A few months ago, I wrote an article excoriating the Indians’ ownership, the Dolans, for refusing to spend money on a team that ended up missing the playoffs, despite being heavily favored to win the division. They just added more evidence to my claim that they don’t care about the team or the fans by trading Corey Kluber to the Rangers for an embarrassingly light return: they are getting Delino DeShields Jr. and prospect Emmanuel Clase. Most importantly to the Dolans, they get to save $17.5 million on Kluber’s salary that they will almost certainly be putting back into their pockets.
Bob Feller is the best pitcher in Cleveland history, and Corey Kluber might be second. Before missing almost all of 2019 due to a freak injury, Kluber was one of the best pitchers in baseball. From 2014-2018, he had a 3.11 RA9 and accumulated 32.4 WAR, the latter of which ranks second in the league behind only Max Scherzer. His 28.5 K% and 5.2 BB% rank seventh and thirteenth among qualified starters, respectively. He has won two well deserved Cy Young awards, too.
As I alluded to, Kluber is coming off a lost 2019 season that saw him make only seven starts with a disastrous 6.56 RA9. During a start on May 1st, he took a come-backer off of his right arm that resulted in a fracture. He would end up missing the rest of the season.
I understand that Kluber is entering his age-34 season the year after suffering a major injury to his pitcher arm, but I would estimate he is still a 4-WAR player. Steamer projects him at 3.4 WAR. In other words, he is at worst a solid mid-rotation starter with huge upside who is making only $17.5 million this season and has a club option for $18 million. Interestingly, if he pitches 160 innings in 2020 and does not finish the season on the IL, that option becomes guaranteed.
I understand that Cleveland won 93-games last year, but they missed the playoffs when a healthy Kluber could have made the difference. DeShields and Clase absolutely do not make up for that. DeShields is a slick fielding center fielder who can’t hit... just like Bradley Zimmer. Even if Cleveland gets a healthy Zimmer in 2020, DeShields does not make this team better, which is saying a lot seeing as how bad the outfield was last year.
Clase is a fascinating relief prospect with a cutter that can crack 100 mph. You read that right. He had a great debut season in 2019 with a 3.09 RA9 in 23 1⁄3 IP, though surprisingly he only struck out 22.3 percent of batters faced. Still, he was only the 30th ranked prospect in the Rangers’ system according to MLB.com.
I wrote a positive reaction to the Rangers’ signing of Kyle Gibson while noting that they needed to do a lot more to get back into the playoffs. They still have more work to do, but this is a fantastic follow up move. Now it is conceivable to see them make the playoffs if enough things break right for them, though I have to be honest to say that I still don’t see them happening unless Kluber regains his Cy Young form, and Lance Lynn and Mike Minor pitch close to their outstanding 2019 selves.
If this is all it took to get Kluber, one has to wonder where other teams were on this. The Angels, especially, have to be kicking themselves. They are in the same division and badly need rotation help.
This is a fantastic trade for the Rangers, and an embarrassing one for Cleveland. This is also great news for the Twins and White Sox. Cleveland fans should be furious. Now it feels like face of the franchise Francisco Lindor is destined to get traded this winter. The Dolans should just sell the team.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.