Revisiting the Trade That Sent Josh Naylor to the Guardians

What was once known as the Mike Clevinger trade, is now remembered as the Josh Naylor trade, as the Guardians fleeced the Padres back in 2020.

Josh Naylor
CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 16: Josh Naylor #22 of the Cleveland Guardians rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the New York Yankees during the fourth inning in game four of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 16, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

In baseball, oftentimes it takes multiple years to evaluate a trade properly. Between giving prospects time to establish themselves at the major-league level or potentially waiting to see who becomes a ‘player to be named later,’ some trades can’t have a winner or loser right away.

And that’s been precisely the case for the 2020 deal, which saw the San Diego Padres ship Josh Naylor, Cal Quantrill, Owen Miller, Austin Hedges, Joey Cantillo, and Gabriel Arias to the Cleveland Guardians for Mike Clevinger, Greg Allen, and a player to be named later — who ultimately became Matt Waldron.

Naylor, who was named an All-Star for the first time on Sunday, has undoubtedly become the face of the trade, thanks to the 6.3 fWAR and 116 wRC+ he’s put up since joining the Guardians.

While Hedges albeit , Cantillo and Arias are still in the Cleveland organization, the Padres only got a year-and-a-half out of Clevinger after the righty underwent Tommy John surgery in 2021. And while he was extremely effective during his five starts with the team in that 2020 campaign, it seems unlikely that the package they gave up ended up being worth 133 1/3 regular-season innings of 4.12-ERA ball.

Ad – content continues below

Regardless, San Diego still has Waldron knuckling his way through his first full big-league season.

So, let’s zoom out a little and break down how each piece of the deal has turned out for their respective clubs nearly four years from the day the trade went down in 2020.

Josh Naylor

Naylor’s All-Star campaign has come from a serious power surge. The Canadian first baseman has already smashed a career-best 22 home runs, and is running career numbers in isolated power (.256), slugging percentage (.503), barrel rate (11.1%) and hard-hit rate (45.2%).

While his batting average and on-base percentage have both taken a hit in 2024, Naylor has taken a step forward with his approach, as well. The 27-year-old has been chasing less this season than he did in 2023, and has just been more selective overall, swinging nearly 4% less this year.

After being selected in the first round of the 2015 draft by the Miami Marlins, Naylor debuted in 2019, which means that his service clock is a little further along than the average player who has only been in the majors on a full-time basis for three seasons.

So, he will be able to become a free agent after the 2025 season, but Naylor’s current success lines up almost perfectly with the Guardians’ current window, which should have them atop the AL Central for the remainder of this season and next.

Ad – content continues below

In the scope of the trade that brought him to Cleveland, no player involved has posted more fWAR than Naylor since 2020.

Cal Quantrill

If Quantrill hadn’t gotten hurt and missed a chunk of 2023, he would probably be threatening Naylor as the most valuable piece to come out of the trade.

Another Canadian sent away by San Diego in the deal, Quantrill’s first three seasons with the Guardians were excellent. In 80 games — 56 starts — from 2020-2022, the now 29-year-old posted a 3.11 ERA over 350.2 innings, racking up a 23-8 record while maintaining a 1.19 WHIP.

While some advanced metrics don’t love Quantrill because he doesn’t strike a ton of hitters out, after arriving in Cleveland, he sure did a great job of preventing runs.

Quantrill was non-tendered and traded to the Colorado Rockies this past off-season after injuries and underperformance limited him to 99.2 innings and a 5.24 ERA in 2023. But now pitching at Coors Field for the Rockies, the former eighth overall pick has looked more like the pitcher we saw during his first few seasons with the Guardians.

Quantrill with GuardiansClevinger with Padres

After a blow-up outing on Tuesday, Quantrill owns a 4.13 ERA through 102.1 innings, but in his 12 starts between April 21 and June 22, he posted a 2.87 ERA over 69.0 innings, re-establishing himself as a legitimate MLB rotation piece.

Ad – content continues below

While Quantrill’s time in Colorado won’t change the outlook of the trade, what Quantrill did in Cleveland would have probably been accepted with open arms in San Diego in place of Clevinger’s short stay on the West Coast.

Austin Hedges

After leaving the Guardians in 2023 to join the Pittsburgh Pirates before winning the World Series with the Texas Rangers, Hedges re-signed back in Cleveland for 2024.

Obviously not a centerpiece of the trade, Hedges’ defensive impact has helped him stick with the team, despite only slashing .167/.224/.2270 in 230 games for Cleveland since 2020. He has racked up 32.4 defensive WAR since the deal, which ranks second on the team in that span, trailing only Andres Gimenez.

Gabriel Arias

At the time of the trade, Naylor and Quantrill had both debuted in the major leagues, so Arias was actually the highest-ranked prospect Cleveland received in the deal.

Arias debuted with Cleveland as a 22-year-old in 2022, and has since played in 190 games. He has played all over the diamond for the Guardians, spending time at every position other than pitcher and catcher.

