Do not let it be lost that Corey Kluber was magnificent on Monday night. Sure, he did not factor into the decision after Bryan Shaw came in, allowed a ton of base-runners, and even refused to accept a free out from a bunting Christian Colon. Instead, Colon laced a double to score two runs to tie it before Jeff Manship eventually came in to allow an Alex Gordon slide just ahead of a tag at home for the Kansas City Royals (47-45) to take the lead. The Royals continued to gain baserunners before Jarrod Dyson cleared them with a grand slam to cap a seven run eighth inning.
Regardless, Kluber (7 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 8 SO) was magnificent. He was convincing Royal batters to swing at pitches in the dirt and make soft contact for easy outs. The Cleveland Indians (54-38) defense was fantastic as well. Juan Uribe had two bare-handed plays, the second of which left the bases loaded. Lonnie Chisenhall threw an absolute rope to Jason Kipnis as a cutoff man how turned and threw across the diamond to Uribe to nail Cuthbert in the fourth. Colon was caught in that seven-run eighth inning when he attempted to stretch his double into a triple.
So, if there was ever a game to demonstrate that the bullpen continues to be THE issue for the Tribe, it was Monday as they lost a game 7-3, which they controlled until a call needed to be made for relief went unheeded.
Why not the real Andrew Miller?
Andrew Miller, arguably the best left-handed reliever in MLB, is locked up through the 2018 season and he might be available in trade. As such, the New York Yankees rightfully should ask for more than even they believe he is worth. The worst case scenario has them keeping a stud reliever. The best case has them adding some much needed high-talent youth to their depleted farm system.
The trouble is that Miller is also a 31 year old reliever locked into being paid $9 million per year, who is likely at the high point of his value. And, that high point of value is still only somewhere in the 2.5-3.0 WAR range (depending on if you prefer his 2016 bWAR of 2.0 or 1.5 fWAR).
But, for a World Series contending team such as the Indians with a weak bullpen, Miller could lock down one of those precious late innings and potentially push the team from contenders to favorites. Maybe. Baseball is a weird sport where even pitchers as great as Clayton Kershaw can struggle in October.
So, obtaining a fair valuation for Miller is tough as it is. Finding compensation an acquiring team can stomach that the Yankees will accept might be impossible. Jim Pete at EHC thoroughly broke down just how much Andrew Miller might cost to acquire and landed here:
So what would the final deal look like?
Cleveland sends to the Yankees:
CF Bradley Zimmer
SP Mike Clevinger
C Francisco Mejia
New York sends to the Indians:
RP Andrew Miller
Who do we have in our own system?
Justin Lada of Burning River Baseball broke down the in-house options for the Tribe well even if he forgot T.J. House (oh, for the love of puns) and Craig Stammen. Well, not so much forgot as realized that either of those pitchers might be able to handle the backend of the bullpen, but neither guy is going to lock down high leverage innings for a playoff team.
Flawed guys who will not be high-leverage answers in 2016 for various reasons: J.P. Feyereisen, Ryan Merritt, Kyle Crockett, Jeff Johnson
Indians have already fiddled a bit with these starters in a bullpen role: Cody Anderson, Mike Clevinger
Youngsters who have potential but might be a little rough around the edges for now: Ben Heller, Shawn Armstrong, Josh Martin
Interestingly, both Heller and Armstrong appear to have "the stuff" to be able to handle a MLB bullpen role, but the team continues to bypass them when making decisions for relief. For instance, Anderson took the recent weekend emergency role in the bullpen, and Crockett replaced him on Monday. So, counting on the Tribe to even trust them on the 25-man - let alone in the seventh or eighth innings - seems far-fetched.
Either Anderson or Clevinger would fit the Miller mold of a starter posing as a reliever with the team hoping for better results in a more limited inning role. Both pitchers have high strikeout capacity alongside the demeanor to be able to handle such a role. So, the team should be contemplating such a move especially if nothing on the trade market peaks their interest.
What other trade options are there?
Well, if the Indians want a Miller approximation on the trade market, then acquiring Boone Logan (31% K%, 0.95 WHIP, 1.77 FIP) from the Colorado Rockies is the next best left-handed reliever. Other potential available arms range from the Padres Ryan Buchter and Brad Hand, Jeremy Jeffress, Diamondbacks Tyler Clippard and Daniel Hudson, or bringing back the old John Axford from the Oakland Athletics.
