Coming out of the MLB trade deadline, one thing is indisputable: the Padres are going for it. They acquired Jason Castro, Austin Nola, a third of the entire MLB’s bullpen, Mitch Moreland, and Mike Clevinger. They’ll need Chris Paddack to put on his boots and cowboy hat and police Clevinger from sneaking out to enjoy San Diego’s nightlife and breweries. And if San Diego wants a chance, keep that man away from the border. Signed, a Texan.
Anyway, the hot-take consensus online was the Moreland deal was a nice return for Boston and a good get for San Diego; the Mariners sold really high and netted a big-time prospect; and the Indians didn’t get enough for Clevinger. I agree with the first two but not necessarily the third.
Mike Clevinger's hair isn't a COVID-19 safety statement.
With any trade, especially a big one like the Clevinger move that includes so many prospects, we won’t truly know how the trade looks until years from now. But I’ve also learned if you’re googling prospects lists and forming an opinion based on the rankings, you’re doing it wrong. Make no mistake, that stuff matters. But you're foolish to think you have a more intimidate knowledge of the value and scouting of these prospects than the guys making the deals. Unless the guys making the deals are members of bad organizations. Then, you can wonder. Cleveland is not a bad organization, and every smart organization has a specific set of tools/profiles/statistics/etc. it values.
In the case of Cleveland, it chose quantity and depth over a smaller return headlined by a bigger name. Josh Naylor, a former top 100 prospect not long ago with 70 raw power, is 23-years-old and played in the 2017 Futures Game. I think he’s going to hit at an above average level. He’s just been blocked. Cleveland knew it needed a MLB ready bat to play in the outfield with some pop. Naylor is a good bet to make after he reworked his body to profile better defensively. Cal Quantrill was once a top prospect, and Cleveland’s track record developing arms is stellar. At worst, he’s probably a valuable swing guy.
Gabriel Arias, rated by Keith Law as the No. 7 Padres prospect, was signed for $1.9 million out of Venezuela in 2016, has potentially elite defensive ability, and although he didn’t walk, he hit .302 and slugged .470 last year as a 19-year-old in A+. And we haven’t even discussed infielder Owen Miller and lefty starter Joey Cantillo, both regarded as solid yet unspectacular prospects in a loaded San Diego system. Cantillo fits a profile of guys Cleveland has enjoyed a lot of success developing. Both are probably mid-table top 10 prospects in many other organizations.
Once upon a time, Shane Bieber, Clevinger, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac weren’t elite prospect names either. Clevinger was acquired from the Angels in 2014 for Vinnie Pestano. Pestano threw 11.2 innings in 2015 for the Angels and never pitched again. The same people freaking out about the Clevinger return probably didn't even know who the guy was when he was acquired. Cleveland drafted both Bieber and Civale in 2016. In 2017, after both threw the ball very well in their pro debuts, MLB.com rated the righties as No. 11 and No. 10, respectively, on top the organization’s top prospects list; Bieber made his debut in 2018 while Civale actually dropped to 19 on next year's list. Plesac, also drafted in 2016, didn’t make the organization’s top 30 prospects list in 2018 or 2019.
Bieber is now the clear frontrunner for the American League Cy Young, and Plesac and Civale both have a 3.08 FIP or better and rank inside the top 25 of K-BB%.
AL Cy Young frontrunner Shane Bieber arrived to MLB without a ton of prospect hype.
Meanwhile, when Clevinger wasn’t breaking protocol and pissing off his entire clubhouse, he wasn’t close to his 2019 dominant self on the mound. Of course, he’s thrown just 22.2 innings, but there still have been some warning signs. The righty’s velocity is down almost a full MPH, and his fastball is getting obliterated. He’s getting significantly fewer chase swings and his swinging strike rate has dropped in line with 2017 and 2018 seasons. Let’s remember Clevinger has a pretty significant non-arm/elbow/shoulder injury history.
Make no mistake, Clevinger is a good, relatively cheap pitcher who isn’t a free agent until 2023. The Padres should make this move 10 times out of 10. He also owns full-season xFIPs of 4.05, 3.86, 3.09 and then there’s this season’s 4.75. It’s possible the Indians, who dumped Corey Kluber ahead of injury issues and decline, already saw Clevinger’s best and netted a better return than people realize. Of course, it would be easy for them to say that after teammates reportedly wanted him gone. We’ll see. It's also possible Clevinger starts the first game of the NLCS and is the one big starting pitcher piece the Padres needed to truly compete with the Dodgers.
The Padres, operated by a GM in his sixth season who needs to win now after last season’s spending spree and hitting the Fernando Tatis, Jr. jackpot, reinforced one of my strongest beliefs in baseball: good scouting and player development organizations eventually position themselves for a sustained run of success and are better equipped than lesser scouting organizations. San Diego has been known for years as one of the best, most aggressive scouting organizations and it just dealt a ton of prospects to significantly help their club now and in the future without giving up MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino, CJ Abrams, and Luis Campusano.
So, basically, this could have been a good deal for both sides. We won't truly know for a while. But a quick google search to craft a hot take tweet isn't going to deliver the true answer you're seeking just because Abrams or Patino weren't included in the deal.
Photos courtesy AP Images