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Cleveland is trading Corey Kluber to Texas. What’s next?

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A major shakeup in the winter transaction market.

League Championship - Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Indians - Game One Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians won 93 games in 2019, a total that came directly on the heels of season win totals of 91, 104, and 94 since 2016. To celebrate said success and honor their roster full of brilliant pitching and some of the best in-prime position players any team in baseball can boast, they’re trading their two-time Cy Young Award winning ace to the Texas Rangers for a return that can only be described as...what?!

Admittedly, a 33 year old Kluber had his worst season in years in 2019, pitching to an ugly 5.80 ERA in just 35.2 IP, while his average fastball velocity dipped to a career-worst 91.6 mph. Of course, that was largely due to a pair of serious injuries, including a broken right forearm on a laser of a comebacker in May and a later oblique strain - neither of which is the kind of structural, surgically reconstructed problems that should plague him going forward. Yet with 2 years and some $36.5 million left on his deal, it appears Cleveland was still willing to sell low on their ace, due largely to the one thing that has become increasingly infuriating to watch across the baseball landscape:

Profits.

Cleveland, who has a World Series appearance under this current roster’s belt, has long been crying about their burgeoning payroll despite it barely sniffing a league average amount. They did it just last winter, too, when they dumped the likes of Yan Gomes and Yonder Alonso to save a buck while also making a major move of Edwin Encarnacion for Carlos Santana to further free up some coin while trying to thread the needle of still maintaining relevance.

Last winter, that was a good enough juggle to keep them as a 93 win team, but in case you’d forgotten, 93 wins last year was not good enough for them to make the playoffs. And despite the knowledge that they were going to get a healthy Kluber back from his somewhat freak injuries in 2019, they’ve opted to shed him for a prospect package that won’t make a lick of an impact on their 2020 roster simply to save a few bucks.

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Qualifying Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

While I would love to turn this particular article into a bash-piece critiquing Cleveland’s willingness to punt on a good roster while largely still at it’s peak, that’s not what I’m going to do here. Rather, I’m going to try to dig into how their decision making at the moment will shake up what’s already been a monument-moving transaction season across the baseball landscape this winter.

We’ve seen the gargantuan deals doled out to Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon. Those came after the mammoth deals to Zack Wheeler and Yasmani Grandal, too. Teams with money are doing everything they can to scoop up what they can of this brilliant crop of on-the-market free agents, and the likes of Josh Donaldson and Madison Bumgarner are still available, too. But if Cleveland is willing to add some of their higher-paid players like Kluber to that mix, suddenly the already rich market will immediately become deeper.

Francisco Lindor, of course, is Cleveland’s prize. He’s baseball’s prize, a superstar two-way player with a charisma that’s every bit as heart-melting as his fWAR and wRC+. He’s got a pair of years of team control left while also being a guy Cleveland’s front office has pretty well guaranteed won’t be signing an extension to stick around, meaning he ticks all the boxes of player ripe to headline a blockbuster deal. And while yesterday you could’ve said to yourself that maybe Cleveland just rides it out with their current group and ignores the future and bottom line while trying to win, today’s move of Kluber signals that’s just simply not going to be the case.

So, add Lindor to this winter’s trade block, and keep him at the top of your official list of ‘who could the Reds trade for that would be the absolute most perfect fit for their win in 2020 priority.’ Of course, officially add Lindor to the top of every team in baseball’s same list, as the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, and every other good team with stacked farm system will be lining up for him, too.

Perhaps Cleveland can somehow make this work. As I alluded to earlier, they’ve made these kinds of deals before - I didn’t even mention the Trevor Bauer trade from last summer that landed them Franmil Reyes for the foreseeable future - and still managed to win more games than lose them. Hell, after winning 68 games back in 2012, they flipped talented OF Shin-Soo Choo despite him being absolutely in-prime, and stumbled into a 90 win season in 2013 anyway. Maybe they know that the best of Kluber has really come and gone, and maybe they were willing to part with that despite not landing the kind of blockbuster return that would’ve truly remade their roster. Maybe, just maybe, they shed money and a player on whom they’ve soured and were simply OK with it, much to the chagrin of Texas in this scenario.

Regardless, the rest of the baseball world now sees Cleveland waiving a white flag - a white flag with WE NEED MONEY written in the bottom corner - and the vultures will begin to circle. The Reds, for once, are in a position to be one of those vultures, and dear lord I hope like hell they find a way to be an extra-hungry one.