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Corey Kluber Rumors
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.
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.
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.
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.