Cleveland Indians

What might the Trevor Bauer trade mean for the White Sox future?

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USA TODAY

What might the Trevor Bauer trade mean for the White Sox future?

There was never going to be a deadline deal that dramatically affected the fortunes of the 2019 White Sox. After all, they've started the second half on a 4-14 slide, eliminating them from the midseason playoff projections of even the most overzealous fan.

So what does the Cleveland Indians making a trade to improve their chances of winning this season's AL Central crown have to do with the South Siders?

Well, a lot, actually. Because the Indians just got better in the long term. You know, the same long term that the White Sox have been building toward.

The Indians dealt starting pitcher Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds as part of an at-this-point unannounced but widely reported three-team deal that returned outfielder Yasiel Puig and pitching prospect Scott Moss from their in-state rivals and outfielder Franmil Reyes and pitching prospect Logan Allen from the San Diego Padres. Reds outfield prospect Taylor Trammell — that organization’s top-ranked prospect and a top-30 prospect in baseball — went to San Diego in the deal.

All that ends up with the Indians adding two new everyday hitters and a pitching prospect ranked in the top 100 who becomes the No. 3 prospect in that organization and losing a guy who has been at times in recent seasons one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

Now, when it comes to the White Sox fallout of this trade, the only immediate concern is whether they’ll have to brawl with Puig at some point during the seven games they have against the Indians in September.

But the franchise's future remains incredibly bright, even if the woeful stretch coming out of the All-Star break has somewhat dampened the excitement generated by a positive-filled first half. While the last few weeks have been a tad too reminiscent of the 2017 and 2018 teams that lost a combined 195 games, the 2019 performances of Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, James McCann, Jose Abreu, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal provide plenty of reason to believe that the White Sox could contend in 2020.

Well, the AL Central in which they’ll be attempting to contend in just got a sizable shake-up with this trade.

The headliner coming back to the Indians is Puig, and he's slated to hit free agency after the season is over, making it possible that he's a mere rental. But Reyes is far from a rental, not heading to free agency until 2025. The Indians just added a bat that could be in the middle of their lineup for the next half decade, and Reyes swings a mean stick. He's got 27 homers in 98 games this season, putting him on pace to finish the season with more than 40 long balls. That's, you know, a lot. And it's also something the White Sox are now going to have to figure out how to avoid in 19 games a season as they move into the contention phase of their rebuilding project.

Allen is ranked as a top-100 prospect, which could mean that Bauer, who has one season remaining on his contract, was just replaced in the Indians' long-term rotation. Obviously expecting an unproven prospect to be as good as Bauer's been is jumping the gun a little bit. But the clock was ticking on how long Bauer could be an impact arm for the Indians. There's a lot more time on Allen's clock, as well as Reyes', for that matter.

The bottom line is the Indians' long-term fortunes dramatically improved Tuesday night. And while the White Sox aren't building a roster for years to come based on what their division opponents will look like, it adds to the calculus of how difficult it will be for the White Sox to compete for division titles into the future.

The good news for 2020, of course, is that Bauer is out of the AL Central. But the Indians have shown as they've chased down the Twins that they're not exactly experiencing the closing of their contention window many believed was coming in the offseason and earlier this season. It's quite possible the Indians aren't going anywhere.

The White Sox will have to go up against a Cleveland team that features star sluggers Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana for at least the two seasons that follow this one. Now add Reyes to that mix, as well. That's a lot of pop, and we've seen what a lot of pop can do when White Sox pitching has been bludgeoned by the Twins this season. And though Bauer's gone, the Indians still have plenty of team control left on the contracts of starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber.

Nothing that's going on around the division will impact when the White Sox are ready to enter their contention phase. That will be based on the development of the White Sox core players, many of whom were listed above and have had positive 2019 campaigns to this point.

But say the White Sox are ready to contend in 2020. It seems like their path to a division title might have just gotten tougher. And the details of this trade, the years of control of some of the players involved, could mean that the road will stay tough into 2021. And 2022. And 2023. And so on.

Anyone counting on the White Sox ascending as the Indians were fading out of the spotlight in the division they've dominated in recent years might need to rethink some things. The Indians might not be going anywhere.

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The Reds are shaking up the MLB Trade Deadline and the NL Central

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USA TODAY

The Reds are shaking up the MLB Trade Deadline and the NL Central

You know it's a wild night for a ballclub when one of your pitchers taking on an entire team in a brawl is the second-most interesting headline.

Shortly before Amir Garrett tried to fight the entire Pittsburgh Pirates roster in a moment that will live on in baseball infamy, the Reds actually put the NL Central on notice with a different move, acquiring Trevor Bauer from the Indians and trading away Yasiel Puig in a three-team deal.

The move is undoubtedly the most high-profile of the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline to date, as both Bauer and Puig are big names and talented players switching clubs. The San Diego Padres also got into the mix, dealing outfielder Franmil Reyes and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen to the Indians and acquiring Reds top prospect Taylor Trammell in return.

Bauer, 28, joins a much-improved Reds pitching staff after making his own headlines this week by chucking a ball over the centerfield fence when he was being taken out of a game in his final outing in Cleveland. The right-hander was in the running for the AL Cy Young last year before an injury and at the time of the trade this season, led the league in innings pitched (156.2) while boasting a 9-8 record, 3.79 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. 

