Even though Cleveland is in the thick of the postseason picture, it’s quite possible that the team is ready to part ways with one of its star pitchers, Mike Clevinger. The 29 year-old righty has been bandied about in recent rumors. This comes after Clevinger broke COVID-19 protocols, was placed on the restricted list, and ultimately optioned to the Alternate Site. More on that (and other baggage) in a bit.
Clevinger would be the top pitcher on the trade block if truly available. Brian Cashman undoubtedly will make (or already has made) a call to Cleveland’s front office about him. After all, the Yankees’ rotation could use the boost.
Background & Performance
The Angels drafted Clevinger in the fourth round of the 2011 amateur draft. He wasn’t a big time prospect with the Halos, who dealt him to Cleveland in 2014 for Vinnie Pestano. Pretty bad return in retrospect, though at that time, Clevinger had yet to make it past High-A.
Things turned around fairly quickly for the righty in a new organization. Clevinger became emblematic of Cleveland’s knack for developing pitchers, in fact. He posted gaudy numbers in Double-A and Triple-A in 2015 and 2016, respectively. He also made the show in 2016, but it wasn’t until 2017 that Clevinger became a stalwart in Cleveland’s rotation. A late bloomer at 26 years-old, sure, but better late than never.
In 447 2/3 innings dating back to ’17, Clevinger owns a 2.96 ERA and 3.32 FIP. He’s fanned 28.3 percent of batters and allowed fewer than one homer per nine. His walk rate (9.1 percent) is a tad high in that span, but really not all that bad. Clevinger also went from averaging 92.5 MPH on his fastball to 95.4 last year (he’s down to 94.4 this season, for what it’s worth). The righty’s secondaries are pretty terrific too: he can miss bats with his slider, curveball and changeup. On top of the good stuff, he’s been excellent at limiting hard contact (95th percentile exit velocity in 2019, for example).
If acquired, Clevinger would immediately become the Yankees’ number two starter. This isn’t a case of pursuing someone like Dylan Bundy who’s starting to show flashes after a career of mediocrity. Clevinger is that good. Yet, even with the big numbers and impressive development, he may not be worth the headache. Let’s take a look at why.
You’re probably aware of Clevinger’s recent disregard for the league’s COVID-19 protocols. It’s not just that he broke team curfew: he also tried to get away with it after the teammate he was out with, Zach Plesac, got busted. Clevinger flew home with his teammates knowing that he was just as guilty as Plesac.
Francisco Lindor, on Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac and being selfless: pic.twitter.com/njXpjQEqR8— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) August 11, 2020
Clevinger’s teammates were not too happy, and understandably so. That Francisco Lindor quote above speaks for itself. Cleveland held a team meeting about the situation that effectively resulted in Clevinger’s (and Plesac’s) demotion to the Alternate Site. It’s going to be difficult for those two to regain the trust of their teammates if and when they return.
Clevinger’s recent actions aren’t the only not so pretty things about him either. He also had a Twitter spat with MLB Network’s Robert Flores after Cleveland was eliminated from the postseason in 2018. In the grand scheme of things, Clevinger’s reaction was arguably harmless. But at the same time, it gave lens to his short temper. The whole “can he handle the New York media?” trope is pretty played out, but I have to admit that this is disconcerting.
There’s also this:
As long as Clevinger can pitch, though, right? pic.twitter.com/L6maHS5wXd— Gabrielle (@gfstarr1) December 23, 2019
Professional athletes cheating on spouses/significant others isn’t a surprise. If that alone was disqualifying for wanting a player on your favorite team, you’d probably have a hard time putting a squad together. That said, there are other more troubling allegations above, particularly involving his children. We’re never going to be able to get to the bottom of what happened between he and his family, but I can’t say I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt considering his other behavior noted above.
Clevinger had Tommy John surgery while in the Angels organization and missed most of 2012 and 2013 as a result. That’s pretty far past him now and his arm health has been fine ever since. However, other issues cropped up in 2019. Clevinger was on the injured list from April 9 to June 17 with a high grade back strain. He also missed some time after that return start due to an ankle sprain.
Further, Clevinger had knee surgery back in February that was all but forgotten as a result of the pandemic. He’d have missed a fairly significant chunk of the regular season had it gone on as originally scheduled.
Clevinger is under team control through the 2022 season. However, there’s a chance that he won’t hit free agency until after the 2023 season depending on how long he remains at the Alternate Site. A trade to the Yankees (or other team) would almost certainly end that possibility. In any event, Clevinger’s pay will increase substantially going forward. Before pro-rated salaries took effect this year, Clevinger signed for $5 million in his first arbitration season. He’ll probably be in the eight-figure range in 2021.
What would a trade look like?
Pitchers of Clevinger’s caliber aren’t available via trade very often. Of course, there are some underlying issues that probably bring down his trade value. For better or worse, these are the types of players the Yankees like to pursue.
I originally was going to reference the Sonny Gray and Chris Archer trades here, but those comps don’t make sense. Cleveland isn’t a traditional seller right now at 17-12. If they trade Clevinger, they’re going to want to try to offset his loss at the major league level. There’s one obvious place to do so. The team’s 112 runs scored is 23rd in all of MLB and Cleveland’s outfield have a league-worst 45 wRC+. I think you know where I’m going here. Clint Frazier, Miguel Andújar, and Mike Tauchman will be of interest. It’ll probably take at least one of those three and prospects to make a Clevinger trade happen.