CHICAGO — The Guardians have kicked around the idea of trading Aaron Civale, multiple industry sources have told The Athletic. And, really, how could they not at least weigh the option?
There are a lot of buyers in this trade market, a lot of buyers seeking a starting pitcher and a lot of buyers who prefer a starting pitcher with multiple years of team control in lieu of 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 July starts, during which he has limited the opposition to a .176/.229/.229 slash line.
He has two and a half years of team control, and figures next year to make an estimated double the $2.6 million salary he’s earning this season. Now, that’s an awfully valuable commodity for Cleveland, too, especially if the Guardians have any designs to sneak into the postseason in two months by way of a sorry AL Central. They enter the final day of July a half-game behind the Twins but tied in the loss column. That isn’t worth a parade or even a trip to Dairy Queen, but it beats the alternative.
The Guardians are so desperate for innings eaters they swapped Amed Rosario for Noah Syndergaard, a guy who, in an almost jarring manner, sounded disappointed and frustrated in himself in his introductory meeting with a few reporters on Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill, slated at the beginning of the year to be the club’s top three starters, are all sidelined with arm trouble. The Guardians are concerned with the workloads for the three rookies who have replaced them.
• Tanner Bibee: 89 2/3 innings in the majors, 15 1/3 innings in the minors, 105 innings total (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 innings total (115 last year)
All three will soon eclipse their totals from 2022, but where they end up hinges on how they’re feeling and whether their stuff dips in quality as the summer unfolds. In a perfect world for the 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 he heads out on a rehab assignment. McKenzie, sidelined with an elbow sprain, played catch Friday for the first time since landing on the shelf. Bieber, battling elbow inflammation, is expected to follow suit this week. McKenzie and Bieber are on the 60-day injured list and aren’t expected back until September.
Obviously, Civale’s presence provides the rotation with 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 on Sunday against the White Sox to fuel Cleveland to a series split.
“He’s really stepped into his own this year, getting back to where he was early in his career, that ace role that we think he can be,” said outfielder Will Brennan. “He’s obviously really important to us and hopefully he keeps it going. When he’s punching guys out with that curveball and getting guys off-balance, it’s really special to watch.”
Surely, other teams’ scouts and executives agree. Stuff+, the metric crafted by The Athletic’s Eno Sarris to measure a pitch’s physical characteristics (release point, movement, spin rate), rates Civale’s curveball as the best among starting pitchers.
As the Guardians ponder whether to move Civale, the market and, of course, other teams’ offers play a pivotal role. So far, rentals Lucas Giolito (Angels) and Jordan Montgomery (Rangers) have been dealt 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 thought to be buying, to some degree. There’s clearly a scarcity of sellers, and those sellers don’t have a ton 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 covet? They’re after a young, controllable hitter, preferably an outfielder who can hit in or near the middle of the order. Maybe the other team could attach a back-end starter in the deal who could chew up some innings in Civale’s place. The Orioles and Cardinals, to name a couple of teams, have a surplus of outfielders and desire starting pitchers with multiple years of control. The Guardians, sources say, don’t have much interest in forking over anything worthwhile for a rental bat, especially if it means outbidding other contenders.
Capitalizing on Civale’s value isn’t the only way to add a bat. They could deal away prospects. But that might be an easier course of action during the offseason. That sort of trade, if attempted this week, would limit potential trade partners to teams that are out of the race, and those teams would be less inclined to trade away a young, promising hitter if they even employ one.
If another team doesn’t compel the Guardians to move Civale, the club could simply hold this thought until the winter, though they could already be seeking to trade Bieber at that time.
This would be an easier decision for Cleveland’s front office if the team were 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 top starting pitcher.
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