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The Indians are going with Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, to open ALDS

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Indians manager Terry Francona has set his ALDS rotation, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports, and it’s interesting. Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, will open the series. Kluber will go in Game 2 followed by Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin. Kluber would pitch Game 5 if necessary.

The first two games of the ALDS will be held in Cleveland on Thursday and Friday. It resumes on Sunday and continues on Monday either in New York or Minnesota, depending on who wins the AL Wild Card Game. And Game 5 would be held on Wednesday. So, Kluber would have four days of rest if he were to start Game 5.

According to Baseball Reference, Francona is playing to Kluber’s strength based on 2017 stats. On four days of rest, Kluber posted a 1.67 ERA in 124 innings this season. On five days of rest, he had a 3.64 ERA in 47 innings. However, this was not true last year. He had a 3.53 ERA in 120 innings on four days of rest and a 2.85 ERA in 60 innings on five days of rest. There was hardly a difference in 2015. In 2014, when Kluber won the AL Cy Young Award, he had a 2.08 ERA in 160 1/3 innings on four days of rest and a 2.84 ERA in 63 1/3 innings on five days of rest. The fluctuation within this split are more or less what we should expect given these relatively small individual samples of data.

The Yankees and Twins are using their best pitchers in tonight’s Wild Card game, so neither pitcher will be available in Game 1 of the ALDS. So Francona could also be trying to line up Kluber against Luis Severino or Ervin Santana in Game 2 possibly, and letting Bauer face either team’s second-best pitcher in Game 1.

As Francona showed last year with his bullpen management, he’s not afraid to buck the trend. The Indians also have some very smart people in their analytics department who are likely looking at reams of data beyond the rudimentary stuff I’ve listed above and see enough justification to do something unorthodox. We’ll see how it pans out over the next week.

Indians trade Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers

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The Cleveland Indians have traded two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers. In exchange, Texas is sending center fielder Delino DeShields and pitcher Emmanuel Clase to the Indians. There are reports that the Indians will be getting more than just those two players, but no word yet. The deal is pending physical.

Kluber made only seven starts this past year thanks to a broken arm and a strained oblique muscle. When he did pitch he was no great shakes, posting a 5.80 ERA and 44 hits in 35.2 innings. Those were freak injuries that do not suggest long-term problems, however, so there’s a good reason to think he’ll bounce back to useful form, even if it’s a tough ask for him to return to the form that won him the 2014 and 2017 Cy Young Award.

Before his injury-wracked 2019 campaign, Kluber pitched over 200 innings in each of his previous five seasons so mileage could be an issue. For his career he’s 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA (134 ERA+), a 2.99 FIP, and a K/BB ratio of 1,461/292 over 1,341.2 innings in nine big league seasons.

Unless there is cash coming from Cleveland in the deal, the Rangers will be paying him $17.5 million this year and a 2021 option of $14 million pursuant to the five-year, $38.5 million contract he inked with Cleveland before the 2015 season.

DeShields, 27, is a career .246/.326/.342 hitter (76 OPS+) and that’s about how he performed in 2019 as well. He was demoted to Triple-A Nashville in May. Clase, who will turn 22 before next season, pitched 21 games, all but one in relief, for the Rangers in 2019 and will still be considered a rookie in 2020. He has been used mostly as a reliever in the minors as well.

Pending what else the Tribe is going to be getting, this appears to be a light return for a pitcher who, despite his 2019 injuries, should be expected to come back and be a workhorse. Unless there is some real talent coming back, in addition to DeShields and Clase, it would seem to be a salary dump for Cleveland and a steal for Texas. It is likewise perplexing how any of the many, many teams who could use starting pitching — the Angels and the Mets, among others, come to mind — could not top the package Texas offered.

As for the Indians, the commitment to Kluber for 2020-21 is $31.5 million if you exercise next year’s option, $18.5 million if you don’t. He’s one year and a freak injury removed from goin 20-7 with a 2.89 (150 ERA+), 0.991 WHIP, and 215 innings pitched. Cleveland is coming off 93 wins and should contend. Why you trade Kluber in that situation, regardless of the return, is a question they should have to answer to fans who expect to see winning baseball.