Corey Kluber Rumors

AL Notes: Jays, Astros, Anderson, White Sox, Kluber, Twins, Bourjos

The heavily backloaded nature of the Blue Jays‘ deal with Russell Martin leaves the club with additional potential payroll capacity for 2015, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. It is worth noting that Toronto likely feels comfortable pushing cash into the 2016-19 segments of the contract because, as is apparent from my recent post regarding future obligations, the team had very little on the books after this year.

Here’s the latest from the American League:

  • The Astros have checked in with Brett Anderson‘s representatives, tweets Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The oft-injured, but generally excellent lefty makes his home in Houston and could represent an interesting upside play for the rising Astros.
  • White Sox GM Rick Hahn has an extensive history with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, notes Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com. As Hayes explains, the two even managed to pull of a trade for the injured Jesse Crain at the 2013 trade deadline. While it remains to be seen whether a deal will be worked out involving shortstop Alexei Ramirez, it seems fair to believe that all reasonable possibilities will be explored between those two clubs.
  • Of course, the White Sox already made an interesting move earlier today by locking up southpaw Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM pact. Hahn says he is pleased but already “on to the next [deal] now,” as Hayes reports“It’s an important get, one we’re all very happy about,” said Hahn. “But we’re not deluding ourselves that we’re by any means finished addressing our needs both in the bullpen or elsewhere.”
  • A move by the Indians to push for an extension with Cy Young winner Corey Kluber would not be surprising; indeed, I profiled Kluber as an extension candidate back in August. But the club has yet to initiate talks, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter link).
  • With the Twins still lacking a clear solution in center field for 2015, Peter Bourjos of the Cardinals is a name to keep an eye on, according to a tweet from Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. MLBTR’s Steve Adams has been one notable advocate of such a move for Minnesota.

Central Notes: Burnett, Kluber, Cardinals

A.J. Burnett will prove to be a bargain for the Pirates, Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. The Pirates have a great record with recent free agents like Russell Martin and Edinson Volquez, and Burnett is still a strikeout pitcher. He’ll also be recovered from a hernia issue that dogged him in 2014, and he’ll have a more favorable ballpark and defense than he had in Philadelphia. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • Potential offseason extension candidates include NL Central and AL Central players like Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Corey Kluber of the Indians, and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas of the Royals, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com writes. It will be awhile before Kluber can really cash in on his AL Cy Young award win, Castrovince notes — he isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2018, by which point he’ll be heading into his age-33 season. Extending him now would give the Indians cost certainty through his arbitration seasons. As Castrovince points out, extensions for Harrison, Hosmer and Moustakas don’t appear that likely — the Pirates would probably like to see how Harrison performs in 2015, and Hosmer and Moustakas are represented by Scott Boras, who may prefer to see what his players might get in free agency in a few years. Also, neither Hosmer nor Moustakas were nearly as impressive in the regular season as they were in the playoffs.
  • GM John Mozeliak says the Cardinals aren’t heavily involved in the market for Asian players right now, Fangraphs’ David Laurila tweets. Mozeliak does add that the Cardinals can’t totally ignore that market, however. The GM’s answer came in response to a question about Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, who struck out 179 batters in 155 1/3 innings and threw 101 MPH as a pitcher, as well as hitting .274/.338/.505 as an outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season. Otani is probably many years away from playing in the US, if he ever does, but MLB scouts are keeping an eye on him, for obvious reasons.

Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber Win Cy Young Awards

Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber have won the National League and American League Cy Young Awards, respectively.

Kershaw was a unanimous winner, with Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright finishing second and third, respectively. Madison Bumgarner finished in fourth place (obligatory caveat: votes were due before the postseason commenced), while Jordan Zimmermann, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Doug Fister, Jake Arrieta, Craig Kimbrel, Stephen Strasburg and Henderson Alvarez rounded out the ballot. The award marks Kershaw’s third Cy Young in four seasons.

Kluber, a breakout star with the Indians, edged out Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who finished second. Kluber received a total of 169 points in the voting, while Hernandez received 159. Rounding out the ballot were Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, David Price, Phil Hughes, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Kluber posted an 18-9 record with a 2.44 ERA, 10.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 48 percent ground-ball rate in 235 2/3 innings.



