Trevor Bauer-Yasiel Puig trade was weird

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Let’s start out by noting how very strange it is for a team pushing for a playoff spot to trade away a front line starting pitcher. A team, mind you, which has had a lot of injuries to its starting pitching. The Indians have lost ace Corey Kluber to a broken arm, near-ace Carlos Carrasco to friggin’ cancer and have seen a couple of their other starters felled by various injuries. Trevor Bauer has been basically the only guy who has taken the ball every fifth day and . . . Cleveland sent him packing. That is not the sort of thing that happens very often.

Yet this is not the white flag trade it may have seemed to be if you brought it up a few weeks ago (as we did). Indeed, a couple of things happened which make this a far more defensible trade than it may have seemed to be before: (1) the Indians’ displeasure with Bauer became far more apparent; and (2) the Indians got a pretty decent return for the guy.

I don’t think Bauer’s “throw the ball over the fence” thing from Sunday was not some sort of tipping point when it came to his attitude. His attitude and general disposition have been pretty well known for a while and no one connected to the Indians has suggested that they were totally cool with him until that happened. But just how little effort anyone with the Indians made to defend Bauer after Sunday was pretty telling. You get the sense that they were just barely tolerating him to begin with and that, at some point, too much is too much.

Still, you don’t deal him unless your team gets better by doing so or, at the very least, no worse. And I think the Indians accomplished that.

Yasiel Puig is not what we all thought he might become five or six years ago. He’s an above average defender with some pop who can go on hot streaks but, in the long run, he can be pitched to. We’ve seen that this year. It’s his worst offensive year by OPS+ so far but he raked in June (.287/.340/.609) and in the first half of July. He’s been cold again since the break. The Indians only have him for August, September and however long they go in the playoffs. The bet is that they can get one or two hot streaks from him. The sort of hot streaks, of which he is very much capable, in which he can win a few games single-handedly. That’s a plus for the stretch for a team that has the worst offense of all of the American League contenders. Especially given that he can play all three outfield positions and DH, allowing Terry Francona to cover up holes and platoon as needed.

But it’s not just Puig, of course. In Franmil Reyes the Indians got even more power. Reyes is hitting .263/.312/.535 with 27 homers with half of his games coming at Petco Park. While he doesn’t have the overall value of Puig thanks to his defensive shortcomings, the Indians desperately need that pop. They’ll have it for the stretch and for several years given that Reyes is only in his second season. All of that amounts to the Indians, yes, trading a sometimes ace but getting no worse for doing so. Indeed, I think they probably got a little better.

As for the other two teams in this deal:

  • The Padres did well for themselves. The prospect the Reds sent them — Taylor Trammell — is a good one. He’s having some issues at Double-A this year but he is still just 21. In the long run he’s a far better fit for the Padres outfield due to his speed and glove (though his arm is suspect). Yes, it’s something of a gut punch for Padres fans who have come to love Reyes and his power and who really, really want to contend next year — Trammell will not be in the bigs until 2021 at the absolute earliest, I suspect — but the Padres should want to make themselves good for the next decade, not just for the next year or two before Reyes becomes a serious liability in the outfield. Prospects can bust, but as I sit here right now I’d rather have Trammell for the next several years than Reyes. At least if I’m not in contention right at this moment, which the Padres are not;
  • The Reds end of this is weird. Yes, Bauer is a big improvement for their rotation, but (a) he’s moving to a homer-happy park and will be facing far tougher divisional opponents than he did in the AL Central; and (b) he’s a free agent after the 2020 season. If the Reds are going to try to gear up and go for it in 2020, great. I suppose it could happen. In the event they are not in a playoff race this time next year, though, the best they can do is flip Bauer at the deadline in which he’ll bring back far less than Taylor Trammell. The Reds are always interesting and if you squint you can almost see them making a big jump next year, but that’s only if you squint. The odds favor them having, in the long run, traded a good prospect for a marginal one and about a year of Trevor Bauer. That kind of thing won’t break them but I don’t really see why they wouldn’t have been better served simply doing nothing and not involving themselves in this deal.

So, that’s where it stands now. Let’s check back in October to see how it worked out for Cleveland. And in, I dunno, 2023 or something to see how it worked out for the Padres and Reds.