CHICAGO – The Guardians have been kicking around the idea of trading Aaron Civale, multiple industry sources have said Athletics. And really, how could they not at least weigh the possibility?
There are a lot of buyers in this trade market, a lot of buyers looking for a starting pitcher and a lot of buyers who prefer a starting pitcher with years of team control over a rental.
Civale’s stock has never been higher. He owns a 2.34 ERA this season and a 1.45 ERA in his six starts in July, limiting the opposition to a .176/.229/.229 slash line.
He has two and a half years of team control and expects next year to earn an estimated double the $2.6 million salary he’s making this season. Now, it’s also an incredibly valuable commodity for Cleveland, especially if the Guardians have any designs on sneaking into the postseason in two months by way of an upset of the AL Central. They enter the final day of July a half game behind the Twins, but tied for the loss column. It’s not worth a parade or even a trip to Dairy Queen, but it beats the alternative.
The Guardians are so desperate for innings eaters that they traded Amed Rosario for Noah Syndergaard, a guy who sounded almost jarringly disappointed and frustrated with himself in his initial meeting with a few reporters Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill, who at the beginning of the year should be the club’s top three starters, are all sidelined with arm problems. The Guardians are concerned about the workload of the three rookies who have replaced them.
• Tanner Bibee: 89 2/3 innings in the majors, 15 1/3 innings in the minors, 105 total innings (132 2/3 last year)
• Logan Allen: 80 1/3 innings in the majors, 20 1/3 innings in the minors, 100 2/3 innings total (132 2/3 last year)
• Gavin Williams: 37 2/3 innings in the majors, 60 1/3 innings in the minors, 98 total innings (115 last year)
All three will soon eclipse their 2022 totals, but where they end up depends on how they fare and if their stuff drops in quality as the summer unfolds. In a perfect world for Guardians, Bieber, McKenzie and Quantrill will all have returned in time to alleviate some of the uncertainty.
Quantrill, dealing with shoulder inflammation, threw what could be his final bullpen session Sunday before embarking on a rehab assignment. McKenzie, sidelined with an elbow sprain, played catch Friday for the first time since landing on the shelf. Bieber, who is battling elbow inflammation, is expected to follow suit this week. McKenzie and Bieber are on the 60-day disabled list and aren’t expected back until September.
Clearly, Civale’s presence gives the rotation its most reliable source of innings-eating, though he has been no stranger to the injured list over the last three seasons. Civale tossed six scoreless innings Sunday against the White Sox to bring Cleveland to a series tie.
“He’s really come into his own this year and gotten back to where he was early in his career, the ace role that we think he can be,” outfielder Will Brennan said. “Obviously, he’s really important to us and hopefully he continues to do that. When he strikes guys out with that curveball and gets guys off balance, it’s really special to see.”
The scouts and managers of other teams completely agree on that. Stuff+, the metric made of Athletics‘s Eno Sarris to measure a pitch’s physical attributes (release point, movement, spin rate), rates Civale’s curveball as the best among starting pitchers.
While the Guardians consider whether to move Civale, the market and of course offers from other teams play a decisive role. So far, loanees Lucas Giolito (Angels) and Jordan Montgomery (Rangers) have been given to new teams. Texas also acquired future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, who exercised his option for the 2024 season.
About two-thirds of the league is believed to be buying to some extent. There is clearly a shortage of sellers, and these sellers don’t have much to offer anyway. That’s why Civale would be a prized target, especially with his team control.
So would another team dangle what the Guardians coveted? They are after a young, controllable hitter, preferably an outfielder who can hit in or near the middle of the order. Perhaps the other team could add a back-end starter in the deal who could chew up some innings in Civale’s place. The Orioles and Cardinals, to name a few teams, have a surplus of outfielders and want starting pitchers with years of control. The Guardians, sources say, have little interest in discarding anything worth a rental bat, especially if it means outbidding other candidates.
Leveraging Civale’s value isn’t the only way to add a bat. They could dispose of leads. But it might be an easier approach in the off-season. That kind of trade, if attempted this week, would limit potential trade partners to teams that are out of the running, and those teams would be less likely to trade away a young, promising hitter, if they hire one at all.
If another team does not force the Guardians to move Civale, the club could simply hold this thought until the winter, although they could already try to trade Bieber by then.
This would be an easier decision for Cleveland’s front office if the team was 10 games behind the Twins or 10 games ahead. Instead, as the Twins and Guardians continue their thumb-wrestling match, Cleveland’s brass has a critical decision to make about its best starting pitcher.
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