Indians Notes: Francona, Free Agency, Lindor

The Indians should be poised to contend for the AL Central title next year because the Tigers and Royals are going to take a hit in free agency, opines Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in the latest edition of his “Hey, Hoynsie” column. Free agency won’t damage the White Sox, Hoynes adds, but they are in need of pitching to complement their power while the Twins are still putting together the pieces after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses.

Here’s more on the Indians from Hoynes:

  • Manager Terry Francona had clauses inserted into his contract when he was hired by the Indians allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired. Would Francona ever follow Joe Maddon’s lead? Hoynes notes Andrew Friedman left the Rays voluntarily and isn’t sure whether such a departure by either Shapiro or Antonetti would trigger Francona’s opt-out.
  • The Indians will not be bidding on the premier bats available in free agency (e.g. Pablo Sandoval (#5 on MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Top 50 Free Agents list), Victor Martinez (#6), Russell Martin (#8), and Nelson Cruz (#9), according to Hoynes, who sees the club setting their sights on the likes of Michael Morse (#28) and Ryan Ludwick (unranked) once other moves are made.
  • Jose Ramirez will be the Indians’ 2015 Opening Day shortstop, Francisco Lindor is probably ticketed for Triple-A, and Zach Walters, acquired in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, will have to make the team as a bench player.
  • The Indians are not in the position of needing to trade their core players, so Hoynes would be surprised if Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, or Michael Brantley are dealt this winter.

Indians Notes: Kluber, Brantley, Willingham

Corey Kluber‘s emergence as the Indians‘ ace began on a rainy day with Triple-A Columbus in 2011, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes in a close at why Kluber has been so successful this season. That day in 2011 is when Kluber began experimenting with his two-seam sinker, which has since become the pitch that allows him to set up his cutter and curveball. Kluber also adds that he’s gotten much better at commanding his cutter this season. Here are more notes on the Indians.

  • The four-year, $25MM extension to which the Indians signed Michael Brantley in February now looks like a bargain, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes in a piece for FOX Sports. Brantley has broken out in a big way, hitting .322/.380/.512 while producing 4.8 fWAR this season. Sullivan points out that Brantley’s offensive improvement this season has been bigger than any player’s except that of the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco. Brantley has increased his power while reducing strikeouts, and that’s a good combination for a player who already hit for a good average. Sullivan explains that Brantley’s increase in power has partially been the result of him being more of a pull hitter against fastballs. He’s also swinging at more strikes than he used to.
  • The Indians are on the fringes of the playoff race, but they decided they didn’t want Josh Willingham, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. The Twins ended up trading Willingham to the Royals. Cleveland offered Willingham a two-year deal prior to the 2012 season, but he ended up taking three from Minnesota. Willingham was very productive in the first season of that deal, but the Indians may have had a point about that third year — Willingham’s production has slipped since 2012.

Extension Candidate: Corey Kluber

The Indians have been active in locking up top young players where possible, with Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes all receiving lengthy guarantees this spring in exchange for cost savings to the club. But the organization has been much stingier with promising dollars to pitchers. Most recently, the team declined to act on the seemingly reasonable demands of Justin Masterson over the past offseason (before ultimately dealing him away this summer). According to MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, the last time Cleveland promised future money to a big league hurler, Roberto Hernandez was still known as Fausto Carmona. Indeed, he was the last arm to receive an extension from the Indians, way back in April of 2008.

That track record suggests that, as aggressive as the Indians have been in making investments in position players, the club has been wary of doing so with inherently injury-prone pitchers. But whatever risk the team builds into its internal models, at some point it makes sense to pursue a deal. That is especially true when unique bargaining leverage might be had, as the player might be more inclined to take a relatively modest guarantee rather than rolling the dice on his own health.

The reason for that lengthy introduction? The team’s current ace, Corey Kluber. Where does the righty stand on the year? 2.46 ERA over 171 2/3 innings. 9.8 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9, 49.7% groundball rate. 2.43 FIP, 2.69 xFIP, 2.70 SIERA. 5.2 fWAR, 5.2 rWAR. 28 years old. Expected service time at end of 2014 season: 2.074, good for a first run at arbitration in 2016.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers

Put simply, these are the kinds of circumstances where an extension could make sense for both sides. Cleveland will no doubt be content letting Kluber go out and prove his worth year-to-year, comforted by the fact that he is controlled through his age-32 season. But arbitration can get expensive, and cost limits (as well as cost certainty) might be attractive. The club’s future commitments drop off after 2016, when the Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn deals are up, leaving plenty of space to add some guaranteed dollars. (As things stand, Cleveland has promised just $18.742MM of salary for 2017.)

