Trading Bauer for Puig, Reyes might just work out

The Indians may have pulled it off.

They may have traded a front-line starting pitcher in the middle of a pennant race and not alienated their fanbase.

The idea of dealing Trevor Bauer seemed like an inevitable transaction when the Indians were around the .500 mark in June and trailing front-running Minnesota in the American League Central by 10 games.

But on the cusp of August, it’s a different story.

As this is written, Cleveland trails the Twins by just three games. Its deficit was down to a single game a few days ago.

Still, Bauer — the one time All-Star and full-time odd duck — was traded to the Reds late Tuesday. Under normal circumstances, a move like this would tempt self-proclaimed experts to complain about Cleveland’s ownership and its supposed penny-pinching ways.

But somehow, the Indians might just avoid the brunt of criticism.

In the three-way deal the Indians acquired a pair of slugging outfielders. Yasiel Puig is coming from Cincinnati and Franmil Reyes is coming from the Padres. Top Reds prospect Tyler Trammell is going to San Diego. The Indians are also getting pitcher Logan Allen and infielder Victor Nova from the Padres.

In getting Puig and Reyes, the Indians are getting power that has been sorely lacking in the lineup to this point. Puig hit 22 homers and 61 RBIs for the Reds this season. Reyes has 27 homers and 49 RBIS.

This means many things. Hopefully, it marks the last time Tribe second baseman Jason Kipnis bats cleanup.


But it dramatically reshapes the Indians lineup. Jake Bauers will get to take fewer called strike 3s. Greg Allen may go back to Columbus (this may have to be paused, since Puig might get suspended for a brawl with the Pirates moments after the trade was reported).

Puig is an eight-week rental. He’s a free agent after this year and it’s hard to see the Indians re-signing him. Many in the media insist on writing about the Indians facing the budget realities of a small-market team.

But since the Indians don’t open their books, we simply know the realities of a Dolan family ownership.

This is not a criticism, just a fact. We don’t know that the Dolans can’t spend more; other “small markets” have much bigger payrolls. We simply know they won’t. It’s a reason Bauer was traded. It’s also a reason Puig likely won’t be resigned.

But Reyes is under team control until 2024, and won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2021. He will help not only this season, but in years to come.

As for now, the loss of Bauer to the starting rotation will hurt the Indians, but the team is banking that the returns of Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar from injuries will fill that void.

As for the Reds, well, I’m lost. I’ve had serious reservations about Dick Williams running the team’s baseball operations over the last few years, since he doesn’t really have a background in player development or talent evaluation.

This trade didn’t soothe those reservations.

Bauer is a good pitcher who has shown an ability — for short spurts of time — to be great. But he also has just one more year of team control. He could make between $18-20 million in arbitration this offseason.

After that, he’s a free agent. And he has said — over and over — that he plans to sign one-year contracts for the remainder of his career.

In essence, he wants to be a baseball mercenary.

And the Reds, like the Indians, are a small-market club. Can they really afford to win a one year negotiation with clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs potentially interested?

And unlike the Indians, the Reds aren’t, well, good.

After beating the Pirates Thursday, Cincinnati is 50-56. It is a longshot at best for a playoff run this season, and just dealt one of its sluggers. The Reds also traded Tanner Roark — a solid starting pitcher — to the A’s Wednesday.

So is this a deal just hoping that next year they will contend? The rotation looks promising. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Bauer will make a formidable front.

But it seems like an expensive gamble.

As for the Padres, I’m not sure why they traded Reyes. And I also can’t figure out why they keep making trades with the Indians.

In 1989, they traded Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga to the Indians for Joe Carter, who spent just one season in San Diego. In 2010, they sent Kluber to Cleveland, with their big haul being outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

I barely even remember Ludwick with the Padres. But I do know Kluber has won two Cy Young awards.

Then, last year, the Indians got closer Brad Hand and setup man Adam Cimber from San Diego. Hand and Cimber have each been big bullpen additions, while Francisco Mejia — the catcher San Diego got back — is hitting .223 with four homers.

It’s early, but the Indians look like winners there.

And if I had to guess, the Indians will win this deal, too. For all my frustration with the organization’s ownership (owner Paul Dolan’s “enjoy him” comment about Francisco Lindor still sends a condescending chill down my spine), the front office, headed by Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, is continually delivering.

Usually, trading a pitcher of Bauer’s abilities in a contending season would be insanity. What’s more, it’s almost impossible to trade big league talent for other veteran assets, and still keep an eye on the future.

I’d have thought it almost impossible.

But the Indians may have pulled it off.

Zach Baker is the sports editor for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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