The trade that Cleveland fans were freaking out about last offseason finally came to fruition, as GM Mike Chernoff found a team to take Corey Kluber off his hands. The two-time Cy Young winner was one of the biggest reasons that Cleveland has been a contender over the past several years, highlighted (of course) by their World Series appearance in 2016. From 2014 to 2018, Kluber recorded a 2.85 ERA, 2.83 FIP and 32.4 bWAR and was unquestionably one of baseball’s most elite arms.
2019 was a different story for both Kluber and his team, however. After a non-Kluber-like start to the season, he took a line drive to the forearm, only to come back in August and suffer an oblique strain that cost him the rest of his season. He ended the year with just north of 35 innings pitched and a 5.80 ERA/4.06 ERA. For the Indians, they failed to add on to their trifecta of division titles, both because of the loss of key players like Kluber and because they failed to make necessary preseason upgrades, allowing a surging Twins squad to wrest away the AL Central crown.
That, however, is the past, and we’re here to discuss the Indians’ future, which will be one sans one Klubot. In exchange for Kluber’s 2020 season, at the cost of $17.5 million (and an $18 million health and innings-based option in 2021) the Rangers are sending over outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. and RHP Emmanuel Clase. DeShields is a 27-year old who is extremely fast but has failed to be anywhere close to an MLB-average hitter in any of the four seasons since he came in seventh in Rookie of the Year voting back in 2015. Clase is definitely an intriguing prospect, as he throws a cutter over 100 MPH, but he’s just that: An intriguing prospect.
That’s a fairly meager return for a pitcher who’s won multiple Cy Youngs. But maybe Cleveland is right. After all, Kluber is 34 and he’s been losing velocity. This deal could certainly work out for them. If Clase turns into a lights-out reliever, and Kluber is really totally done, then we’ll declare that the Indians were geniuses in hindsight.
But it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is little more than a salary dump, especially when they’re purportedly shopping their other long term MVP in Francisco Lindor and they have yet to sign a single, solitary free agent this offseason. The $17.5 million Kluber is owed is a ridiculous amount of money to me, but it’s not a lot for an ostensibly contending team to pony up for a pitcher who has been one of the best in the business for quite a while.
Which brings us to the Texas side of the ledger. It’s hard to argue with the Rangers’ decision to give Kluber another shot, even if it’s a little weird they seem to be laser-focused on on pitcher reclamation projects when they have plenty of other areas of the roster in need of work (see: third base). But at least they’re trying to field at least a moderately competitive team in a difficult division. Whether or not that’s because of optics, with new ballpark coming next season, or not, it’s definitely a better look than what Cleveland is doing.
Grade for Rangers: B- / Grade for Indians: D
Bumgarner: Raising (Horses in) Arizona