The Cleveland Indians traded two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers on Sunday. Four-and-a-half months ago, they traded away Trevor Bauer. That's a lot of constructive innings gone in the name of whatever tomorrow will be for the Indians, winners of 93 games in 2019 and yet apparently willing – if not enthusiastically so – to get on with the next version of themselves. The last version was pretty good.
Kluber, the stoic right-hander who lost much of 2019 to a fractured arm and, during his recovery from that, an abdominal strain, was in many ways the solemn face of an Indians revival that had them win three consecutive American League Central titles and play in a World Series. They were overtaken last season by the Minnesota Twins.
Kluber will be 34 in April and is due about $36 million over the next two seasons. While these facts are not barriers to tomorrow in some places, they can be in places such as Cleveland, where the next man to go just might be Francisco Lindor, the shortstop and effervescent face of that Indians revival.
A general manager who has engaged the Indians in the matters of available All-Star pitchers and shortstops said Sunday he did not believe the trade of Kluber necessarily would lead to a trade of Lindor and, indeed, said he was "skeptical" the Indians would deal Lindor this winter. That does not mean Lindor will not be traded, only that the first half of the offseason has perhaps not revealed an urgency to do so. Not yet. Lindor is due to become a free agent after the 2021 season.
Meantime, the Indians – president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff – have shown a nice touch in the matter of remodeling while maintaining relevance. The Bauer trade came in the middle of their division race with the Twins (and not long after Bauer hucked a baseball over the center-field fence in a dramatic fit.) The Kluber trade, according to sources, brought a return of right-hander Emmanuel Clase, the 21-year-old reliever with the triple-digit fastball, and outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. The pivotal return is Clase.
The Rangers weren't quite as deft, following back-to-back AL West titles and, before that, two World Series appearances at the decade's outset, with three seasons of ghastly irrelevance. Recent weeks have seen them add Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to a rotation that already had Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. It's not the best rotation in the game, but it might not have to be in the AL West, where the Houston Astros just lost Gerrit Cole, the Los Angeles Angels are short at least two starters, and the Seattle Mariners remain deep in a rebuild.
Trades such as these feel inevitable in the ebb-and-flow lifespans of baseball's middle class. The Indians act a season or two earlier than they probably must. They measure even more difficult cuts, such as Lindor, a shortstop in his prime who hits for power and wins defensive awards and gathers MVP votes. First, however, in exchange for a franchise icon, they bet on an unusually gifted reliever, a 21-year-old reliever, a minimum-salaried reliever. And still a reliever.
Whether the Indians received enough talent in return, whether this signals a Lindor trade, whether what's left in the rotation — which seems plenty in Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Adam Plutko, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale — can challenge the Twins and the New York Yankees and whatever is coming, that will be a story for tomorrow.
And, it seems, in Cleveland, tomorrow is coming fast.
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