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Trade Retrospective: Cleveland receives prospect Corey Kluber in three-team deal

In a last-second deal at the 2010 trade deadline, the Indians, Padres, and Cardinals completed a minor trade sending Jake Westbrook to St. Louis and a little-known prospect to Cleveland.

Corey Kluber would win the 2014 AL Cy Young Award.
Corey Kluber would win the 2014 AL Cy Young Award.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

At the 2010 trade deadline, the St. Louis Cardinals had a problem. They faced injuries to starting pitchers Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse, and needed to shore up their rotation for the playoff push. They liked Indians' starter Jake Westbrook, but initially balked at his $3.9 million in remaining salary and the $2 million trade assignment bonus built into his contract. They also were not willing to move a prospect of a high enough caliber to pry Westbrook from Cleveland.

Enter the San Diego Padres. While the MLB Players' Association reviewed Westbrooks' own request to forfeit the trade bonus (he both wanted to play for a contender, and felt injuries had prevented himself from honoring his contract), the Padres had an eye on Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick. As documented in this piece by Terry Pluto, the three teams agreed that Westbrook, Padres prospect Nick Greenwood, and $2.7 million from the Indians would go to St. Louis; Ludwick would go to San Diego; and fringe Padres prospect Corey Kluber would be sent to Cleveland.

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As always, this series is concerned only with evaluating the initial decision made by the teams participating in the transaction, and not later moves that retroactively affect the perceptions of the deal. The final judgement is reached by comparing each player's salary and fWAR-based free agent dollar value from FanGraphs to create a surplus value measurement. Salary and service time figures are taken from Baseball-Reference.

As with other recent editions of this series, a non-scientific attempt is made at future win depreciation. In almost all blockbuster trades, one team (the "buyer") sacrifices long-term wins to improve their team in the near-term. In essence, present wins are more valuable than future wins. The below table is just a rough estimate attempting to accommodate for that consideration.

Year 2011 Value 2011 WAR
2010 150% 1.50
2011 100% 1.00
2012 75% 1.33
2013 55% 1.82
2014 40% 2.50
2015 30% 3.33

As this is a trade deadline deal, a heightened value is placed on wins in the second half of the immediate season (2010). The value is still presented relative to the following offseason (2011 in this case), the period of time around which this entire series has revolved.

The Deal

For the Cardinals, this trade was about acquiring Jake Westbrook to solidify their rotation before a playoff push. Westbrook was the Rockies' first round pick in the 1996 draft, selected from Madison County High School in Danielsville, Georgia. Baseball America ranked him as baseball's 75th-best prospect before the 1997 season, and he'd eventually debut with the New York Yankees in 2000.

He'd be traded to the Indians for David Justice before the next season, and would establish himself as a durable starter with the team. Westbrook made an All-Star appearance in 2004, the first of three straight 200 inning seasons. In 2008, he'd undergo Tommy John Surgery and miss all of the 2009 season, but rebuilt his trade stock in time for the 2010 trade deadline.

Nick Greenwood was included by the Padres to pry Ryan Ludwick free from St. Louis. He was a 14th round pick in the 2009 draft out of the University of Rhode Island. A lefty swingman in the Minors, he was seen as a potential Major League reliever with the ability to get out opposite-handed batters.

The Padres inserted themselves into this trade and received the aforementioned Ludwick, a veteran outfielder. He was the Athletics' second-round pick in the 1999 draft, a college bat out of the University of Nevada. Before the 2001 season, he was ranked the 81st-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, and would debut with the Texas Rangers in 2002. He would struggle early on, only accumulating 365 plate appearances and an 88 OPS+ over his next four seasons, and spent 2006 with the Tigers' AAA affiliate.

Ludwick would sign with the Cardinals prior to the 2007 season, and quickly burst back into the Majors, rediscovering the promise of his early prospect status. Over the next three seasons, he established himself as a regular in the Cardinals' outfield, producing a 125 OPS+ and 9.8 fWAR, and making the All-Star team in 2008.

