There still seems to be some belief that front-office boss Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers will make a mighty splash in either the free agent or trade market sometime during the 2019-20 offseason.
However, as the dominoes continue to fall as far as player availability goes, the subsequent scenarios involving the Dodgers are becoming quite creative. Once the big players like Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon were snagged by rival clubs, a rumor was circulating about the Dodgers’ potential interest in Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor. Ensuing gossip had Los Angeles linked to one of the best starting pitchers on the Indians’ staff, Mike Clevinger, despite the Tribe having dealt former ace Corey Kluber to the Rangers.
Prospective trade scenarios for Clevinger have run the gamut over the last week or so. The Indians are reported to be entertaining offers and are believed to have put a “crazy high” asking price on their righty starter.
Some folks believe that the Indians want Gavin Lux as the centerpiece of a deal—which we’ll talk about in just a bit—while others feel Cleveland might want Dustin May included in the trade. People close to the Indians’ camp feel they would probably want both.
I thought May was an interesting inclusion, mainly because of the amount of potential upside he posesses. Friedman almost never trades away prospects with May’s caliber of talent, unless he has a good idea of how they’ll ultimately profile in the bigs. Considering May’s huge potential, the first thing that crossed my mind was that Friedman would be unlikely to deal him, even for an arm that is already somewhat proven.
While Clevinger is certainly ahead of May as far as a major league service time goes, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two as far as the way their respective ceilings look.
The first thing that jumps out is their ages, as Clevinger had just turned 29 a few days before Christmas, while may is still a young and blooming 22 years of age. Clevinger has had some decent numbers over the past few years, but it’s not like he took the league by storm upon his debut four years ago.
Clevinger was drafted by the Angels in 2011 and made his minor league debut in rookie ball later that year. He had elbow reconstructive surgery in 2013 which kept him out the entire season. In August of 2014, the Angels traded him to the Indians straight up for now-retired reliever Vinnie Pestano.
Eventually, Clevinger made his MLB debut in 2016, five years after throwing his first pitch for Orem in the Pioneer League.
While May doesn’t have any legitimate big league numbers to analyze—having thrown just 34 innings last year—Clevinger has indeed emerged as a “late-bloomer,” so to speak. In 2019, Clevinger finished with both an ERA and a FIP under 3.00 for the first time in his career. His 1.056 WHIP and 12.1 K/9 were also personal highs. The biggest setback in Clevinger’s 2019 campaign was a strained muscle in his upper back that kept him on the shelf for almost 2-1/2 months.
While past injuries are by no means an accurate indicator of a pitcher’s future, they do set off a bit of a red flag to a prospective general manager, especially if that general manager plans on sacrificing half of his Top 5 prospect crew to acquire him.
Both Clevinger and May throw very hard and spin the ball well. May is a sinkerballer who has a very diversified repertoire with his heater sitting in the 96-98 MPH range. May is still developing a potentially very wicked cutter, which eventually could become his main “out” pitch as he matures.
Clevinger has more of a traditional arsenal consisting of a four-seam, a slider, a change and a curve. His fastball generally sits around 94-96 MPH.
According to baseballsavant.com, Clevinger’s fastball spin rate is well-above the MLB average, ranking in the 67th percentile of all big league pitchers last year. Conversely, May’s fastball spin rate—with credit given in part to his natural sinking abilities—is exceptional, ranking in the 96th percentile of MLB pitchers last season.
When comparing the two side by side, at least in the eyes of a GM, Clevinger is certainly the more proven of the two, but his shelf life is significantly much shorter than May’s. Knowing how much Friedman values young talent, my guess is that he sees May with the higher ceiling, at least until some sort of hiccup tells him otherwise.
The big question is whether the team values instant improvement over a potentially more valuable resource years down the road.
While many fans feel the pressure of the team winning a World Championship, those same fans have no bearings on the club’s personnel decisions. A deal for Clevinger certainly makes the Dodgers better right out of 2020 spring training, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a better club over the long haul. For all we know, May could conceivably emerge as an elite talent sometime during the 2020 season and pay huge dividends in the Dodgers’ prospective playoff run.
Despite their farm system being ranked just 12th in baseball, the Indians have a very well-rounded group of prospects to boast. They have a MLB Top 100 prospect in third baseman Nolan Jones, and they have a righty/lefty starting tandem in Triston McKenzie and Logan Allen, both of whom are also in the Top 100. Also among the Cleveland Top 10 prospect list is shortstop Tyler Freeman, catcher Bo Naylor and outfielder George Valera. Their true hope of a blue-chip second baseman lies in the future of 18-year-old Aaron Bracho, so it’s no wonder they’re intrigued so much by Lux.
If anything, my best guess is that the Tribe is on the hunt for an outfielder who can slug. With the departed Yasiel Puig aside, between the quartet of Jake Bauers, Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow and Tyler Naquin last season, the ball left the yard only 52 times. Newly acquired outfielder Delino DeShields hit just four homers for Texas last year.
If it’s me on the phone talking with Cleveland about a deal for Clevinger, I’m keeping both May and Lux.
Lindor, however, might be a different story.