Jan. 14: ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that Kluber’s market could come together rather quickly with one throwing session for teams in the books. He’s not expected to require a second showcase to further demonstrate his health.
Jan. 13: Free-agent right-hander Corey Kluber held a showcase for interested teams today, and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that relievers Anthony Swarzak and Steve Cishek both threw for teams as well. (All three are clients of Jet Sports Management, so it’s natural that they’d host the workout together.) As many as 25 teams were present, per The Atheltic’s Britt Ghiroli (Twitter link).
ESPN’s Jeff Passan notes that Kluber’s velocity topped out at 90 mph, though given where he is in the rehab process from last year’s injuries, it wasn’t expected that he’d be up to peak velocity just yet. Eric Cressey, whose strength and conditioning facility hosted the showcase, told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers yesterday that Kluber was at 87-89 mph in the prior session. Cressey suggested that Kluber is already ahead of many pitchers who’ve not yet ramped up their throwing to this point. Kluber averaged 92 mph on his heater back during his excellent 2018 campaign.
The full list of teams in attendance isn’t known, although given that this was an open look at a two-time Cy Young winner and a pair of relievers with considerable late-inning MLB experience, it’d be more notable to learn which few teams weren’t in attendance than to know which clubs were. Still, it’s at least worth noting that each of the Mets, Yankees, Nationals, Red Sox, Rays, Twins, Cubs, Rangers, Marlins, Tigers, Pirates, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Indians were all reported to be attending the showcase. Obviously, it’s not an all-encompassing list.
Broadly speaking, if Kluber is indeed at a point in his rehab that inspires confidence, one would imagine the market for him will be robust. The extent to which clubs are willing to bet on a guaranteed contract on the two-time Cy Young winner will vary, but he should easily command a big league deal with plenty of incentives on top of whatever base the highest bidder will commit.
Kluber may be something of a lottery ticket at this point, but few gambles come with such pronounced upside. From 2014-18, the right-hander was one of the game’s premier pitchers, working to a combined 2.85 ERA while striking out 28.5 percent of the hitters he faced against just a 5.2 percent walk rate. Only three of the 179 qualified starting pitchers in that time period — Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer — topped Kluber’s 23.3 K-BB%.
Since that time, however, he’s been limited to 36 2/3 innings by a fractured forearm (sustained when he was hit by a line drive), an oblique strain and a teres major strain. Traded from Cleveland to Texas last winter, Kluber pitched just one inning for the Rangers in 2020.
While most of the focus is understandably on Kluber, the presence of Swarzak and Cishek is certainly notable as well. Both righties are looking for rebounds of their own. Swarzak signed with the Phillies last winter but was released at the end of summer camp and didn’t sign with another club. A two-year, $14MM deal he signed with the Mets prior to the 2018 season proved regrettable, as shoulder issues torpedoed both of those seasons. However, back in 2017 Swarzak tossed 77 1/3 frames with a 2.33 ERA with 91 punchouts against just 22 walks.
Cishek, meanwhile, rattled off four straight seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA from 2016-19, leading to a $6MM deal with the White Sox last winter. He didn’t last on Chicago’s South Side, however, as he was roughed up for a 5.40 ERA in just 20 innings. Cishek’s control has been trending in the wrong direction the past couple of seasons, but he missed bats at his typical levels and didn’t see a velocity dip in 2020.