Trevor Bauer

Trades of Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman have added interesting wrinkle to MLB trade deadline

Trades of Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman have added interesting wrinkle to MLB trade deadline

Between the trade of Marcus Stroman to the Mets earlier this week and the reported three-team swap Tuesday night sending Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds, a new wrinkle has been added to the MLB trade deadline.

We're not seeing teams buy or sell. We're seeing some teams do both.

It's not the first time this has happened — the Pirates bought and sold as recently as last season, acquiring Chris Archer and Keone Kela ahead of the deadline despite remote chances of contending — but it's new to see the top available players traded to teams thinking exclusively about the future.

Stroman and Bauer are both under contract for 2020. Both are set for free agency after the 2020 season. The Mets and Reds are putting a lot of faith into them to help lead them to the playoffs. With the amount of money Bauer, in particular, is likely to get, you wonder whether a mid-market franchise like the Reds can keep him long-term.

It's not illogical for the Reds or Mets to be thinking about 2020. Stroman is one of the two best groundball-pitchers in the majors (Dallas Keuchel being the other), and Bauer is perhaps just as good as Gerrit Cole, a pending free agent who could get a $200 million contract this offseason. The Mets and Reds jumped ahead of other teams who wanted to add pitching on July 31 and they jumped ahead of teams who wanted to add pitching this winter. The Mets gave up two pitching prospects, and the Reds gave up Yasiel Puig and top outfield prospect Taylor Trammell.

Now, the Mets and Diamondbacks seem to hold all the cards in the trade market for starting pitching. The Mets have Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler; the D-backs have Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray. Madison Bumgarner and Mike Minor are the two other big names out there.

The Reds have two other starting pitchers, veteran lefty Alex Wood and righty Tanner Roark, who have been connected to the Phillies, could be acquired inexpensively and figure to be moved ahead of the deadline.

The trade deadline is Wednesday at 4 p.m.

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MLB trade rumors: Trevor Bauer would be awesome for Phillies but there's more to weigh than just his performance

MLB trade rumors: Trevor Bauer would be awesome for Phillies but there's more to weigh than just his performance

The Phillies have checked in with pretty much every team about every player perceived to be available on the trade market. GM Matt Klentak indicated as much Tuesday in Detroit (see story).

Thus, it is not exactly big news that the Phillies and Cleveland Indians have discussed right-handed ace Trevor Bauer, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi.

Bauer is under team control through the end of the 2020 season.

If Bauer is truly available, he is the best starting pitcher on the market. Better than Matthew Boyd, better than Marcus Stroman, better than Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner. Bauer is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

The 28-year-old has reached a higher level these last two seasons. Since the start of 2018, Bauer has a 2.80 ERA in 328 innings with 400 strikeouts and just 31 home runs allowed. 

He has a dynamic arsenal of pitches — a mid-to-high-90s fastball, a curveball, slider, cutter and changeup. His breaking balls are both plus-plus pitches.

With Bauer, though, there is more to consider than just his performance on the mound. He has been a headache for his teams over the years, whether it was the Diamondbacks early in his career or the Indians in recent years. Bauer has his own way of preparing, his own philosophies on pitching, and he is extremely outspoken. He's publicly beefed with other players such as Astros All-Star Alex Bregman, and he's had some truly odd moments on Twitter, responding in petty ways to criticism

With Bauer, a team has to weigh the pros and cons. How much do the off-field controversies diminish his on-field performance? How much does the extracurricular stuff affect a team's willingness to pay him when he reaches free agency at age 30 and could be on track for a contract between $140 million and $200 million?

There's no denying that Bauer is an elite pitcher. He's as good, if not better than Aaron Nola and would give the Phillies a formidable 1-2 punch if they can somehow acquire him. Bauer, as a bat-misser, also fits what the Phillies want from a top-of-the-rotation arm more so than a Stroman.

Cleveland's position in the standings is also a factor here. The Indians are 58-42, three games behind the Twins in the AL Central and currently in the first wild-card spot in the AL.

