“There is almost no chance” the Indians deal ace right-hander Corey Kluber before pitchers and catchers report to Cleveland’s Spring Training camp on Thursday, MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reports. This would seemingly close on the door entirely on a Kluber trade, as Morosi notes that “it’s believed that the team won’t be receptive to active trade conversations during Spring Training,” and talks also wouldn’t take place during the season unless the Tribe fell out of contention by the July trade deadline.
Rumors have swirled around Kluber for months, since news broke in early November that the Indians were open to discussing any of their veteran players in an effort to cut payroll. Beyond Kluber, names such as Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, and Yan Gomes were also floated as potential trade chips. As the offseason progressed, the Tribe ended up dealing Alonso, Encarnacion and Gomes (while solidifying Carrasco as a long-term piece by signing him to an extension).
With some financial breathing room established, there seemed to be less chance that Kluber or Bauer would also be dealt. Cleveland’s high asking price also surely played a role, as the Tribe reportedly would only move either pitcher for a prospect package akin to what the White Sox received from the Red Sox for Chris Sale. The Reds, Yankees, Mets, Padres, Phillies, Brewers, and Dodgers were all rumored to be discussing Kluber at one point or another this winter, though barring a late-breaking change of heart, it doesn’t seem like the two-time Cy Young Award winner is going anywhere.
Kluber’s third-place finish in the 2018 AL Cy Young race unlocked up to $12MM worth of extra bonus money in his contract, as his 2019 salary is now $17MM, and his 2020 club option is raised to $17.5MM, and his 2021 club option to $18MM (both option years come with a $1MM buyout). Even at the $52.5MM maximum over those three seasons, that’s still a very reasonable price for a pitcher who has been one of the game’s best hurlers over the last five years, even for a smaller-market team like Cleveland. Whereas the first base/DH power of Encarnacion and Alonso could be more readily replaced (by Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers) by the Indians, it would’ve been much harder to fill Kluber’s void atop the rotation, even considering the Tribe’s enviable rotation depth.
Kluber does turn 33 in April, and he did experience both a significant spike in his hard-hit ball rate and a slight velocity drop in 2018, so the argument could be made that the Indians would’ve been prudent in selling high. Still, Kluber hardly looked like a pitcher in decline last year, and there’s relatively little long-term risk involved for the Tribe since 2019 is the right-hander’s last guaranteed year. For a Cleveland team that intends on another playoff run this season, trading Kluber seems like it only would’ve been a consideration if another club had been willing to overpay. At worst, the Tribe has collected some intel on a potential Kluber market should they indeed end up exploring their options at the trade deadline.