September 16, 2021

T10B Busted: Mike Clevinger

Synopsis: After an away game in July 2020, Cleveland pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger went out to dinner with a small group of friends. Their outing ordinarily would seem quite tame for professional athletes. However, in the Year of COVID, their actions violated team rules and MLB protocol. The Indians sent Plesac home by car after he fessed up to the violation. On the other hand, Clevinger boarded the team plane without letting anyone know that he may have been exposed to the deadly virus. Several weeks later, the club traded Clevinger to the San Diego Padres. Were the two events related? I think so, but at least one person disagrees.


Introduction: By writing the following post, my wife (a.k.a. Mrs. T10B) becomes the second family member to contribute to this site. As I promised her, I have not edited the spirit of her comments. However, I have offered my own comments, which have been highlighted in red font.

T10B BUSTED: MIKE CLEVINGER

Mr. Top10Busts invited me, Mrs. Top10Busts, to be a guest contributor to this site to clear up an argument that occurred the morning after the Cleveland Indians lost their 2020 1st round playoff series to the New York Yankees. As a lifelong Clevelander and Indians fan, I merely commented to my die-hard pinstripe sycophant that the better team would have won the second game had they not traded Mike Clevinger. My [loving] husband didn’t disagree but added fuel to the fire when he suggested that the Indians “shot themselves in the foot” by trading their #2 pitcher because he violated the team’s COVID policy.

I initially ignored this delusional comment, but Mr. T10B wouldn’t leave well enough alone. He continued exposing fake news by claiming the Indians “most certainly” were forced to trade Clevinger because “no one on the team wanted to play with him.” We have been married for over 25 years and have known each other for seven more. This “most certainly” talk is new verbiage that has sprung up over the last year. He “most certainly” will disagree, but I consider it the beginning of a curmudgeonly old man who believes he is always right. Everyone who knows a man over 50 can relate. [This paragraph shows that my wife knows how to use a hyperbole, but “most certainly” doesn’t recognize or appreciate when someone else does.]

To be fair, my hubbie is extremely smart. He usually cleans my clock when we watch Jeopardy or play Scrabble. His pedigree, which includes getting a certain academic key from the country’s best university, proves his brain can fire away on all cylinders.  However, he is “most certainly” wrong about the reason that the Indians traded Clevinger. I will now outline the facts vs. fiction to prove my point.

FACTS VS. FAKE NEWS

Points have been provided by Mrs. T10B while counterpoints come from Mr. T10B.

Point: In early August, Mike Clevinger took a break from the active roster due to a violation of team rules. Specifically, he and fellow starting pitcher Zach Plesac had to self-quarantine because they broke health and safety protocols by going out to dinner during a road trip. Clevinger did not reveal that he went out with Plesac until after he traveled home with the team. Following the quarantine, both players were optioned to the team’s minor league affiliate in Lake County, OH.

Counterpoint: I accept that the previous statements are factual and not fake news. I chuckled when reading the phrase “took a break” and interpreted it as a euphemism for “was removed.” Her account is sugar-coated but not inaccurate.

Point: Clevinger has been one of the best pitchers in the majors for several seasons. The right-hander had been 1-1 with a 3.18 ERA in four starts prior to getting traded. In 2019, he had a 13-4 record and posted a 2.71 ERA in 21 starts while striking out 169 in only 126 innings.

Counterpoint: Since making it to The Show in 2016, Clevinger has an admirable 44-23 record and 3.19 ERA. However, without any Cy Young votes during that time, he doesn’t qualify as “one of the best pitchers” in the majors. Then again, Mrs. T10B might be exaggerating a little. Does that qualify as fake news?

Point: After returning to the Indians’ active roster, Clevinger made one start before getting traded to the Padres. The trade occurred exactly three weeks after he violated the team’s COVID protocols.

Counterpoint: Purely factual so no issues or comments.

Point: Indians President Chris Antonetti denied that the incident in Chicago had anything to do with the decision to trade Clevinger.

Counterpoint: Apparently, my wife doesn’t realize that sports teams use the media to create their desired narrative.   

