Latest On Trevor Bauer

The Indians face an interesting potential dilemma — and opportunity — with regard to starter Trevor Bauer. Even as they continue to ramp up the pressure on the AL Central-leading Twins and remain in Wild Card position, the Cleveland organization may consider swapping out the excellent but costly right-hander.

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic characterizes the Cleveland organization as “aggressive listeners” when it comes to Bauer (audio link via Twitter; further discussion via subscription link). That’s an understandable position for the organization to take. After all, any deal would have to both respect the team’s immediate prospects for contention and represent a significant boost to the future outlook.

There’s ample long-term uncertainty between the Indians and Bauer. He’s earning $13MM this year and promises to take down another significant raise on top of that (particularly after twice defeating the club in an arbitration hearing). It will likely be difficult for the team to afford him in 2020. Beyond that, Bauer has made clear for some time now that he intends to head onto the open market and sign a string of one-year contracts. Even if the Indians want to retain him, they’ll need to top quite a few other potential bidders.

That said, there isn’t exactly immediate pressure to do a deal. If the Indians are determined not to hang onto Bauer next season, they can still certainly move him over the offseason. Having already skimped on salary entering this season and run into a surprisingly stiff challenge from Minnesota, the Indians will surely hesitate to draw away too much present ability from the MLB roster. And the rotation is in greater need than might have been anticipated due to ongoing uncertainty surrounding Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. While each is expected to return, it remains to be seen whether either can make it back to top form this season.

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If there’s room for a deal, it surely involves a scenario in which the Indians are able to acquire high-quality, MLB-ready position-player talent. There are quite a few marginal offensive performers on the roster at present, leaving ample room to improve. It’s not altogether impossible to imagine a trade coming together, particularly if the Indians can find a partner with a bit of a surplus to work with in the right areas. But this was all largely true over the offseason, when the Cleveland front office explored but did not consummate deals involving its slate of starters.

The obvious connection to be made here is between the Indians and Yankees. The New York outfit needs starters and just so happens to possess an excess young slugger that was once a top performer on the Cleveland farm. But Rosenthal reiterates (as he has suggested previously) that the Yanks don’t want to move Clint Frazier for a quality starter who comes with another season of control. The staying power of that stance seems a bit dubious — if the New York organization was really so convinced of the 24-year-old’s abilities with the bat, it probably wouldn’t have been so eager to displace him from the 2019 roster — but it remains the prevailing characterization of the situation.

That’s not to say the Yankees aren’t interested in Bauer, a 28-year-old hurler who hasn’t been quite as excellent as he was last year but nevertheless paces the American League with 132 frames and carries a strong 3.61 ERA. To the contrary, Rosenthal says that NYY scouting guru Tim Naehring watched Bauer’s most recent outing. As Andy Martino of notes, that’s not necessarily an overly momentous occurrence, though there’s little doubt the Yankees were glad to have a close look at Bauer.

If the Indians do indeed crank up the volume on their headphones and bust out the air guitar for a truly aggressive listening session, they’ll no doubt want to check out some other artists beyond the Bronx Bombers. Quite a few other contenders would no doubt prefer to pay a bit more for Bauer than to give up a haul for a true rental pitcher. In addition to the extra season of control, which could fill a rotation need for next season or be cashed back in via trade, a new team might reasonably anticipate recouping draft compensation in the future by extending a qualifying offer.

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