The Indians, disappointed with their 30-47 record through the end of June, decided to offload Westbrook to a contender for prospects. While the Cardinals wanted the righty, they weren't willing to offer a desirable prospect. The Padres then entered the fray, and the Indians scouted the team's farm system.

They settled on Corey Kluber, San Diego's 4th round draft pick in 2007. He was old in prospect terms (24, and in AA), but had strong strikeout rates and a four pitch mix that intrigued Cleveland evaluators. The team itself expected a player that could develop into a durable innings eater in the back of their rotation.

The Ripples

Cardinals Transaction With To/By/With For
Jake Westbrook Free Agency
Nick Greenwood Free Agency

Jake Westbrook would reach free agency following the 2010 season, but re-sign with the Cardinals on a three year deal. He won a World Series with the 2011 iteration of the team, and retired following the 2013 season.

Nick Greenwood climbed the Cardinals' system and spent parts of four straight seasons at AAA before debuting as a 27-year old in 2014. He's struggled to establish himself in the Majors, and hit free agency following the 2015 season. He signed in January with the Chicago Cubs.

Padres Transaction With To/By/With For
Ryan Ludwick Purchased Pirates

Ryan Ludwick struggled to hit in San Diego (86 OPS+), and saw his contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011. He would sign a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, and rediscovered his stroke with a 130 OPS+. After being released in Spring Training by the Texas Rangers in 2015, he would retire from baseball.

Indians Transaction With To/By/With For
Corey Kluber Extended Indians 5 Yrs/$38.5 Million

Corey Kluber would struggle through his early Indians career, but emerged as a mid-rotation starter during the 2013 season. He then exploded in 2014, becoming an ace, and winning the AL Cy Young Award over Felix Hernandez. He signed a five-year extension with Cleveland.

The Results

Remaining Control fWAR Salary (M) FA Value (M) Surplus Value (M) Surplus Value - Adj (M)
Jake Westbrook 0 1.2 $4.07 $7.20 $3.13 $4.69
Nick Greenwood 0 -0.2 $- $(1.60) $(1.60) $(0.64)
$- $- $- $-
Ryan Ludwick 0 0.1 $7.52 $1.80 $(5.72) $(8.40)
$- $- $- $-
Corey Kluber 3 16.2 $2.20 $124.80 $122.60 $49.12
Cardinals Total 0 1.0 $4.07 $5.60 $1.53 $4.05
Padres Total 0 0.1 $7.52 $1.80 $(5.72) $(8.40)
Indians Total 3 16.2 $2.20 $124.80 $122.60 $49.12

We don't like doing these deals. We want to be on the other end of them.

This was spoken by Chris Antonetti, then Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Cleveland Indians, and the unequivocal winner of this trade. Quotes like this do somewhat enforce the futility of evaluating trades in retrospect, and the unknowable nature of player evaluation.

It wasn't only the Padres that missed on Kluber's potential - Baseball America never ranked him among the team's top 30 prospects, and the Indians themselves only viewed him as an innings eater. Despite having a great strikeout to walk ratio, he was a 24-year old in AA with spotty command and a low-90s fastball. He hadn't yet been introduced to his trademark sinker, or his cutter.

So, while the Indians obviously have seen the best results of this trade, it may be hard to determine the winner of the original decision from a process-oriented perspective. If all of Corey Kluber's potential outcomes and their likelihoods were combined into an expected value, it wasn't high at the time of the trade, and it's completely possible that without the Indians' coaching staff, he wouldn't have developed into much of anything. Their player development department deserves a ton of credit, but it's hard to know if Cleveland's initial decision was actually better than that of San Diego or St. Louis.

In the end, thirty out of thirty teams would prefer to have the Indians' return in this trade, a fact compounded by the Cardinals' and Padres' respective failures to make the playoffs in 2010. In this way, Cleveland definitely won the trade, but did it in what was basically an unpredictable manner.

With that, we've completed this year's trade retrospective series before the 2016 season gets underway. Come back next offseason for more examples of similar pointless, yet entertaining, exercises in futility.

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Spencer Bingol is a Contributing Editor at Beyond the Box Score. He can also be read at Crashburn Alley. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.