Top Trade Packages, Landing Spots for MLB Star Corey Kluber
There's a real chance that Corey Kluber could be traded during the next week's winter meetings in Las Vegas.
That's a sentence no one expected to hear a few months ago, but the Cleveland Indians are faced with "market constraints" and willing to listen on all their high-priced veterans, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com.
Kluber, 32, is unquestionably one of the game's elite starting pitchers.
Over the past five seasons, he's gone 83-45 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while averaging 246 strikeouts and 218 innings per year.
With three years and $52.5 million left on his contract—including his 2020 and 2021 club options—he's a bargain for teams not looking to make major financial commitments to any of the market's remaining free agents.
It comes as no surprise that there's been widespread interest in the two-time Cy Young winner.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently listed the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants as teams who have shown some level of interest. A report from Mark Feinsand of MLB.com added the New York Mets to the list of known suitors.
So what would it take for those seven teams to land the all-world starter?
We've cooked up a hypothetical trade proposal for each of them.
To ATL: SP Corey Kluber
The Braves already have an emerging ace in Mike Foltynewicz and a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter in Kevin Gausman alongside workhorse Julio Teheran, rising lefty Sean Newcomb and a number of other emerging young arms.
Adding Kluber to the top of the staff could be the move that pushes them over the top and to a National League East title after a 90-win season in 2018.
To CLE: OF Ender Inciarte, SP Kyle Wright, SP Bryse Wilson, RP Thomas Burrows
The Indians have a clear need in the outfield, and a package built around slick-fielding center fielder Ender Inciarte would be a good place to start. With Ronald Acuna Jr. capable of stepping into the center field job and Austin Riley potentially shifting to the outfield, it's a move the Braves might be open to.
Inciarte, 28, has another three years and $22.1 million left on his contract, along with a $9 million club option for 2022. That team-friendly salary further adds to his value.
Building out the package with a top-50-caliber pitching prospect (Kyle Wright) and a top-100-caliber arm (Bryse Wilson) could be enough to push the offer over the top. The Braves could just as easily sub in Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka or Ian Anderson to that first slot and Kolby Allard, Kyle Muller or Joey Wentz in the second spot. That's the beauty of their deep farm system.
Rounding out the package with lefty reliever Thomas Burrows—who posted a 2.66 ERA, 11.4 K/9 and a .199 opponents batting average over three minor league levels—would give the Indians another controllable bullpen asset.
Los Angeles Dodgers
To LAD: SP Corey Kluber
With Clayton Kershaw back in the fold and Hyun-Jin Ryu accepting his qualifying offer, the Dodgers will return that duo alongside Walker Buehler and Rich Hill in the starting rotation. Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias and Brock Stewart are all capable of filling the No. 5 spot.
However, adding Kluber to the top alongside Kershaw and Buehler would give the Dodgers a starting staff that stacks up to any in baseball as they look to get over the hump after back-to-back World Series losses.
To CLE: OF Yasiel Puig, OF Alex Verdugo, SP Yadier Alvarez, C Connor Wong
According to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, the Indians and Dodgers have already discussed a deal centered around Yasiel Puig, and they've shown a willingness to include hard-throwing prospect Yadier Alvarez as well.
Puig would be an immediate upgrade to the Cleveland outfield, and Alvarez has the stuff to emerge as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. That said, Puig is also just a year removed from free agency, and Alvarez walked batters at a staggering 7.2 BB/9 clip last season. So it will likely take more than just those two to complete a deal.
Specifically, the Dodgers would likely need to include one of Alex Verdugo or Gavin Lux as the prospect centerpiece. While Verdugo is the higher-profile name, the Dodgers clung tightly to Lux in Manny Machado negotiations, according to Jon Heyman of Fancred.
Rounding out the package with athletic catching prospect Connor Wong—who posted an .831 OPS with 20 doubles, 19 home runs and 60 RBI at High-A—could get a trade done.
New York Mets
To NYM: SP Corey Kluber
A starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Kluber, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz would be borderline unfair, provided that group remains intact the rest of the offseason and can stay reasonably healthy once the 2019 campaign begins.
For the time being, Jason Vargas is penciled into the No. 5 starter spot, and the Mets may be interested in offloading his $8 million salary for 2019 and $2 million buyout for 2020 as well.
To CLE: OF Brandon Nimmo, SP Jason Vargas, SP Anthony Kay, SS Shervyen Newton
If this return seems light compared to the other proposals, you're undervaluing Brandon Nimmo.
The 25-year-old is controllable all the way through the 2022 season, and he's not even arbitration-eligible for the first time until next offseason. He posted a 150 OPS+ with 53 extra-base hits and an excellent .404 on-base percentage en route to 4.4 WAR in 2018.
For a team with a projected outfield of Leonys Martin, Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin, he would be a huge addition.
Unloading Vargas in the deal will likely mean giving up at least one quality prospect as well, and that's where high-floor left-hander Anthony Kay comes into play. The 23-year-old missed the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery after going No. 31 overall in the 2016 draft. He returned strong this past season and should move quickly toward his ceiling as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Adding in lottery ticket Shervyen Newton—a 19-year-old shortstop who hit .280/.408/.449 with 23 extra-base hits in 56 rookie ballgames—further sweetens the proposal.
New York Yankees
To NYY: SP Corey Kluber
The Yankees have a rotation of Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia penciled into the first four spots on the staff. They're still in the market to add at least one more starter before the offseason is over, though.
With Patrick Corbin off the market after agreeing to a six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, according to Jon Heyman of Fancred, Kluber could become the Yankees' top offseason target.
