Right-hander Corey Kluber announced his retirement on Instagram this morning. “With sincere appreciation, I am announcing my retirement from Major League Baseball, concluding a remarkable 13-season Major League Baseball journey,” his message reads. “I am deeply grateful for the support of numerous individuals and entities that profoundly influenced my path.” He goes on to thank the five clubs that he played for, the MLBPA, his representatives at Wasserman, various club staff members, teammates and his family.
“As I take my leave from the pitcher’s mound, my passion for baseball remains unwavering. I eagerly anticipate exploring opportunities to continue contributing to the sport in a different capacity. To all who have been involved with my baseball odyssey, thank you for crafting an indelible and unforgettable ride. For all of those that will be part of my next chapter in baseball, I look forward to passing on what I have learned to the next generation of MLB players.”
Kluber, now 37, was a fourth-round pick of the Padres in 2007 but went to Cleveland in three-team deal at the 2010 deadline. The Cardinals received Jake Westbrook from Cleveland and prospect Nick Greenwood from the Padres. The Friars got Ryan Ludwick from the Cardinals while Cleveland got Kluber from the Padres. For Cleveland, that deal could hardly have worked out any better. They were having a poor season, which would eventually see them finish 69-93. Westbrook was an impending free agent and of little use to a club in that position, but they managed to exchange him for a huge piece of their future success.
As a prospect, Kluber didn’t have much hype. Baseball America didn’t consider him one of the Padres’ top 30 prospects going into 2010 and he had a 3.45 Double-A ERA at the time of the deal, a fine number but not anything outstanding. He made his major league debut in 2011 and didn’t do too much to impress there either, allowing four earned runs in his first 4 1/3 innings.
The legend really picked up steam in early 2012, as relayed by Jordan Bastian of MLB.com in this story from 2014. With Triple-A Columbus experiencing a rain delay, Kluber began tinkering with a two-seam fastball under the watch of pitching coach Ruben Niebla. “I’d never really thrown it much on a consistent basis,” Kluber said. “I’d throw my four-seam and, here and there, I’d mix in a two-seam. After I threw it over and over and over and over, and it kind of clicked. It was like, ’This feels a lot better.'” The two-seamer turned out to be the perfect pairing for his offspeed stuff and he took off from there.
He broke out in 2013 by tossing 147 1/3 innings for Cleveland in 24 starts and two relief appearances. He allowed 3.85 earned runs per nine innings that year, combining a 22.4% strikeout rate with a 5.4% walk rate and 45.5% ground ball rate. The next year, he took things to an utterly dominant level. He made 34 starts in 2014 with a 2.44 ERA, 28.3% strikeout rate, 5.4% walk rate and 48% ground ball rate. He narrowly edged out Félix Hernández for the American League Cy Young Award that year.
Realizing they had something special, the club locked him up with a five-year, $38.5MM extension in April of 2015, with that deal running through 2019 and containing two club options. At the time, it was the largest guarantee ever given to a pre-arbitration pitcher.
Kluber continued to dominate in the coming years. He made 32 starts in each of the next two seasons, with ERAs of 3.49 and 3.14 in those campaigns. The 2016 season saw Cleveland go all the World Series, with Kluber posting a 1.83 ERA in six starts that postseason, though they eventually fell to the Cubs in seven games. 2017 was another incredible season for Kluber, as he made 29 starts with a tiny ERA of 2.25. He got his strikeout rate up to an incredible high of 34.1% while walking only 4.6% of batters. He was awarded his second Cy Young at the end of that campaign.
He followed that up with another excellent showing in 2018, posting a 2.89 ERA over 33 starts, but that would eventually turn out to be the final year of his stretch of utter dominance. Injuries hampered him from there and he was never quite the same. But during that 2014 to 2018 stretch, he posted a 2.85 ERA in 1,091 1/3 innings. His 30.3 wins above replacement from FanGraphs in that time period placed him third among all pitchers in the league, trailing only Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.
In his seventh start of the 2019 season, he was struck by a line drive and suffered a right arm fracture. He wasn’t able to return and finished that campaign with just 35 2/3 innings pitched. Cleveland picked up his $17.5MM club option but then traded him to the Rangers for Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields. The 2020 campaign was eventually shortened to just 60 games by the pandemic, with Kluber tossing just one inning for the Rangers. He suffered a teres major tear in his first outing and missed the remainder of the season.
The Rangers declined the $18MM option for Kluber’s services in 2021, and he would go on to serve as a solid journeyman for a few years. He signed with the Yankees and was eventually limited by a shoulder strain to 16 starts, but one of them was a no-hitter against the Rangers in May. He finished the year with a 3.83 ERA. In 2022, he was healthy enough to make 31 starts for the Rays, but with diminished stuff and a 4.34 ERA. With the Red Sox last year, he struggled immensely, getting moved to the bullpen in May. He was placed on the IL in June due to shoulder inflammation, having thrown 55 innings with a 7.04 ERA on the year. He suffered a setback during his rehab and never returned.
Though it wasn’t a fairytale ending, Kluber nonetheless told a remarkable story. As mentioned, he had a five-year stretch where he was one of the best pitchers on the planet, winning two Cy Youngs in the process. He made three All-Star teams, threw a no-hitter and racked up 1,725 career strikeouts. We was worth 34 wins above replacement in the eyes of Baseball Reference and 38.3 per the calculations of FanGraphs. Per BR, he earned just under $90MM in his playing days. We at MLBTR salute him on a tremendous run as a player and wish him the best in whatever comes next.