He is under team control through the 2020 season, so it gives the Reds plenty of options. They can try to make a run for a playoff spot this year, but they currently sit 7.5 games out of first place in the NL Central and 6.5 out of the wild-card race with a 49-56 record. So they're most likely retooling for next season, though they could flip the MLB Trade Deadline on its head and turn around and deal Bauer to another club before 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Puig is a free agent after this season and has disappointed in his first year with the Reds. The 28-year-old enigmatic outfielder was hitting .255 with a .785 OPS and 22 homers at the time of the trade and shortly after the move was reported, he was out right out there alongside Garrett trying to fight the Pirates.

It's a savvy move by the Reds, trading away a short-term asset for a longer-term guy. But it had to be tough to part with Trammell, who ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus coming into the season.

Even if they don't make a push for the postseason this year, the Reds could still be a formidable spoiler down the stretch, with a rotation pairing Bauer alongside Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray and an offense that still features Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett. 

That's bad news for the Cubs, who are already only 5-7 against the Reds this year and have to play them seven more times, including a trip to Cincinnati next weekend. 

AL Central pecking order becoming clearer as White Sox push winning streak to five

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USA TODAY

AL Central pecking order becoming clearer as White Sox push winning streak to five

Exciting. Fun. Watchable.

Words of praise thrown around during the first five games of this homestand were rarely applicable during the first two seasons of the South Side rebuilding project. But the White Sox haven’t lost since returning from a three-game sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, delivering the same fate to the Kansas City Royals before taking the first two of a four-game weekend set against the Cleveland Indians.

It’s a rather apt illustration of where the AL Central is at the moment, the Twins towering above the competition this season while the White Sox look to be in a better spot than the other three teams. They pulled even with the Indians, at 28-29, thanks to Friday night’s 6-1 victory. In the first two games of this series, the White Sox have outscored the Indians by a combined 16-5 margin, and while the Indians booted and threw the ball all over Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday, the White Sox took advantage against Trevor Bauer.

That’s two straight wins against Carlos Carrasco and Bauer, two of the Indians’ supposedly elite starting pitchers.

Regardless of whether or not you think this streak is a harbinger of October baseball coming to the South Side — and it’s certainly far too early for that — what can’t be argued is that these are the kinds of accomplishments the White Sox didn’t have in 2017 and 2018, when they lost a combined 195 games. Bright spots on this team have shone a promising spotlight on the future, and they might be rewarded in the present, with multiple guys playing at All-Star levels.

The Indians looked as if they had one more run in them, perhaps. Even with a less than inspiring lineup when the season began, they had the best rotation in the game and two MVP candidates in the lineup in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. While Carlos Santana has been fine, Ramirez has not. Lindor hit Dylan Covey’s third pitch out of the park Friday night, but the limitations of an offense with few other dependable hitters were on display. Cleveland couldn’t scratch across another run the rest of the night.

And so with the Indians caught, the White Sox have done what some had hoped but fewer had expected: They’ve established themselves as the No. 2 team in this division. What that’s worth, though, is potentially inconsequential.

Tim Anderson might not have been drawing up playoff scenarios in his head — or reliving just how badly the Twins beat up on the White Sox just a weekend ago in Minneapolis — but he outlined the White Sox true desire before Friday’s game.

Does second place mean anything?

“No, man. We want to be in first place and we want to keep working and keep getting better,” Anderson said. “We're going to stay hungry.”

Anderson was likely just providing another example of pro athletes’ “if you’re not first, you’re last” mentality, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s true that second place in the AL Central might not mean much when it comes to the postseason. The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox figure to keep battling it out in the AL East, and the Oakland Athletics have made their annual out-of-nowhere surge into contention.

True, the White Sox are not at all far from the second wild-card spot in the American League. But it’s also May 31.

This isn’t to rain on the ongoing parade on the South Side, however. The White Sox are winning right now, and that’s more than could be said during the vast majority of the last two seasons. The rebuild was always going to yield something positive at some point. This winning streak might not foreshadow the White Sox reaching baseball’s mountaintop by the end of this season, but it’s a positive sign made up of a bunch of other positive signs that spell good things for seasons to come.

As for the rest of 2019, there are nine games left against these Indians, 10 left against the Royals and 14 still to play against the Detroit Tigers. The White Sox can rack up a lot of wins against those teams, not to mention their still-to-come series with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, who they’ll see a combined 10 times before the season’s end. There are scattered National League opponents of various quality remaining, as well.

The White Sox, unsurprisingly, are not concerned with playoff projections or which teams remain on the schedule. They’ve got a good thing going on this homestand, and they’d like to keep it rolling for as long as possible.

“The guys are playing with some energy,” manager Rick Renteria said after Friday’s win. “I think they are having fun, they are focused. Clubs when they start to get on a little bit of a roll, they are enjoying their time, they know what they are doing. They are going with the moment and hopefully this will be a moment that lasts a long time.”

Long-lasting success is the ultimate goal of this rebuild, of course, and getting to the top of the game first requires getting to the top of the division. The Twins hold a 10.5-game lead as the calendar turns to June, meaning the White Sox might have to settle for only getting to second place in 2019. But that’s a lot better than where they were last year.

The rebuild progresses.

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