To CLE: OF Aaron Hicks, SP Jonathan Loaisiga, OF Everson Pereira, SP Roansy Contreras, SP Luis Gil
The price is going to be a bit higher for American League teams, considering the Indians still have their own sights set on winning the AL pennant.
Aaron Hicks would be a huge upgrade in the outfield, though his status as a free agent after the 2019 season cuts into his value. The Yankees could go with an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge while moving Luke Voit into the DH role.
Prospect Jonathan Loaisiga is MLB-ready, and he would compete with Adam Plutko to fill the rotation spot vacated by Kluber.
From there, Everson Pereira (17 years old), Roansy Contreras (19) and Luis Gil (20) are upside plays, and each of their upsides is significant. All three could rank inside the team's top 10 prospects in 2019, and Pereira has a chance to be just as good or better than the oft-hyped Estevan Florial.
If the Indians have one eye on the future, this package could entice them above all others.
To OAK: SP Corey Kluber
The Athletics have work to do to rebuild the starting rotation. With Sean Manaea likely lost for the season after shoulder surgery, Mike Fiers non-tendered and Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson all departing in free agency, the current projected rotation is as follows: RHP Daniel Mengden, RHP Frankie Montas, RHP Chris Bassitt, RHP Aaron Brooks, RHP Paul Blackburn.
They found a way to piece things together, but it's hard to see that staff contending. Kluber would make a huge difference at the top, but he might come at a price the A's aren't willing to pay.
To CLE: IF/OF Chad Pinder, 1B/OF Mark Canha, SP A.J. Puk, IF Eli White, SP Brian Howard
It's hard to see any scenario in which the Athletics are willing to offer up top prospect Jesus Luzardo. He's close to MLB-ready, he's cheap and controllable, and he should be ready to make an impact at some point in 2019.
That might be a non-starter for the Indians. With that in mind, the above package could be the best the A's are willing to offer, and it's one that should still be attractive to Cleveland.
And if A.J. Puk can return to his pre-injury form, he's a top-50-caliber pitching prospect and someone who could make an impact at the MLB level in 2019.
Infielder Eli White (.306/.388/450, 47 XBH at AA) and right-hander Brian Howard (11-7, 2.91 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 140 K, 139.1 IP at A+/AA) were both standout performers in 2018 and should hold significant appeal. Would that be enough?
To PHI: SP Corey Kluber
A one-two punch of Kluber and Aaron Nola would stack up to any starting pitching tandem in baseball, and that would go a long way toward helping the Phillies bridge the gap in the NL East.
Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta and Vincent Velasquez would round out the staff, giving Philadelphia one of the most talented rotations in all of baseball.
To CLE: SP Zach Eflin, OF Adam Haseley, SS Luis Garcia, RP Kyle Dohy
The Phillies dangled Zach Eflin in talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire Paul Goldschmidt, according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic, so it stands to reason they'd be willing to do the same for a chance to acquire Kluber.
Eflin, 24, enjoyed a breakout season in 2018, going 11-8 with a 4.36 ERA (3.80 FIP) and an excellent 123-37 strikeout-to-walk rate over 128 innings. With team control through the 2022 season, he'd be an excellent low-cost replacement for Kluber.
Adam Haseley is the prospect headliner after hitting .305/.361/.433 with 33 extra-base hits between High-A and Double-A last season. As a polished hitter who has already gotten his feet wet in Double-A, he could be ready for the majors by the second half.
Shortstop Luis Garcia is a different type of prospect, as he's years away from the majors. That said, after hitting .369/.433/.488 with 15 extra-base hits in 187 plate appearances in rookie ball as a 17-year-old (he turned 18 on Oct. 1), his stock is clearly on the rise.
If the Phillies round out the package with Kyle Dohy—a lefty reliever who racked up 111 strikeouts in 67.1 innings with a .151 opponents' batting average over three minor league levels—Cleveland will be getting a controllable bullpen arm capable of making an impact in the late innings.
San Francisco Giants
To SF: SP Corey Kluber, 2B Jason Kipnis
The Giants don't make much sense as potential suitors.
They're a team that desperately needs to accept the inevitable and start rebuilding after back-to-back losing seasons, and any moves that cost them young, controllable talent would be a huge mistake.
In fact, given their thin farm system, it's hard to see them putting together a competitive offer. Perhaps a willingness to take on the $14.67 million owed to Jason Kipnis in 2019 would lower the acquisition cost enough for them to be legitimate contenders.
To CLE: 2B Joe Panik, OF Steven Duggar, OF Heliot Ramos, SP Shaun Anderson, RP Melvin Adon
Assuming prized catching prospect Joey Bart is off-limits, this is about as good as the Giants can do.
Joe Panik is coming off the worst season of his career, but he posted a 102 OPS+ while hitting .288/.347/.421 with 28 doubles and 10 home runs in 2017, and he's more than capable of returning to that level of production.
Steven Duggar provides some immediate help in the outfield, though his ceiling is somewhat limited. He hit .255/.303/.390 with 14 extra-base hits and five steals in 152 plate appearances in his first taste of MLB action, and he added value defensively (4 DRS, 4.2 UZR/150) in center field.
Boom-or-bust prospect Heliot Ramos has huge offensive upside if he can make enough contact, Shaun Anderson is the team's best pitching prospect, and he has a high floor and all the makings of a No. 4 starter. Hard-throwing Melvin Adon turned heads with his electric stuff in the Arizona Fall League.
Again, it would be a mistake for the Giants to make this trade.
If they're serious about making a run at Kluber, though, this could be the offer they use to try to compete with the other teams listed here.