A quick peek at the AL Central standings would suggest the 13-9 Indians, who trail the division-leading Twins by a single game, are firing on all cylinders. Of course, looks can be deceiving. Though it has yet to affect the Tribe’s on-field product, Cleveland’s locker room finds itself in a state of disrepair stemming from the turmoil caused by starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac, who were both quarantined and subsequently demoted for breaking curfew during the team’s recent trip to Chicago.
Clevinger and Plesac, who seemed less than apologetic for eschewing the league’s COVID protocols (Plesac exacerbated the situation with an ill-advised rant on Instagram, calling out the media for framing him as a villain), have drawn the ire of teammates, who expressed their frustration in what ESPN’s Jeff Passan described as a “testy” team meeting held Friday. Per Passan, the anger in the room was “palpable” with one player—veteran reliever Oliver Perez—threatening to opt out if and when Clevinger and Plesac are reinstated. Though both tested negative for the virus, Clevinger and Plesac put their teammates including fellow starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco—who battled Leukemia as recently as last year—at risk of infection. That carelessness and seeming lack of remorse exhibited by Clevinger and Plesac clearly didn’t sit well with teammates.
“They hurt us bad. They lied to us," said Adam Plutko, who was promoted when Clevinger and Plesac were optioned to the team’s alternate site in Lake County, where they will remain for at least 10 days. Perennial All-Star Francisco Lindor was similarly outspoken, alluding to Clevinger and Plesac in comments made last week. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror. And it’s not about the person we see in the mirror. It’s who's behind you.”
Beyond the atmosphere of tension in Cleveland’s broken clubhouse, Clevinger and Plesac’s uncertain standing with the team could also have significant financial ramifications. If Clevinger’s demotion lasts longer than 19 days, his service time would be affected, delaying his eventual free agency. The same goes for Plesac, who was slated to be arbitration-eligible in 2022 but, depending on the length of his demotion, may have to wait an extra year.
A faction of the team has accepted Clevinger and Plesac’s apologies, but if the damage to the locker room can’t be undone, Cleveland could look to shop one or both players ahead of the August 31 trade deadline. While that would be a worst-case scenario—Cleveland’s preference would surely be to retain both Clevinger and Plesac, a pair of talented starters on affordable contracts—there is some precedent for this. Eccentric right-hander Trevor Bauer earned a well-deserved lashing from manager Terry Francona for angrily hurling a ball into the center-field seats last season. He never made another start for the Tribe, who traded him to Cincinnati in a swap that brought Yasiel Puig to the Rock and Roll Capital.
"They sat here, in front of you guys, and said things publicly that they didn't follow through on,” said Plutko. “It's gonna’ be up to them. It really is.”