Point: Only one teammate, Oliver Perez, went on record to complain about the situation by stating that he would opt out of the season if Clevinger and Plesac returned to the active roster. In essence, 39 players on the 40-man roster did not complain. Hey Mr. T10B, that means that only 2.5% of the players complained while 97.5% did not have an issue. Importantly, this fact works against Mr. TTB’s proclamation that “all his teammates wanted him traded.” Rumors about disgruntled teammates are just that. Mr. TTB decided to ride the gossip train, which is understandable as people give credence to hearsay all the time. A more logical person would disregard the rumors and focus on the credible statement by the Indians’ front office

Counterpoint: First, I’ll start by repeating that sports teams routinely use the media to create their desired narrative. Second, I am “most certain” that some of the remaining 39 players chose to keep the issue in house instead of openly sharing their disgust of a teammate. Third, the quote attributed to me somehow has changed since it was included earlier in this post. As long as my wife understands my use of hyperbole, I’m OK being misquoted. Last, I have to wonder how my wife gained the confidence to express 1 out of 40 as 2.5%. My kids might have some “splainin” to do. 

Point: Cleveland traded Clevinger for reasons unrelated to COVID-19.

    • Given the Indians’ inability to develop prospects, the team wisely got rid of Clevinger before it was too late. These players have been injury prone (Hello, Bradley Zimmer!) or they just haven’t panned out.
    • As detailed in an article by Chad Porto, the trade looks favorable to the Indians. The team wouldn’t have gotten its fair share of players if they simply wanted to get rid of their star pitcher.
    • The Indians have adopted a college football “reload” approach to building a roster. The team keeps the same group of guys as long as they win and call up prospects every so often to see what the kids can do before cashing in/out on select veterans as necessary. The Clevinger deal fits this strategy.

Counterpoint: I get why certain MLB teams might decide to “reload” and overhaul their rosters to create a long-term contender. However, I don’t get how the analogy makes sense in this case because college football teams are overhauled out of necessity versus choice. In contrast, MLB teams have control over their players for at least six years and contractually can lock them up for many more. Even if a reload is desired in the short-term, a team needs to play it out and take the shot at some point. That time was 2020 for the current version of the Cleveland Indians. 

I met my wife at the same prestigious school she referenced earlier. She is a brilliant writer but may have outkicked her coverage by offering this specific argument with limited support. Then again, I outkicked my coverage when she agreed to go out with and marry me so we have something in common.

Point: The 2020 Tribe bullpen was awesome. In order to be competitive long-term, the team needs a strong and reliable minor league system. By trading Clevinger, the Indians got back three of the Padres top 11 prospects in shortstop Gabriel Arias, left-handed pitcher Joey Cantillo and shortstop Owen Miller. In essence, Cleveland got more-than-fair value in return.

Counterpoint: I don’t have an issue with the bullet point as written. My wife had some other opinions about the merits of the trade which may have come from uncredited sources. If she can identify and repeat what’s missing, I’ll gladly replace her commentary.   

Point: As final support, just ask Clevinger. The former Indians pitcher stated that it was “merely coincidental that Cleveland traded him” and the “reality is that a breakup with the Indians was always in the cards.” The pitcher viewed his trade as a “business decision” given that the Indians were “looking for a bat” and a “lot more years of team control on the guys younger than me in the rotation.”

Counterpoint: Clevinger’s comments make sense, but he’s the last person to know the real reason for the trade. 

In sum, the Clevinger trade was “most certainly” inevitable and had nothing to do with COVID. I eagerly await, as I am sure Mr. T10B’s avid fans do, his reply to this post.

Before offering my reply, I’d like to make an observation. I have known my wife for over 30 years. During that time, I don’t remember any of her closing paragraphs ending in anything but, “Clearly.” She usually concludes in this way because she believes she “clearly” can support the conclusion. Perhaps she’s offended by “most certainly” only because it’s a more confident way of expressing, “clearly.” In this case, she may have avoided her usual ending simply because she’s less confident. 


MR. T10B’S RESPONSE

Despite virus-related changes to their seasons (e.g. shortened schedule, playing in a “bubble,” centrally located playoffs), the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers will not have their championships tarnished with an asterisk (or a Paul Pierce ostrich).

PAUL PIECE OSTRICH – GO TO THE 2:28 MARK

Without a challenge to the legitimacy of a title, the Indians should have viewed 2020 as the right time to end 70+ years of championship futility. Based on a 1-2 punch provided by Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger, Cleveland had a great chance to take it all. Mrs. T10B already provided Clevinger’s stats so I’ll share a few about Bieber to support my contention. In 12 starts during the shortened 2020 season, Bieber went 8-1 with a 1.63 E.R.A. and 122 strikeouts. The Cleveland ace unanimously won the 2020 AL Cy Young Award for his efforts. 

