Trading Emmanuel Clase doesn't make sense for the Cleveland Guardians

Emmanuel Clase is allegedly on the trading block, but it just doesn't make sense for the Cleveland Guardians to part ways with their closer.
Texas Rangers v Cleveland Guardians
Texas Rangers v Cleveland Guardians / Ron Schwane/GettyImages
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It’s not a Cleveland Guardians offseason without an outrageous flurry of trade rumors surrounding each of the team’s top contributors. Shane Bieber is headlining those rumors for the second straight winter, but we’ve also seen reports of Cleveland entertaining offers for slugger Josh Naylor and closer Emmanuel Clase. We can get to how real the Naylor rumors are or if that trade makes sense for the Guardians right now, but Clase seems like the more likely piece for the team to move.

And I don’t understand it.

The Guardians’ flame-throwing reliever finished up an incredible 2023 campaign with a 3.22 ERA, 7.93 strikeouts-per-nine innings and 44 saves through 75 appearances. He was, for the most part, the stable bookend that Terry Francona could throw out in the ninth inning and ensure a win, and he even got floated as a potential Cy Young candidate behind Gerrit Cole and Felix Bautista. At just 25 years old and a team-friendly salary of $4 million through 2026 with club options in 2027 and 2028, he should be a Guardian for the foreseeable future.

Look at other top relievers and their contracts. Comparing Edwin Diaz’s five years, $102 million, and Jordan Hicks, who’s projected to sign a contract in the neighborhood of four years, $36 million, to Clase’s deal is laughable. The Guardians' front office hit a home run with Clase’s extension in perfect Cleveland fashion and now get to reap the benefits of underpaying an All-Star-caliber reliever.

I get the appeal of packaging him with Bieber in order to up the return value on a trade, especially because Bieber’s trade market has seemingly dissipated following his injury-riddled season. I get wanting to give some of the younger guys coming through Triple-A opportunities for cost-saving purposes (in typical Cleveland fashion). If those scenarios are the rationale the front office uses in a Clase deal, it’s frustrating, but it’s on-brand for a team always looking to pinch pennies to make ends meet.

What I don’t understand - and what’s going to be wildly frustrating if they do decide to deal Clase - is moving a young star to collect more minor-league prospects. The rest of the relievers on Cleveland’s 40-man roster right now are incredibly unproven outside of Eli Morgan, Scott Barlow, and Sam Hentges. Xzavion Curry showed some real potential this season in a hybrid reliever-starter-piggyback role, and Trevor Stephan should bounce back from the worst year he’s had in Cleveland.

The options outside of those guys, all of whom haven’t completely established themselves as reliable relievers throughout an entire season anyways, are slim to none. For the first time since Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, Cleveland has a lights-out reliever that can close out games with his fastball that tops out over 100 mph and one of the best sliders in the game. He had a down year statistically in 2023 and was still one of the best relievers in baseball. Baseball Savant had him in the 91st percentile in xERA and 93rd percentile in groundball rate. That’s a guy who's hard to come by, and one the Guardians need to hang on to.

Relievers are a dime a dozen, baseball’s version of the running back. But game-wreckers like Clase are so rare and difficult to develop. It makes little sense to deal someone like that without a viable backup plan, something the Guardians don’t have on their current 40-man roster.