In 2007 the Cleveland Indians were one game away from the World Series. By 2009 the team lost 97 games. The fact that they traded away two number one starting pitchers between 2007 and 2009 didn’t help things.
Consider this: When you trade your number one starter, you lose five starters:
- Number one is gone.
- Number two has to move up to number one.
- Number three has to move up to number two.
For the sake of our analysis today, I’m going to say Kluber is the number one starter, Carrasco is number two, Bauer three, Clevinger four and Shane Bieber is five.
It certainly looks like Carlos Carrasco could move up to number one and Bauer to number two. Clev could be a number three. Bieber had a promising debut.
But what does history say about trading a number one starter?
When did the Indians trade a number one?
There are three times when the Indians traded a clear cut number one starter.
- In 1975 the Indians traded Gaylord Perry to Texas for Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown and Rick Waits.
- In 2008 C.C. Sabathia went to Milwaukee for Michael Brantley and three bit players.
- In 2009 Cliff Lee was sent to Philly for Carlos Carrasco and three bit players.
The first thing we must note is that all of these trades were made in the middle of the season, not between seasons. That makes a difference, because the Indians had a feel for where they were (or were not) headed in each case.
The 1975 trade isn’t very useful for our analysis. The Indians were bad before and after the trade. If we say that the goal is to win a championship the Perry trade didn’t really affect that goal. It was zero percent likely before and after the trade.
The 2009 trade is also not very useful. The Indians were on their way to a 97-loss season, and a rebuild was underway.
The 2008 Sabathia trade, however, is a good historical lesson.
The 2007 Indians rotation (and ERA):
In 2008 Lee found himself and moved from five to one, at least for one year. The Indians were struggling but still had hopes to compete.
Meanwhile the non-Lee members of the rotation looked like this:
- Carmona (5.44) and a new name (Roberto Hernandez)
- Westbrook (3.12) and Tommy John surgery.
- Byrd (4.53)
- Jeremy Sowers (5.58).
The downhill slide started, and continued in 2009. And 2010. And 2011. And 2012.
You get the idea.
The biggest difference between then and now
In 2008 the Indians had to trade Sabathia. He was a free agent at the end of the year.
In 2009 it was the same story with Cliff Lee.
Corey Kluber is under contract for up to three more years. We don’t have to do this! Absent Kluber, an injury to a pitcher (like Westbrook’s injury) is deadly. A sudden burst of ineffectiveness (like Carmona/Hernandez) is also double trouble.