Despite his incredible regular season, Bieber failed miserably in Game 1 of a best-of-three 1st round match-up against the NY Yankees. He gave up half as many earned runs in that game (7 in 5 innings) as he did in the entire regular season (14 in 77 innings). The Indians’ season ended after they lost Game 2 in a 10-9 nail-biter. Based on that score, the Tribe needed better pitching much more than better hitting.

As shared by “Dandy” Don Meredith, “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas?” Still, I wonder how the 2020 Indians’ season might have ended if the team waited to trade not only Mike Clevinger but also Trevor Bauer. In spite of a seemingly mediocre 5-4 record, Bauer won the 2020 NL Cy Young Award (with 27 out of 30 first place votes) based on his league-leading 1.73 ERA and 0.795 WHIP. Imagine the Merry Xmas Cleveland could have had with a 1-2-3 punch of Bieber-Bauer-Clevinger in the 2020 MLB playoffs. 

So why do I bring up Bauer even though Cleveland traded him in July 2019? I’ll share some details surrounding that trade and let you decide. After giving up a 2-run single to go down 7-5 in a 2019 game against the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland manager Terry Francona approached the mound to pull Bauer from the game. Instead of giving the ball to his skipper, Bauer turned around and heaved it clear over the center field fence. 

BAUER’S FINAL TOSS

If you haven’t seen it, the toss heave was quite impressive.

Bauer’s toss was a failed final “pitch” because the Indians traded him before his next start. When asked on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast whether his immature act influenced the timing of the trade, Bauer said, “Honestly, yeah, it might have.” When referencing the incident, Francona added, “I had concerns what it could do to our team . . . I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit worried.”

If Cleveland’s manager was at least a little worried about how Bauer’s insurrection might impact the team, how worried must he have been regarding Clevinger’s insurrection? Bauer only risked his own health by potentially throwing out his arm while Clevinger risked the health (and maybe even lives) of every player on that plane. 

When referencing the Clevinger trade on Cleveland.com, Paul Hoynes wrote, “I like it, because it has potential long-term benefits.” At the same time, he added, “I don’t think they would have done this trade without air cover from the Clevinger Caper.” Hoynes apparently agrees with Mr. T10B that the “caper” led to the trade. At a minimum, he disagrees with Mrs. T10B, who argued that the trade “had nothing to do with COVID.”

CONCLUSION

I was quite impressed by Mrs T10B’s arguments and desire to have her case heard by my “avid” fans. Frankly, her biting sarcasm hits below the belt because she knows the only avid fans I have live under our roof. They rightfully support her unconditionally so I’ll likely lose this one. Still, I’ll wrap it up as best I can.

My wife follows the Tribe much more closely than I do so I’ll accept her assessment that the team fared well in the Clevinger trade. Furthermore, the current Padres pitcher just underwent Tommy John surgery so her comment about getting rid of injury-prone players before it’s too late was prescient. Her weakest argument involves the support she seeks from public comments made by Cleveland’s front office. I’m not saying those comments hurt, just that they don’t help.

Importantly, I’m not claiming that Cleveland traded Clevinger solely because he lost the team’s trust and needed to go at all costs. Instead, I contend that the timing of the trade was impacted by the pitcher’s ill-advised actions. The club could have gotten similar, if not more, value waiting until this off-season. However, as they have done before, the Indians acted quickly because the team’s chemistry was at stake. I believe the front office overreacted because any disgruntled teammates coulda, woulda, shoulda gotten over it with proper contrition by their careless pitcher.

Coming full circle, I stand by my original statement that Cleveland  “shot itself in the foot” by trading its #2 starter prior to the 2020 playoffs. For the sake of long-suffering Indians fans, hopefully last year’s reload (Cory Kluber and Trevor Bauer), this year’s reload (Mike Clevinger), and next year’s reload (Francisco Lindor) will pay off before Shane Bieber finds himself in the middle of a reload in 2023 or 2024. Sorry Cleveland, but it’s hard to win a title when your team is taking shots with a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle.

Yeah, that one (formerly available at the downtown Higbee’s).
MERRY CHRISTMAS CLEVELAND
T10B BUSTED: MIKE CLEVINGER

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