Mike Clevinger deal works for both the Padres and Indians

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 26: Starter Mike Clevinger #52 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Progressive Field on August 26, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 26: Starter Mike Clevinger #52 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Progressive Field on August 26, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

By trading for Mike Clevinger, the Padres transform into instant World Series contenders

The San Diego Padres are proving to be 2020’s most fun team, both on the field and off of it. They hit grand slams at a prodigious pace, even in walkoff fashion. Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is the National League Most Valuable Player frontrunner at the age of 21. And General Manager A.J. Preller isn’t afraid to make the bold move.

Preller recognizes what he has in this version of the Padres: a club that could win the first World Series in franchise history. In the past 48 hours, he’s acquired Mitch Moreland from Boston, catcher Austin Nola and relief pitcher Dan Altavilla from Seattle, and hard-throwing closer Trevor Rosenthal from Kansas City.

But he saved his biggest splash for Monday morning, just hours before the trade deadline, when he swung a deal with the Cleveland Indians for starting pitcher Mike Clevinger. The Padres lineup was already stacked with Tatis, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and surprise rookie Jake Cronenworth; their pitching staff ranks in the top-10 in both WHIP and strikeouts. Adding Clevinger, who immediately becomes the ace of their starting rotation, brings them that much closer to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

What are the Padres getting in Mike Clevinger?

In Clevinger, the Padres are getting a right-hander that can rack up strikeouts quickly. He struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings last season, which would’ve ranked seventh in the league if he had enough innings to qualify. Nearly 34 percent of the batters who stepped into the box to face Clevinger last season struck out, a mark that placed him in the top five percent of starting pitchers. Among pitchers with at least 200 batted ball events against in 2019, his average exit velocity ranked ninth.

Clevinger mostly features a four-seam fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a big-breaking slider that moves an average of 16.8 inches, 89 percent more than the Major League average. Opponents hit just .186 against his fastball-slider combination last season. Clevinger wore out his welcome with the Indians after lying about breaking COVID-19 protocols, but, at the age of 29, is still in the prime of his career and has two years left on his contract after this season.

The Indians needed a lucrative deal to give up such a prized arm, and the Padres gave them one. Going to Cleveland are outfielder Josh Naylor, catcher Austin Hedges, pitcher Cal Quantrill, as well as prospects Gabriel Arias, Joey Cantillo, and Owen Miller; the Padres also acquired outfielder Greg Allen and a player to be named later.

The 5-foot-11, 250-lbs Naylor is a big body that should develop power throughout his career, although he’s hit just one home run this season. He’s the type of player the Indians are sorely lacking; Cleveland’s outfielders have combined to hit seven home runs and are batting .186 this season. Quantrill, who’s been used primarily out of the bullpen this season, has given up just two earned runs in his last eight appearances. Both Naylor and Quantrill are 25 or younger and in just their second seasons in the big leagues.

Arias has the potential to replace Franciso Lindor at shortstop for the Indians. Just 20, he hit .302 with 17 home runs at High-A Lake Elsinore last season. Cantillo, also 20 and a 16th-round draft pick in 2017, is a left-handed pitcher who struck out 128 batters in 98 innings for Low-A Fort Wayne. Arias is the Padres’ seventh-ranked prospect; Cantillo is ninth, while Miller, a middle infielder and the closest of the three to reaching the Majors, is ranked 11th by MLB Pipeline.

Despite losing Clevinger, the Indians can’t be counted out of the AL playoff race. They’re still tied for first place in the AL Central and boast a plethora of talented arms in their rotation, including Cy Young candidate Shane Bieber as well as Zach Plesac, Carlos Carrasco, and Aaron Civale. Pitching depth is not an issue for the Indians.

That same depth is something the Padres now have, as well. Clevinger is joining a Padres rotation that already includes Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, and Zach Davies. It’s one that is capable of competing against any lineup, especially in a short postseason series. Lamet has a 2.35 ERA in seven starts, five of them Padres’ victories, this season. Paddack, other than two rough outings (against the Dodgers on Aug. 13 and Seattle on Aug. 25), has a 2.35 ERA in his other six starts. Davies leads the club with five wins and has a 2.01 ERA over his last five starts.

The Padres haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. They’ve waited 14 years for this type of team, carefully assembling the best minor league organization in baseball for precisely this moment. The prospects they’ve accumulated have allowed Preller to make the deals he has over the past few days. The 2020 season is shaping up to be the club’s best shot at a World Series title in decades, and Preller and the Padres’ front office is proving they’re not going to let it slip by.

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