It’s been quite a ride for Corey Kluber rumor peddlers this offseason. There was one point where it seemed like he was already on a plane to Los Angeles, and at other times he was going to split between three teams and traded evenly with two teams each getting an arm and one unlikely recipient being stuck with a leg.
It appears now, however, that the Indians will indeed be holding onto their two-time Cy Young Award winner for at least another season. According to JP Morosi, who has been on top of these Corey Kluber rumors like none other this offseason, talks between the Indians and other teams are pretty much dead at this point. And with Tribe pitchers and catchers reporting tomorrow, everyone seems ready to move on and start the season.
We’ve covered the idea of trading Corey Kluber in times and ways this offseason, from Merritt Rohlfing predicting it before the rumors cropped up, to someone being annoyed at bad takes, to Chris Davies tying Morosi to the Illuminati. It’s all here, and it’s all factual. The end result of most analysis has been that it would feel terrible, but it’s not a bad idea.
Kluber is under contract through as far as 2021 with pair of team options worth $13.5 million in 2020 and $14 million in 2021, and his trade value is unlikely to ever be higher. One could even surmise that it might decline pretty quickly as he creeps into his 30’s and his strikeouts begin to diminish. We’ve probably seen the last 7+ fWAR season he has to offer, and with every passing year he’s going to have fewer years of control to bargain with.
The option to keep Kluber — whether that was the Indians’ intention or not — isn’t a bad one, either. If there is a major decline on the horizon, it’s probably not coming this season. Steamer projects Kluber to be worth 3.46 fWAR, but that’s with a strikeout rate still above 25 percent, and a walk rate of 5.2 percent; both of which are right along his career averages. The conservative projection system appears to just be balancing out his left-stranded rate, which has been fairly high in the last two seasons.
If Kluber can pitch at a high level for just two more seasons, that’s plenty of time for the next core of the Indians’ rotation to establish themselves, while also allowing the Indians to keep winning the AL Central and entering the playoffs. Mike Clevinger arguably arrived last season, and this could be Shane Bieber’s year to shine. Give Triston McKenzie a year to get acclimated to the majors — maybe a stint in the bullpen this season — and the Indians could have another number two or three pitchers in the mix as soon as 2020.