Go ahead and file this one under Things We Didn't Expect on a Rainy Friday. But news broke early via ESPN's Jeff Passan that the Cleveland Guardians are open to dealing All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase.
Immediately, the thought turns to repeatedly asking, "Why?" But upon further consideration, one can talk themselves into understanding the rationale behind such a move.
Before I take a stab at trying to get into the minds of the front office, I must issue this statement. Any trade of Clase needs to net an everyday outfield bat and an arm. Period. Nothing less.
Why Would the Guardians Consider Trading Emmanuel Clase?
Okay, with that out of the way, let's examine the thought of why the Guardians would entertain such a move.
First, starting with Clase himself. Yes, he is a two-time All-Star, but 2023 didn't feel like past years. For instance, his WHIP skyrocketed from .729 in 2022 to 1.156 in 2023. Still respectable, but with an offense devoid of much scoring ability, keeping runners off the bases becomes all that more important. Clase has never been much of a strikeout machine, despite his ability to hit 100+ mph on the radar gun - and his strikeouts took a hit in 2023 as well. In 2022, Clase averaged over a strikeout per inning with 77 Ks in 72 2/3 innings. While he matched that innings total again in 2023, he only had 64 strikeouts.
Turning to others under team control, Passan points out in his piece that the Guardians did just acquire reliever Scott Barlow. Barlow does have experience closing games going back to his days in Kansas City, amassing 56 saves since 2019. Personally, I'd rather see Barlow in an eighth-inning role, but I digress. Oh, he's also set to become a free agent following the 2024 season; maybe the Guards try to extend him for a season or two, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.
The Guardians also have Trevor Stephan locked up through 2028, and in the past he has expressed a desire to close games. But we all know the 2023 season did not go Stephan's way, and vaulting him into the closer's role may not be in his best interest at this juncture.
Now, the next two names are the real true reason I can see why Clase may be moved. First, we have Cade Smith, recently added to the 40-man roster. Smith split the 2023 season between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, where he racked up 15 saves in 17 opportunities. Over the past three seasons, Smith has accounted for 33 saves. Ideally, he would land a seventh-inning role, as he still needs to cut down on some walks. However, Smith did tally 95 strikeouts in just 62 2/3 innings this past season.
The final name is one that will be on the shelf for most of 2024, but his future screams closer: Daniel Espino. While he isn't expected to be back until August of this season, it's easy to see him slotting into a big-league role come 2025. Espino has topped out at 103 mph with his four-seamer and also possesses an above-average slider and curve. There were concerns about his health when the club selected him 24th overall in the 2019 draft, and it's a shame he got hurt last year. But a move to the pen could help him reach his full potential.
Again, the Guardians would really need to come away from any potential Clase trade by acquiring at least two pieces; his contract is just too valuable. But if it means they can finally land an outfielder capable of hitting 25+ home runs, you'd be foolish not to swing that trade.