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Red Sox Trade Target: Zach Plesac

The Indians pitcher is in the doghouse. Should the Red Sox make a push?

Cleveland Indians v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

We have spent most of the last week talking about potential trade partners and looking broadly at which contending teams have room for some of the players the Red Sox could be looking to deal at the deadline. When you are a seller, you really aren’t targeting specific players in the same way you do as a buyer, but rather look for who will give up the most for the specific players you have. Well, most of the time that is the case. There are rare situations when a player becomes available who is in the majors but fits the long-term window of a seller, and that is happening right now with the Indians.

In our look at potential trade partners, the first team we looked at was Cleveland as they represented the most obvious fit. They were also the first team we talked about on this morning’s podcast. Cleveland is a very good team with a borderline comically bad outfield. The Red Sox have outfielders to deal. The Indians also have a pair of starting pitchers in Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac who are both very, very good but also have not pitched recently due to... Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s focus on where things stand at this moment. Clevinger is on his way back to the team, getting the start fo Cleveland on Wednesday against the Twins. Plesac, meanwhile, is sticking around in the team’s Alternate Site and has been told there is no room for him on the major-league roster at the moment. There are different reasons this could be — including service time manipulation, which is always hard to ignore in today’s MLB — but given the reports that Cleveland could be looking to trade one of these guys, it’s hard not to think about potential deals to bring Plesac the Red Sox.

The fit here is fairly obvious if you’ve been watching the Red Sox this year. This team is desperate for any starting pitching help they can get, even when you factor in 2021 returns (at some point in the year, at least) from Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale. Plesac had been fantastic to start the year before being banished from the roster, pitching to a 1.29 ERA with strong peripherals through three starts. He’s also just 25 years old and under control through 2025. That’s exactly what the Red Sox need.

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as just looking at his numbers, and it is a fair question as to whether or not the Red Sox should go down this road. You have to start with the whole reason he is not on the Indians active roster now, because while they can say they don’t have room for him — and they do have a good rotation even without him — it’s clearly not because of talent. Plesac broke protocol during a trip to Chicago, going out with friends and staying out past curfew. This is a bad decision with any team, but it was particularly troublesome to an Indians team that has, among other players, Carlos Carrasco on the roster. Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia last year and is obviously at higher risk to dangerous COVID symptoms.

The backlash to this decision was swift, and rightfully so. (Clevinger isn’t really the focus for this post, but he was also out with Plesac and lied about it, flying home with the team before he was found out.) A little bit after all this happened, Plesac only made things worse for himself by posting a video on Instagram, while driving, explaining himself and ultimately just blaming the media for the whole story. It was not the kind of responsibility you are looking for. Teammates were justifiably pissed off, with some saying they would opt out of the season if he was brought right back to the roster.

So, teams have to decide if this sort of behavior is worth bringing into the clubhouse. At first glance, it seems like a mistake but not really one that would prevent a team from bringing a guy in. That said, this clearly affected his teammates in a way we don’t really see all that often, and the Carrasco angle of this is important. Players around the league notice this kind of thing, and may not be thrilled about having to play with this guy, particularly after his lack of responsibility with his video. I’m not going to pretend I’m plugged in enough to clubhouses to know whether or not the Red Sox should bring this upon themselves, but I do know before this kind of trade you have to have a conversation with the leaders of your roster that you expect to stick around beyond this year.

It’s not even just the off-the-field stuff, either. because for as good as Plesac has been this year it’s not as if this is some bonafide ace the Red Sox are getting with 100 percent certainty. The righty didn’t really come up as a top prospect as a former 12th round pick that never made a top 100 list. He did pitch very well in the high minors, but when he came up to the bigs in 2019 he had a solid 3.81 ERA but rough peripherals that didn’t really get anyone excited. It wasn’t even sure that he’d get a rotation spot this year.

With all of that in mind, it’s worth considering if this is a player for whom it’s really worth giving up a big package based largely on three starts from the beginning of an unprecedented season. Like I said, the numbers are very good even beyond the ERA, as Plesac has a 31 percent strikeout rate and a 2.6 percent walk rate. There are also tangible changes he has made since last season, most notably throwing fewer fastballs in favor of his secondaries, which have all been fantastic this year and were very good last year as well. There’s some regression coming based on his expected stats versus his actual stats, but even factoring that in he’s undeniably been very good this year.

The thing is, however, the Red Sox would likely need to give up a lot for Plesac, even with the off-the-field stuff. And the most popular name that continues to come up is Andrew Benintendi. The Indians, as alluded to above, desperately need outfield help. Benintendi has struggled this year but obviously comes with the pedigree of a great player and has been one (or at least a very good one) in the majors already to this point. However, given his struggles, the Red Sox would likely need to add more. There’s also the fact that Benintendi is hurt right now, and while Cleveland would likely want him longer term as well, it’s not clear how much he’d help in 2020, and the Indians are very clear contenders.

At the end of the day, I certainly understand the appeal of trading for Plesac if we assume the clubhouse wouldn’t revolt over it. Again, that is something the front office would have to make sure of before any sort of trade. If they get the players’ okay, though, there are still concerns. Plesac has been outstanding this year, but it’s three starts. Is that enough to sell low on a former top prospect while also presumably adding more value on top of that? For me, the changes Plesac has made this year make me confident enough in his numbers that I’d certainly explore exactly what it would take, but it’s clearly not a slam dunk.