You can't call Corey Kluber's rise to prominence in the American League meteoric, because that undersells his journey and his toil in the minors. Terms like "sudden" and "surprising" belie the fact that this is a guy who's been toiling in San Diego's and Cleveland's salt mine-minor league systems for the better part of a decade, before finally breaking through in 2013.
Now, the talented, late-blooming right-hander gets his money. Fresh off his Cy Young win last season, Kluber and the Indians have reportedly agreed to a five-year extension with two club options, for a yet-undisclosed amount of money.* Kluber was going to spend 2015 as his last year before arbitration, then would have spent '16, '17, and '18 racking up arbitration dollars before hitting free agency for the 2019 season.
* - My educated guess was that the amount will be more than Yordano Ventura's new $23 million extension, perhaps by about $15-$20 million. MLB.com's Jordan Bastian is reporting something close to that.
Hearing Kluber's contract is worth around $38M guaranteed for the five-year portion.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 5, 2015
Instead, the Indians bought out those arb seasons, the 2019 campaign, and snagged club options for 2020 and 2021. And from Cleveland's perspective, this might be a no-brainer. While you can find premium pitching talent in the open market these days, guys like David Price, Cole Hamels, etc. -- they're going to cost an arm and a leg. And there's an argument to be made that Kluber is better than those guys.
Corey's 2014 season was flat-out awesome. He led all pitchers in baseball in my WAR Index metric (6.97 WARi), beating out even the nigh-inhuman Clayton Kershaw (6.71 WARi). He's turned into an elite strikeout pitcher (28.3 K%), limited walks and home runs, and proven he can handle a massive workload thanks to 235 innings pitched last season.
The risk here for the Indians is obvious: can he do it again? Though Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs sang Kluber's praises before anyone else not embedded in the Cleveland front office, there wasn't exactly much of a
Klu clue that he'd emerge as a verifiable ace. In addition, Kluber is directly in the pitcher's-prime sweet spot, going into his age-29 season ... and that means it's possible he's headed for that downward skid on the aging curve sooner, rather than later.
Nevertheless, projection systems are high on Kluber going forward. Steamer and ZiPS project between 4.4 and 5.4 fWAR for Klubes in 2015, while PECOTA gives him nothing but hate (0.8 WARP). PECOTA isn't likely taking recency into account enough, but the Ultron to Nate Silver's
Hank Pym Tony Stark tends to go off-script sometimes.
If you hedge a little, and say that Kluber's likely to be a good, but not transcendent starter over the next few seasons, you could perhaps peg him for three wins per season over the next five, barring catastrophic injury. That puts him at about 15 wins, which seems like a fair middle ground. The open market has proved that just getting a consistent couple of wins can get you money -- look at Ervin Santana's four-year, $55 million deal. If this extension sits under that mark, and my guess is that it will look more like Yordano Ventura money than Santana money, then the Indians will still be receiving really solid surplus value from the guy.
While the Indians used to be the poster children for extensions (I see you, Jim Thome!), they've perhaps been overshadowed on the extend-your-own-players tip by teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta. But recently, extensions have been returning to Cleveland, and with great success. The Tribe inked Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes to extensions right before breakout seasons, and look like geniuses for it. With Klubot in the fold, and Carlos Carrasco reportedly in the wings, the Indians are finalizing a core that looks poised to compete for the next several seasons.
Going back to Kluber's deal, it's hard not to see this as a win-win for both sides. Sure, with a Cy Young in your pocket, arbitration can be a valuable money-making experience for a young pitcher. But remember, Kluber isn't a spring chicken. He's a
highly-sophisticated pitching robot starter that took years to build in a laboratory develop. By the time he were to reach free agency, he'd have been entering his age-33 season, and teams would've been looking to factor decline into whatever contract he'd receive.
By pushing back that free agency clock to his age-36 season (at latest), Kluber probably sets himself up for very similar deals than the ones he would've gotten two years earlier -- short-term make-good contracts highly dependent on his injury and performance history up to that point. Now, he gets a little more security, and probably a lot more money than he would've pulled -- even with arbitration raises -- in the event he stabilizes as a good, but not seven-win, starting pitcher.
Then again, if 2014 Kluber is the new normal -- at least for a couple of seasons -- then he may regret not maxing out his earning potential. But I doubt it. After years toiling in the minors for little pay, now's almost as good a time as any to cash in. I have a feeling that neither side will regret this deal much in the future -- both parties had too much to gain.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.