The Cleveland Indians will not have to enter the arbitration process with any of their eligible players, as Mike Clevinger agreed to a deal on Friday.
Mike Clevinger was the last of five Cleveland Indians players to agree on 2020 contract terms Friday afternoon to sidestep the arbitration process. Per Zack Meisel, Clevinger and the Tribe agreed on a salary of $4.1 million for the 2020 season, which has to be viewed as an extreme bargain for a Cy Young dark horse.
Clevinger’s salary will be $4.1 million, according to a source.
— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) January 10, 2020
The hard-throwing righty missed enough time in 2019 to disqualify him from consideration for the award, but there is no ignoring the numbers he put up while he was healthy. In 126 innings, Clevinger posted career bests in ERA (2.71), FIP (2.49), fWAR (4.5), and strikeout rate (33.9%). He also brought his walk rate down to a career-low 7.4%.
Clevinger’s potential to repeat these numbers likely played a role in Cleveland’s decision to part with former ace Corey Kluber last month. The Trevor Bauer disciple is a strong candidate to toe the mound on Opening Day for the Tribe this year.
That the Indians will pay him under $5 million in 2020 is almost unbelievable. Clevinger does not have the multi-year track record of many of the game’s top hurlers, and last year’s relatively lengthy injury absence naturally detracted from his negotiating power. Still, he’s going to make less in 2020 than Cesar Hernandez, who could very well wind up hitting in the bottom-third of the Indians’ batting order.
If Clevinger were eligible for free agency, he’d command exponentially more on the open market. In rumored trade talks with teams like the Angels, the Indians were allegedly asking for top prospect Jo Adell in return. In a way, that element of Clevinger’s value makes this deal worth looking at from multiple angles.
On one hand, the Indians are looking at arguably the single-biggest steal in baseball for the upcoming season. While other teams will shell out as much as $36 million to their number-one starters in 2020, Cleveland will pay just over 11% of that to its own dominant ace. The Indians could simply thank the baseball gods for such an unfathomably team-friendly deal and be done with it.
Conversely, if Clevinger is willing to accept $4.1 million without even taking the Indians to arbitration, wouldn’t it make more sense to see what kind of long-term deal could be worked out? Sure, paying a pitcher of Clevinger’s caliber in this range is a blessing in the present. But what if he does go out and win a Cy Young award in 2020? Or, at the very least, puts forth a full season of 200-plus innings and continues to establish himself as one of the game’s best front-line starters?
What kind of leverage do the Indians have in that scenario at this time next year if they want to extend Clevinger? Not much, in reality. Clevinger will be able to lean heavily on the astronomical return on investment he provided Cleveland, and it stands to reason that he won’t be especially receptive to being massively underpaid for a second consecutive year.
The end result could be Cleveland finding itself in a situation similar to the one it’s facing with Francisco Lindor: a ticking service clock on an elite player with big money in his future. At surface level, the Indians are making out like bandits in the Clevinger deal. In the long run, it could create a multitude of questions.