Logan, Buchter (34.8% K%, 1.10 WHIP, 2.69 FIP), and Clippard (29.2% K%, 1.23 WHIP, 3.63 FIP) are by far the most prized of those names. They each are proven bullpen arms with good strikeout rates and the ability to instill confidence as they walk out onto the mound when they are needed the most late in games.
However, to obtain those names, full price is going to have to be paid as Dave Dombrowski set the market high when he acquired Brad Ziegler for the Boston Red Sox. The Indians should be keeping tabs on those players and grabbing one if the Yankee-bump on perceived value makes them relatively bargains compared to Miller (especially Logan with his devastating slider). But, the Tribe also shouldn't be giving up the best of their farm system for any of those guys if they aren't going to give them up for Miller.
OK, so what are we looking for here?
If the Indians are looking for a bargain on the trade market that might pay dividends in their bullpen, then they need to allow their eyes to stray away from the proven relievers on the market and shift more towards failed starters. But, it will be important to target a specific class/breed of failed starters as there are certain characteristics that are necessary to have the classic upside desired.
The Indians should be looking at failed (or struggling) starters with a good strikeout rate history preferably in MLB but high MiLB strikeout numbers could work too (Miller's own K% dropped precipitously as a starter in MLB after some great MiLB numbers). If the Tribe is truly looking at finding a dominant guy for their bullpen, then they should be looking at having at least one high-valued pitch and a tall frame. If the pitcher happens to be a southpaw, then BINGO.
There will be many names on the starting pitcher trade market. It is important to first separate out the names of pitchers who are good enough to remain starters (and hence will fetch a hefty price - a larger one than should be spent on a bullpen arm).
The Rental Pitchers: Rich Hill, Andrew Cashner, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jered Weaver.
Longer Contracts but starting material: Sonny Gray, Matt Shoemaker, Drew Pomeranz, Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Julio Teheran, Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Chatwood, Nation Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Jimmy Nelson, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Hector Santiago, and Nick Tropeano.
Sure, some of those above pitchers might be had cheap and might fit the model that the Indians could utilize as a bullpen role. General manager Mike Chernoff and team president Chris Antonetti should be discussing each of those names with their respective teams and weighing out each and every option.
But, it is struggling starters on the market who are desperate to remain in MLB that might be the most receptive to making the switch to the bullpen - perhaps hoping to capitalize on a career transition.
Failed starters looking to stay in MLB: Ivan Nova, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, Jesse Hahn, Nick Tepesch, Lucas Harrell, Wily Peralta, Jordan Lyles, and Brad Hand.
From the above table, there are quite a few who are easy to remove. Such as Wily Peralta who would certainly entice those teams who believe they could harness his blazing velocity, but whose track record (along with his unimposing height) suggest he will not miss enough bats.
Quickly, there are three names who pop out as the most obvious candidates for a career resuscitation in the pen. Michael Pineda (Yankees), Brad Hand (Padres), and Lucas Harrell (Braves) each possess velocities above 90 miles per hour (which can get a bit of a tick up in a more limited role), good strikeout rates, and more than one valuable pitch (note: small sample size alert and I used more than what is shown to measure value).
Each of these pitchers has different reasons for the Indians to target them. Hand is left-handed (hey-O). Pineda has the best upside. Harrell has had the most recent success. So, the Indians should target each of them and take whichever they can obtain for a fair price. If they can grab more than one, then all the better.
While the Tribe is still on track to make the postseason, if they want to make noise in October, then they need to shore up those arms. The Indians are too good of a team to have to rely on over-worked Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen limping out to the mound every single close game with the Tribe hoping they have enough in the tank that particular day. Both of them have shown signs of falling off their career norms this season, and the Indians have suffered.
The Indians can call up Clevinger, Anderson, and/or Heller. The Tribe can trade for Hand, Pineda, and/or Harrell. The team could even go all-in and make a huge trade for Miller or Logan. But, what the 2016 Cleveland Indians cannot do is continue to trot out the same bullpen guys who have been struggling all year and expect the results to be any different.