The news of two clubs not named the Dodgers or Angels acquiring All-Star-caliber pitchers trickled out Sunday.
The Cleveland Indians traded right-hander Corey Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, to the Texas Rangers in the morning. Hours later, the Arizona Diamondbacks and left-hander Madison Bumgarner reportedly agreed to a five-year contract worth $85 million with $15 million deferred.
They were the third and fourth players the Dodgers had been linked to who ended up going elsewhere in the last this week, joining right-hander Gerrit Cole and third baseman Anthony Rendon. The Angels nabbed Rendon, but desperately need to bolster a starting rotation that finished with the second-highest cumulative earned-run average in the major leagues last season. Options are dwindling.
While the Dodgers aren’t in dire need of rotation help, acquiring Kluber or Bumgarner made sense. They’re hunting for premium talent and both reside in that echelon.
The 33-year-old Kluber is a three-time All-Star with a 2.94 earned-run average over the last six seasons. The Dodgers were rumored to have wanted Kluber last season before an injury-plagued 2019 limited him to seven starts.
Bumgarner, 30, spent his first 11 seasons with the San Francisco Giants. Landing him would have been met with a mixed reaction. On the one hand, he was a bitter nemesis. On the other, he was a proven playoff performer with three World Series titles and a 3.13 career ERA coming off a strong second half last season.
But the Dodgers’ focus had not been on Kluber or Bumgarner. Instead, they have set their eyes on Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor and, to a lesser extent, Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger.
Lindor is the player the Dodgers want most. He is a 26-year-old switch-hitter who has cemented himself as one of the best players in baseball during his five-year career. He would improve the Dodgers offensively and defensively. He is a premier player the Dodgers believe they need to overcome the October hump.
Lindor finished second in 2015 voting for rookie of the year before being an All-Star the next four seasons. He has hit at least 32 home runs and has had an .842 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over the last three seasons. He has two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.
Although he’s coming off his worst season since his rookie year, Lindor still batted .284 with an .854 OPS and 32 home runs in 143 games. He compiled 4.4 WAR in 2019 — ranked sixth among major league shortstops — after seasons of 7.6, 5.7, and 5.5.
Lindor’s availability has been an open secret. In March, Indians owner Paul Dolan told fans to “enjoy” Lindor in his final three seasons under contract in Cleveland. The statement signaled that the Indians didn’t plan on re-signing Lindor, meaning trading him before he hit free agency after the 2021 season was a strong possibility.
Making the move this offseason, with two years of team control remaining for Lindor, would seemingly attract a better haul than if the Indians waited until the July 31 trade deadline or next offseason. For the Dodgers, the price probably would start with Gavin Lux, their top prospect. Other prospects and established major leaguers could be included.
The question is whether the Dodgers would need to add another top prospect, namely right-hander Dustin May, to land Lindor. Lastly, they would have to figure out what to do with Corey Seager, their incumbent shortstop. They could trade him or have him switch positions.
If the Dodgers want Clevinger, they almost certainly would have to give up May.
Clevinger profiles as a more attractive option than Kluber. He is younger (turns 29 next week), cheaper (projected to make $4.5 million next season through arbitration compared with Kluber’s $17.5-million salary) and is under club control for one more season.
Above all, Clevinger, one of the best pitchers in the American League the last three seasons, figures to be in his prime. He has a 2.96 ERA since the start of the 2017 campaign. He posted a 3.02 ERA with 207 strikeouts across 200 innings in 2018, his first year as a full-time starter. He was even better when healthy last season, recording a 2.71 ERA, but back and ankle injuries limited him to 21 starts.
The Dodgers envision Clevinger pitching between Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw atop their rotation, with Lindor at shortstop and bolstering the lineup. On paper, the moves don’t seem necessary. The Dodgers would be the favorites to win their eighth straight National League West title as currently constructed. They are talented and deep. But their focus isn’t on simply reaching October. It’s on winning it all.