his movability.

In order to evaluate trade value, one must project expectations on Clevinger’s next two seasons. Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projection system projects 6.2 WAR total between 2021, and 2022. A major reason that total may appear low relates to a real problem with Clevinger’s value, health. Clevinger has only exceeded 126 IP, once in his big league career, and has a seemingly high demand delivery. Still, 6.2 WAR being held down by low-inning projection seems somewhat low as a valuation because on a rate basis, healthy Clevinger has been an elite pitcher over the past two seasons. In 2019, among those with 120 innings pitched, Clevinger was 2nd in baseball in FIP, a rudimentary tool which uses strikeouts, walks and home runs to evaluate pitchers on an ERA scale.

With this in mind, a wider Clevinger projection range makes sense. Say 5-9 WAR. At a cost per win of $8 million, (one can argue it sits at $9 million or above however, based on lost revenues, it is reasonable to see teams behave as if it has decreased) the range of projected value is $40-72 Million. Then using arb projections, this creates a surplus value range of $11 million on the very bottom end to $51 million on the top end. (This is using the top and bottom bounds of arbitration projection above).

Craig Edwards of Fangraphs provided excellent research on the relative value of different prospect tiers. For the sake of this exercise, the idea is that the organization would be targeting a position player and not a pitcher.

A 50 FV (future value) position player would be worth roughly $21 million in surplus value. For context a 50 FV would be position players ranked roughly 45-125 on a top 125 prospects list. A 55 FV would be worth roughly $46 million, position players ranked from about 18 to 44 among the top 100. These of course are not binding just useful ballpark estimates. Additionally, deals are not this rigid but more flexible, and teams may opt for volume over top centerpiece on occasion.

Once one locks in on a tier, the trade has to also make sense for the buyer, in this case very likely a team in contention in need of pitching. Contending teams potentially needing pitching: Yankees, Braves, Angels, and Padres, are all seemingly relevant.

The Yankees have mostly graduated prospects like Miguel Andujar (3B-1B), and Clint Frazier (cOF) two players with significant injury histories, and limited defense. Frazier is nearly 26, yet to establish himself but the bat is at the very least above average. However, his prospect luster has faded based on injuries, and defensive focus in New York. With Frazier the Indians would look for a strong secondary piece be it Deivi Garcia or another. Florial was once a hot outfield prospect but contact issues, and slow development have cooled his hype.

The Braves feature perhaps the best potential center pieces, and the most obvious interest in adding near term pitching. With Christian Pache (60 FV on Fangraphs, CF), and Drew Waters (55 FV, OF). Pache would be the home run center piece, an elite defender with real growing offensive ability, and very likely a non-starter for the Braves. Waters is nearly as attractive but more obtainable. However, there are real warts including significant strikeout issues. Yet, reaching AAA at 20, struggling a bit is not particularly shocking.

The Angels feature Jo Adell (60 FV, OF) and Brandon Marsh (55 FV, OF) but one would expect that Adell is off the table. Marsh is another player with average to above hit and power tools paired with strong defense. A fine centerpiece.

Finally, for this exercise, the San Diego Padres, common trade partners for Antonetti and crew. The Padres system is loaded, and a centerpiece could include a middle infielder (perhaps long term outfielder) C.J. Abrams, (55 FV) or a catcher in Luis Campusano (55 FV) among any other brilliant pieces but both of these players are particularly far way, and while Cleveland looks to retool, a total rebuild is not as obvious an approach, though certainly a possible one.

The above covers but a small bit of the numerous permutations of trade possibilities which are a match for Mike Clevinger. Perhaps due to Clevinger’s recent actions a 55FV type prospect is unobtainable. Perhaps the team would target a young big leaguer like Nick Senzel in return. Perhaps, Clevinger’s value for post-season run inflates the lack of potential value credit provided here for his 2020 campaign. One thing is obvious Mike Clevinger is a valuable commodity, the team will very likely trade him before 2021, and they likely would have whether or not he offended the clubhouse with recent actions.

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