Meanwhile, for Kluber, a substantial future guarantee would seem to represent a major attraction. As good as he’s been, he had thrown just over 200 MLB innings coming into the season. His strikeout and walk rates are each better now than they ever were over a full minor league season. As a fourth-rounder back in 2007, he was not a bonus baby. And he is still more than a full season away from being paid a fraction of his actual value through arbitration — let alone reaching the open market. And even then, his advanced age would be a major factor. (I looked at the situation of James Shields a few months back, concluding that he would struggle to reach five years at a $20MM AAV in free agency when he hits the market in advance of his age-33 season.) In many respects, Kluber’s situation is not unlike that of the late-blooming Josh Donaldson, with the major difference that Kluber’s earning capacity depends upon the health of a right arm that is subject to immense strain on a daily basis.

What kind of deal might make sense for team and player? It is difficult to find a direct comparable, given Kluber’s rather unique, suddenly-emergent excellence. Kluber’s value is undeniable: he landed at 42nd on Dave Cameron’s list of the game’s most valuable players. But even apart from his poor bargaining position, his age is a major limiting factor on his ability to command big dollars well into the future.

The most recent extension for a 2+ service time starting pitcher was given to Chris Sale of the White Sox before the 2013 season. Sale received a five-year, $32.5MM deal with two option years — the latest example of an oft-copied extension model. (Somewhat notably, Kluber is represented by Jet Sports Management, according to Baseball-Reference, the agency that negotiated Sale’s contract as well as the recent Charlie Morton extension.) More recently, Julio Teheran was able to command $32.4MM over six years from the Braves, while giving up one option year, despite being a year behind on service time.

Those deals guaranteed at least one free agent year, and Cleveland may not be interested in promising any cash for Kluber’s age-33 season. Might the Indians look to promise four years while obtaining two or even three options at a similar guarantee to those contracts? Could the team look to shave something off of the dollars in those packages, possibly in return for reduced future control? Presumably, the key motivation for the team would not be to extend control, but rather to achieve significant cost savings. There are plenty of possibilities, and creative strategies abound to create a fit.

As usual, a motivated club would be the key to striking a deal. Cleveland is in an enviable position with respect to Kluber, who is producing like an in-prime ace (with the peripherals to match) but doing so for a pittance. That situation also brings the temptation of reaching an even better bargain. And surely Kluber’s camp would have to listen hard to any possibilities of signing up for a life-setting payday that might otherwise require plenty more hard work and good luck to achieve. Needless to say, it would be an intriguing storyline to track if either side looks to kick-start offseason negotiations.


Central Notes: Kluber, Cardinals, Manaea

Corey Kluber of the Indians has pitched like an ace this season, August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs writes. Fagerstrom notes that, since the beginning of 2013, Kluber’s pitching has compared favorably to that of David Price, and while Price appears likely to land a nine-figure contract in the 2015-16 offseason, Kluber remains relatively obscure. In ten starts, Kluber has produced 2.2 fWAR, behind only Felix Hernandez among all pitchers in baseball. Kluber has a 3.43 ERA so far, but with peripheral numbers that are better, with 10.1 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. Kluber’s excellent cut fastball has been the key to his emergence, Fagerstrom writes. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • Given their outfield depth, the Cardinals are in good position to make trades, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Miklasz cites a scout who suggests that if the Cardinals do try to make a big move, it will likely be for a third strong starting pitcher to complement Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.
  • The Royals‘ gamble on Sean Manaea in the 2013 draft is paying off, Alan Eskew of Baseball America writes. Manaea fell to the Royals at No. 34 overall as other teams passed on him due to injury concerns. He now has a 5.40 ERA with Class A+ Wilmington, but with 3.7 BB/9 an an outstanding 13.6 K/9. Manaea has been pitching at 92-93 MPH, ranging up to 96 MPH, and the Royals have him working on his secondary pitches and on consistency in his delivery.