Like Hedges, his defensive ability has kept him on the major-league roster, but based on his bat, it seems unlikely Arias will ever be more than a utility bench player. In his MLB career, the right-handed swinging Arias has slashed .212/.274/.350, which is good for a 75 wRC+.

Ad – content continues below

While he did get 122 games of run in 2023, Arias only produced 0.6 fWAR and doesn’t make much of a mark as a lost piece in this trade.

Owen Miller

Like Quantrill, Miller has found his way to a new team. Currently in Triple-A with the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego’s third-round pick in 2018 was never much of a factor for Cleveland.

He didn’t make his MLB debut until 2021 and would stick with the Guardians for two seasons before being shipped to Milwaukee in December of 2022. In his two seasons with Cleveland, Miller amassed 0.1 fWAR over 190 games, similarly to Arias, playing all over the diamond with little impact offensively.

Joey Cantillo

The only player in the trade to have yet made their MLB debut, Cantillo has a chance to be a sneaky late-impact arm for the Guardians.

Ranked as Cleveland’s No. 13 prospect by Just Baseball, Cantillo has been slowed by injuries throughout his pro career, having just made it to Triple-A as a 23-year-old in 2023. However, the 6-foot-4 southpaw has posted big strikeout rates wherever he’s pitched.

Given a 70-grade changeup and 50-grade slider by Just Baseball, Cantillo has posted a 3.32 ERA over 19.0 innings at Triple-A in 2024, but that comes with a 20.0% walk rate.

Ad – content continues below

He may be slated for a reliever role long-term, based on injury history and command, but with Cleveland’s ability to churn out big-league pitchers, it seems like a safe bet that Cantillo could be a part of a successful pitching staff in the near future.

Mike Clevinger

Sliding over to the Padres side of the deal, it’s tough to look back at the trade all that fondly. Sure, Clevinger made three postseason starts for the club, but none of those went all that well.

Originally a fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, Clevinger broke into the majors with Cleveland in 2016 and emerged as a front-of-the-rotation arm, posting a 3.20 ERA and 3.58 FIP over 523.1 innings during his career with the Guardians. Those numbers were accompanied by an 11.0 fWAR, 27.3% strikeout rate and .219 batting average against.

For San Diego, the trade was supposed to lock down a rotation that, at the time, was led by Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack.

But after his Tommy John, Clevinger couldn’t recapture the form that warranted such a big package. It was announced that he would undergo the UCL surgery on the same day he signed his extension with the Padres, as the organization pivoted for 2021, acquiring Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell to boost the pitching staff around Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.

Sure, none of the pieces they gave away were consistently ranked as top-five prospects in the organization — or even established MLB contributors, for that matter — but giving up six pieces for a pitcher who only threw 133.1 innings with a 4.12 ERA is likely a move A.J. Preller and Co. would take back if given the opportunity.

Ad – content continues below

Greg Allen

Allen was essentially a throw-in from the Guardians. The former sixth-round pick only wound up playing in one game with the Padres.

Now 31, Allen hasn’t appeared in a major-league game in 2024, but is slashing a respectable .261/.384/.435 with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the New York Yankees organization.

Matt Waldron

Could Waldron be San Diego’s saving grace from this trade? Based on how he’s pitched in 2024, there’s a shot.

The 27-year-old owns a 3.61 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 22.3% strikeout rate, 0.90 HR/9, and .230 batting average against through 99.2 innings so far this season, and has been among MLB’s best pitchers since mid-May.

Matt WaldronIPERAFIPK-BB%Opponents AVGHR/9fWAR
MLB Rank Since May 1226th3rd10th15th8th4th11th
Matt Waldron MLB ranks since May 12 (Min. 60 IP)

Of course, Waldron is the modern-day knuckleballer. He throws the knuckler 38.8% of the time while mixing in a four-seam fastball, sweeper, and sinker over 10% each. He isn’t a knuckleball thrower all the time like the R.A. Dickeys and Tim Wakefields of the world were. However, the more he’s thrown it, the more successful he’s been.

If Waldron, who is under control for the next 5.5 seasons, is able to maintain the level he’s pitched at while for the next few years, there is a decent chance — however small it may be — the Padres could have saved the trade with their player to be named later.

Ad – content continues below

Final Thoughts

All in all, the trade has been a resounding win for the Guardians. Even if Waldron amounts to anything over the next few years, Naylor and Quantrill have been key members and building blocks of postseason and division-winning teams in Cleveland.

Naylor has the chance to really lay it on over the next few years, with the Guardians in a great position going forward. The next question for both the team and the first baseman will be whether they can work out a long-term extension.

While, yes, the trade doesn’t look great for the Padres in retrospect, it likely wasn’t a franchise-altering trade for the worse. They have still been able to make the playoffs in two of the four seasons since the trade, and currently hold down a wild-card spot of their own in 2024.

Sure, you can debate how things would have turned out if they didn’t need to make moves for all of Darvish, Snell, and Musgrove, but those three have been/were excellent for the Padres, and it seems like those are moves San Diego would do again if presented the opportunity — even if the Clevinger deal isn’t.