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Phillies and Indians match up very well for a big trade

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Phillies and Indians match up very well for a big trade

There have been plenty of starting pitchers connected to the Phillies this offseason. There was James Paxton, before the Yankees trade. Robbie Ray. Madison Bumgarner. Zack Greinke.

Patrick Corbin, of course. The top free-agent lefty was in Philly on Tuesday.

Keep an eye on the Cleveland Indians. The Phillies and Indians match up as well for a big trade as any two clubs in baseball. 

Why? Because the Phillies need starting pitching and the Indians need outfielders. Those just so happen to be areas of depth for the other team.

The three Indians pitchers potentially available for a trade are Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. 

First, their contract situations

Corey Kluber (entering age 33 season)
2019: $13M*
2020: $13.5M
2021: $14M club option

Carlos Carrasco (age 32 season)
2019: $9M
2020: $9.5M club option

Trevor Bauer (age 28 season)
2019: 3rd year of arbitration ($11.6M projection)
2020: 4th and final year of arbitration ($15-17M)
2021: Free agent

There's a lot to analyze here. Kluber has been the best of the three, Bauer is the youngest, Carrasco is the cheapest. It's hard to gauge who Cleveland will be most willing to deal. Bauer's production isn't far behind Kluber's at this point after his major strides in 2018. Bauer was 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA, had the lowest home run rate in the AL, and struck out 221 in 175 innings.

Yet Bauer might be the one the Indians decide to deal. It would be selling high, and they'd avoid the rising cost of his services. Bauer's personality is also ... out there. He's not necessarily a distraction, but he's very opinionated, tweets crazy stuff at times, and his disagreements with the Diamondbacks' front office played a role in his being traded to Cleveland.

Carrasco the best bet

Of the three, I'd go after Carrasco, who the Phillies traded for Cliff Lee way back in 2009. Carrasco is so good, so consistent, so underrated. 

His ERA the last five seasons: 3.38, 3.29, 3.32, 3.63, 2.55.

His WHIP: 1.13, 1.10, 1.15, 1.07, 0.99.

His strikeouts per nine innings: 10.8, 10.2, 9.2, 10.6, 9.4.

His walks per nine: 2.0, 2.1, 2.1, 2.1, 1.9.

Carrasco is a model of consistency, and he's performed like this in the tougher league. He misses so many bats. He can dominate one game with his fastball, the next with his changeup and the next with his slider and curveball. His arsenal is vast and his ability to adjust is what should make talent evaluators confident he can remain successful into his mid-30s. Watching him dominate the lowly White Sox, Royals and Twins in recent years, one envisions Carrasco blowing through the Marlins' and Mets' lineups with regularity.

What would it cost?

The Indians have a giant hole in the outfield. If the season opened tomorrow, their starters would be Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen and Leonys Martin as they await the return of Bradley Zimmer, who so far hasn't met expectations. That legitimately might be the worst outfield in baseball.

Fortunately for the Phillies, they have some young and talented outfielders and a real shot to replace one of them with Bryce Harper. 

The Phillies could pique the Indians' interest with a package including Odubel Herrera or Nick Williams. It would likely cost more — perhaps a package of Williams, Vince Velasquez, a prospect, and either Aaron Altherr or Jerad Eickhoff for Carrasco. Such a trade would be beneficial to both sides — the cost-conscious Indians get a young, cheap outfielder who's better than what they have. They'd also add some upside and create more depth either in the outfield or rotation.

Even if the Phillies don't get Harper, there are more solid outfielders available in free agency than there are pitchers like Carrasco. 

The biggest roadblock will be what other teams can offer. Carrasco's talent and contract make him the kind of pitcher every team should be after, big market or small, legit contender or not. 

The Phils are just in a unique position with regards to these trade talks because they could part with two outfielders for Carrasco (if that's what it takes) and still be a vastly better team in 2019.