Entering the winter, it seemed to be a rather bleak trade market for starting pitching. That changed a bit when the Mariners opened up James Paxton for bidding. And we’ve seen some chatter on still-excellent but super-expensive D-Backs veteran Zack Greinke, though the latest indications are he could stay put. Ivan Nova and Tanner Roark have been dealt; Sonny Gray will be; and a few other bounce-back candidates (e.g. Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray) have at least been talked about in negotiations.
There are some quality names on that list, to be sure. But none come with anywhere near the allure of Indians ace Corey Kluber, who checks more boxes than all but a few starters around the game. He’s extremely effective, with outstanding strikeout ability and elite control (career 9.8 K/9 vs. 1.9 BB/9). He’s a proven workhorse who’s rarely sidelined (five-straight 200-inning seasons). And he’s controllable at a very reasonable rate of pay ($52.5MM over three years, two via option). Though he’s already 32 years of age, that’s really the only flaw in the profile.
In some respects, it’s a total surprise to see Kluber’s name continuously run through the rumor mill. In others, it makes sense. The Indians have other needs to address and have already moved some prospect assets in recent seasons. No doubt they see the remainder of their pitching staff as an ongoing strength. And perhaps there’s also a belief that this is a clear opportunity to cash in on a not-youthful star hurler who comes with all the same risks of any other such pitcher. Indeed, at one point, it seemed nearly a fait accompli that Kluber (or rotation-mate Trevor Bauer) would be dealt this winter. Then, the Indians swung some other trades to shave payroll, perhaps enhancing their leverage with their key pitchers.
All things considered, it is presently unclear whether and how a deal might come together,. Recently, the Dodgers, Brewers, Phillies, Reds, and Padres have been connected to Kluber to varying extents. It’s certainly not hard to imagine other clubs having interest at this stage of the winter. But the Indians surely won’t move Kluber unless they not only achieve commensurate value but also accomplish their roster goals — presumably, boosting the immediate outfield mix, trimming salary, and enhancing the organization’s long-term outlook. The ask will be high, but it surely ought to be. And teams considering Kluber won’t have any open-market alternatives, with Dallas Keuchel representing the best-available free agent hurler.
So, given where the market stands as a whole, do you think the Indians will end up dealing Kluber? (Link for app users.)