Some Major League teams were forced to say goodbye to fan favorites last week due the vagaries of free agency.
Zach Wheeler is now in Philadelphia. Gerrit Cole will pitch for the Yankees. Madison Bumgarner is headed to Arizona. Anthony Rendon is an Angel.
It’s because of this many called the recently completed Winter Meetings the most exciting in years.
Sure, but when this happens, when players abandon fan bases, there is often a feeling of helplessness, as if there was nothing anyone could do to prevent it from happening. One team had the money, the other wasn’t willing to spend it. Life goes on.
It comes down to the basic dilemma about being a fan: Do you root for the players or the uniform? The players come and go, the jersey just comes out of the wash, ready for another day.
Well, imagine what it’s like being a fan of the Cleveland Indians these days. The franchise isn’t particularly cash-strapped like the Marlins and Rays appear to be. But it is neither the Yankees or Dodgers, willing or able to spend whatever seems necessary to remain competitive.
Maybe the Indians once felt that way. They do not now. They are in the midst of a significant salary dump that has already cost them one of the franchise’s greatest pitchers and may soon cost it its best player.
And the Indians are doing this by choice.
Over the weekend, they traded two-time Cy Young Award-winning Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers. And within a few days, depending on who you believe, they might deal the smiling face of the franchise, Francisco Lindor.
Kluber is the only two-time Cy Young Award winner in team history, but that didn’t stop the Indians from dangling him from every low-hanging limb when the first sign of a possible recession hit last season. First, we heard it might the Angels, Yankees, maybe the Dodgers.
Who do the Indians will receive in return? Right-handed reliever Emmanuel Clase and veteran outfielder Delino DeShields, Jr.
Right, we know.
Make no mistake. This move was financially driven. Kluber will be a free agent after the season and the Indians determined they would not be able to re-sign him and maybe even didn’t want to. So they dumped him.
They dumped him because they felt they had acquired enough inside information last summer about what life might be without him. You’ll recall Kluber’s ulna was smashed by a line drive off the bat of Miami’s Brian Anderson on May 1.
In order to survive, the Indians had to find out whether Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger could compensate and if a young kid like Aaron Civale had the potential. All the boxes were checked.
After the season was over, the Indians danced the dance. They exercised the $17.5 million option on his deal because they figured holding onto to him would give him a chance to re-established his worth. If that didn’t work out, they could always back out of their $18 million club option for 2021.
But it never got to that point because the Rangers needed starting pitching. They were willing to take a one-year gamble on Kluber’s remaining skill set. The Rangers threw in an intriguing young reliever in Clase, whose fastball and cutter clock in the 90s. He had a 2.31 ERA in just over 23 innings with 21 strikeouts after averaging about a strikeout an inning in the minors.
Bottom line: The Indians save Kluber’s $17.5 million salary, which drops their total team payroll to under $100 million mark. The number has decreased incrementally over the last three seasons.
During his career with the Indians, Kluber, 33, a three-time All-Star, was 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.086 WHIP. Last season, he pitched just 35 2/3 innings over seven starts before getting injured with a 5.80 ERA. Kluber also had an average fastball velocity of 92.4 mph.
The idea of trading Lindor, a two-time Gold Glove winner and four-time All-Star, seems even more baffling. And yet during the Winter Meetings, each day seemed to include some conversation about a deal with the Dodgers. The deal would bring infielder Gavin Lux, one of the game’s Top 5 prospects back in return.
Why Lindor? Well, he’s projected to make $16.7 million in arbitration in 2020 before becoming a free agent in 2021. Just imagine the kind of deal a player with his talent, who would be just 27 years old, would command.
It doesn’t seem to be a situation the new Indians would be comfortable with. So why not trade him now and bank that Lux, with six controllable years, could turn into the same type of player.
It certainly appears being an Indians fan is going to require patience and understanding from now on. That’s why rooting for the uniform always makes more sense.