MLB

Trade Candidates: Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale

Trade Candidates: Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale

For most of the past decade, the Guardians have been as good as any team in baseball at identifying and developing young pitchers, which has kept the rotation strong despite several notable departures. Because of Cleveland’s limited roster, the pattern has been fairly simple: the Guards trade a big name (i.e. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger) when it gets too expensive, and then the club replaces that starter with a fresh face from the farm system, or perhaps a pitcher acquired in a trade. More often than not, that new pitcher becomes a quality arm in his own right, until his price starts to rise as well and the pattern repeats itself.

Zach Plesac i Aaron Civale they are different types of potential trade candidates since their status is not tied to their salaries. Both pitchers have just gained arbitration eligibility, with Plesac projected for a salary of $2.9 million and Civale for $2.2 million in 2023. These modest starting points mean that even if Plesac or Civale have a couple of excellent seasons in 2023 and 2024 , their salaries for the remaining three years of team control should still be manageable even. for a cost conscious organization like the Guardians.

On paper, these are the types of pitchers the Guards seem to want to hang on to as rotation depth, given their control of the bullpen and the decent track records both pitchers have posted over their four seasons. the MLB The two even have it rather similar career numbers, though Plesac has 445 1/3 innings pitched to Civale’s 353 frames. However, the Guardians are one of the few teams that may have pitching depth to spare, and with Plesac and Civale sitting in the back of the rotation, at least one could be expendable enough to move for other needs on the roster.

Which is the most expendable of the duo? As noted, their resumes have many similarities, plus both righties are 27 years old (Plesac is about five months older). The input difference is perhaps the most noticeable difference, and while the Civale has been the less durable of the two, it might have more upside.

Civale had a 60-day stint on the disabled list in 2021 due to a sprained middle finger on his right hand. That limited him to 124 1/3 innings, and that number was cut to 97 innings last year due to three separate 15-day visits to IL. A sprained wrist, a strained glute and forearm inflammation kept Civale off the mound, and general concern about the forearm problem dissipated when Civale was able to return after a minimal absence. Those injuries contributed to a 4.92 ERA for Civale, though his 3.55 SIERA presented a much more favorable view of his performance.

Civale had an excellent 5.4% walk percentage and above-average strikeout and strikeout percentages. With a fastball that averaged just 91.2 mph, Civale relied on his curveball and his lead, and his swing rates (on his heater and his curve) were among the best in baseball . Unfortunately, Civale was hit hard in his only postseason appearance, allowing three runs while striking out just one batter as a Game 5 starter in the ALDS. That put Cleveland in an early hole it couldn’t escape from, as the Yankees eliminated the Guards from the playoffs.

Plesac posted a 4.31 ERA / 4.46 SIERA over 131 2/3 innings in 2022, with an above-average 6.7% walk rate, but not much else in terms of secondary metrics. The right-hander also isn’t a particularly hard pitcher and doesn’t miss a lot of at-bats (18.7% career strikeout rate). In fact, Plesac has posted some of the lowest strikeout rates of any pitcher in baseball over the past two seasons, also sitting at the back of the pack in barrels, barrel rate and hard-hit ball rate overall. With a career .265 BABIP, Plesac has gotten help from the Guardians’ stout defense to limit the damage from all that hard contact.

While Plesac has been healthier than Civale, Plesac has also spent time in IL over the past two seasons, which brings us to the other X-factor in this discussion of trade candidates. Only those in the Guardians clubhouse and front office would know the truth of the matter, but there have been some rumors that Plesac may have worn out his welcome in Cleveland due to concerns about his maturity level.

On the injury front, Plesac did not pitch in September of this season due to a fractured pinky finger on his pitching hand, which Plesac reportedly injured by punching the mound in anger to allow a home run to Seattle. Jake Lamb on August 27. It was also just over six weeks away from 2021 to a fracture of the right thumbwhich occurred while Plesac was “take off your shirt quite aggressively,” in the memorable words of manager Terry Francona. That made it two temper-related injuries for Plesac in as many years, and it followed his most publicized controversy during the game-shortened 2020 season.

In August of that year, Plesac and Clevinger violated the league’s COVID-19 protocols by leaving the team hotel for a night in Chicago. Both pitchers were subsequently placed on the team’s restricted list and then sent to the alternate training ground that served as de facto minor league camp during the pandemic season. Plesac was eventually recalled back to the big league roster in late August, while the situation was one of the factors in Cleveland’s decision to deal Clevinger to San Diego.

The actions of the pitchers were very badly received within the club, as several teammates were angered by both his lack of honesty about his actions and the health risk created by the breach of protocol. In addition, Plesac tried to defend himself in an Instagram video claiming that the media had exaggerated the situation, and that this ill-advised video also did not sit well with teammates.

This incident happened more than two years ago and, to reiterate, it is not known if any resentment towards Plesac still exists within the Guardians club. It may help Plesac that many members of that 2020 roster are no longer on the team, and he’s now one of the longest-tenured players on a very young Cleveland team. Still, if weighing which de Civale or Plesac should move in a trade, that past situation could still be a consideration in the front office’s mind.

Before the trade deadline, suggested reports that the Guards were open to offers of controllable pitchers, at least as a matter of due diligence. This immediately caused a great deal Shane Bieber rumors, but it doesn’t really seem like a Bieber deal is on Cleveland’s radar in the near future (Steve Adams recently addressed the possibility of a Bieber deal in a piece for MLBTR subscribers). Triston McKenzie had a breakout year and is controlled until 2026 and Cal Quantrill is another 27-year-old pitcher in his first year of eligibility. While Quantrill’s $6 million projected salary is significantly higher than Plesac or Civale’s, Quantrill has also done more to establish himself as a reliable arm. Cleveland turned to Quantrill for two postseason starts, while Civale and Plesac were somewhat reduced in the post-playoff state of mind.

Connor Pilkington made 11 starts for the Guardians last season and Hunter Gaddis, Xavion Curryi Cody Morris they were among the other young starters who made their major league debuts last season. Daniel Espino is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and looks set to debut sometime in 2023. Tanner Bibee i Gavin Williams they’re also top 100 prospects who could be late-season call-ups, and there are other pitchers within Cleveland’s top tier of arms who could factor into their plans for 2023. There’s enough depth and potential here that the Guards may feel they can easily replace Civale’s 1.3 fWAR or Plesac’s 0.9 fWAR heading into the 2022 season.

That said, quite a few teams would gladly accept the contributions of Civale or Plesac in their rotations. Either pitcher could be seen as a change of scenery or even a buy-down candidate, though three seasons of arbitration control would still allow Cleveland to command an interesting return. The Phillies as reported signed with Plesac in July, and purely speculatively, either Civale or Plesac could have particular appeal to former Cleveland employees now working for other teams. Former Rangers assistant general manager Carter Hawkins might want to meet with any pitcher now that Hawkins is the Cubs’ GM, or former Cleveland assistant director of pitching development Matt Blake might feel he can route any of rights in his current role as the Yankees’ pitching coach.

As always, the credo “you can never do too much pitching” bears mentioning, as the Guardians are under no real pressure to move any of their arms. A strong rotation is such a backbone of the Guards team, in fact, that they might even be a little less willing to deal with their surplus if the younger pitchers aren’t ready to contribute on a contending team. Still, teams in need of pitching will undoubtedly send plenty of offers in Cleveland’s direction, and Civale and Plesac might be the two most logical names to dangle.



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