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What would a Cardinals trade for Corey Kluber have looked like?

The Cardinals need a starter, Kluber was had for cheap.

Cleveland Indians v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Cardinals need a starting pitcher. I have banged this drum all offseason. I have been pitching, or at least presenting, possible free agent starters for the Cardinals to sign, but I don’t particularly care how they acquire a starter, just that they do. Obviously, if you don’t sign a starter, the other option is a trade. And one such possible trade was taken off the list at a seemingly, ridiculously cheap price.

Yesterday, Corey Kluber was traded for two not particularly valuable pieces - pieces the Cardinals could have rather easily beat without giving up anyone important. In the trade for a pitcher who had at least 4.9 fWAR for five straight seasons from 2014-2018, the Indians received Delino DeShields and Emmanuel Clase. A fourth outfielder and a relief prospect. That’s what he cost.

And it’s actually kind of worse than it sounds when I put it like that. DeShields is - I got to be honest - I’m shocked he’s even in this trade. Remember how everyone was surprised at all the players getting non-tendered, and then you looked at their page and realized they weren’t really good anymore? That’s this guy. This guy could have been one of those guys. He has 1 WAR over his last 224 games played. He has two years of service time left before he becomes a free agent. I’m sorry, the Cardinals can’t seem to trade Jose Martinez - and I completely understand why - but this guy is an all-defense version of Jose Martinez essentially.

And to be clear, I’m not suggesting the Cardinals could have inserted Jose Martinez into a trade like this and the Indians would have thought they were the same. DeShields is an awful hitter, but he at least can play defense at all three positions, which certainly holds more value as a bench player than Jose Martinez would as an AL bench player. His value as an AL bench player is he can start at DH against lefties and pinch-hit against lefties in important spots, but as for the DH part, they have Franmil Reyes already. But value-wise, DeShields should not be in a trade for Kluber.

The other guy looks interesting at least. But he’s a relief prospect. He’s as interesting as a relief prospect gets, but there’s a ceiling. And I don’t even know if he could still be called a prospect, but he delivered in a sample of 23.1 MLB innings - skipping AAA actually - and is only 22 (he’s 21 now, but will be 22 by Opening Day). In those innings, he had a 22.3 K%, a 60.6 GB%, and a 3.43 FIP. He’s probably good.

But that’s it? Unless you think Kluber is broken beyond repair, and I guess 29 teams did, you should do better than this trade. If you think there’s a 50 percent chance Kluber is broken for good, you still offer something better than this deal. That’s how good Kluber is at his peak. It’s a worthwhile risk. What do the Rangers lose for this risk? A good relief prospect? Who cares?

People complain about Cardinals not making a trade that other teams do, and typically they don’t really have a Cardinals equivalent in mind when complaining - just “who cares who we give up, just get the good player” basically. So I don’t want to be that guy. So here is how I personally would top the offer: Seth Elledge and Lane Thomas. If they aren’t convinced, I’ll give them Randy Arozarena. I’d consider Tyler O’Neill but I better be damn sure Kluber is healthy for that one.

This is easily a better offer for Kluber. For starters, the outfielders have six years of control. DeShields has two. Both players are possibly better players than DeShields is right now, because it isn’t a high bar. Seth Elledge isn’t Clase, but he’s a solid prospect and I think the outfielder in the trade will more than make up the difference between those two.

If you think that’s too much, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s a pretty light package. Kluber is paid $17.5 million in 2020. He has an option that automatically vests if he pitches 160 innings and is not on the disabled list at the end of the season. And in the event where it doesn’t, it’s a club option for $18 million. And to be fair, Kluber will be 34 and 35 during these years and is coming off a season where he made 7 not particularly great starts.

Steamer has Kluber worth 3.4 fWAR, but also assumes 187 innings, so let’s say he only pitches 150 innings. Now he’s at 2.7 WAR for 2020. Since that falls under the 160 innings requirement, his option becomes a club option. At $9 million per win, he’s be worth a surplus of $6.8 per win. If the Cardinals picked up his club option after that 2020 and they would, he’d be worth $8.6 million in surplus value. But we’ll give him the one year surplus for a trade.

Anyway, the prospect reports aren’t updated from 2019, but Lane Thomas was a 40+ grade prospect and I don’t think his 2019 changed that - to argue otherwise would be putting way too much stock in 44 MLB PAs, because his AAA performance wasn’t that great. Randy meanwhile was a 40 prospect, but he had a fantastic year, so I’ll also give him the 40+ designation. Seth Elledge was and probably still is a 40 grade prospect.

Former VEB manager Craig Edwards put a value on these non-top 100 prospects at Fangraphs. The 40+ grade position players are worth $4 million and the 40 grade pitchers are worth $1 million. So that’s $5 million worth of prospects for a player projected for $6.8 million in surplus. Like I said, it’s a light package and in the position the Cardinals are in, you can certainly go for more than $6.8 million in value for a player like Kluber, especially since that isn’t much!

On the other hand, the Indians may just be stupid. Note this excerpt:

“the Indians wanted highly-touted outfield prospect Brandon Marsh and another top-10 prospect from the Halos’ farm system. It was a significant ask, given how Marsh is widely considered to be the Angels’ second-best prospect (after Jo Adell) and is ranked by Fangraphs as the 74th-best prospect in all of baseball. If Cleveland was seeking for such a return for Kluber from the various teams in the hunt, Fletcher notes that it could be a sign that “they have a much higher opinion of Clase than most of baseball.”

I mean, I don’t seriously believe the Cardinals were in the bidding for Kluber, but this kind of makes me think they didn’t have a shot. Because the Indians think Clase is better than a top 100 hitting prospect and then some. I realize I’m ignoring the value of DeShields with that statement, but come on: he’s barely a factor in this trade. Anyway, the Indians salary dumped Kluber and I wish it was to the Cardinals.