Even though he was once one of the game’s most elite arms, there’s a good and a bad side to a potential Corey Kluber signing in Boston.
The 34-year-old right-hander has seen his $18 million option declined by the Texas Rangers. A stint that lasted one inning before the Birmingham native suffered a Grade 2 teres major strain. As a result, the former Cy Young Award winner becomes a free agent for the first time in his career.
Many people see the Red Sox as a significant bidder on his services.
However, like all pitchers approaching 35, there’s a massive risk factor in signing them long-term. Similarly, Charlie Morton got just three years for $45 million from the Rays before 2019. Should the Red Sox look the multi-year route with a guy like Kluber, there’s a lot of good and bad that could come about with that.
Let’s start with the good.
There’s nowhere to go but up, right? The 2020 Red Sox, albeit without Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, had one of the worst pitching staffs in the league. Their starters had the league’s sixth-worst ERA (5.34), the second-worst FIP (5.50), and tied for the third-worst SIERA (4.97).
All of that is certainly less than ideal for a big market like Boston.
Adding Kluber to the mix not only provides the rotation with some stability, but it also gives them a chance to develop Tanner Houck further and be patient with Nick Pivetta––instead of giving them free access to 28-plus starts.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Kluber was one of the game’s best pitchers as recently as 2018. Across 33 starts that year, the right-hander had a 2.89 ERA, a 3.12 FIP, and a strikeout rate of 26.4 percent. He also finished third in the running for the Cy Young Award, placing in the top three for the fourth time.
If he can come back and be relatively close to that, signing him to a three-year, $55 or so million deal seems like a no brainer.
Unfortunately, with every ounce of good comes a little bit of bad.
For starters, that 2018 season saw Kluber tie his lowest strikeout rate since 2013 (26.4 percent). While that’s not everything, his average exit velocity against ballooned up from 85.3 mph to 88––tied for his worst mark of the Statcast era.
Not only that, but the last time we saw him truly healthy for a full season was when he was 32 (2018). Your body generally doesn’t respond and heal faster at an older age, and locking him into a three-year deal at 34 could become problematic for the Red Sox.
Another negative, though it has nothing to do with Kluber himself, is the state of the rest of the rotation. Chris Sale will be coming off of Tommy John Surgery, Eduardo Rodriguez recently got cleared to walk on a treadmill after his bout with COVID-19 spurred a Myocarditis diagnosis, and Nathan Eovaldi can’t seem to stay on the field for a full season.
Adding a guy who has pitched just 36.2 innings since 2018 could create problems, as now your entire top four in the rotation have a bad history with injury––especially in the past few seasons.
There’s certainly a risk factor to signing Corey Kluber. His age, health, and ability could all raise questions. However, if you’re a team like the Red Sox, who desperately needs good, marketable starting pitching after what 2020 churned out, you almost have to entertain it.
Seeing as he’s 34 years old, the likelihood of a long-term deal––exceeding three years––seems dim. With that in mind, and looking at how Charlie Morton turned out for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox make a lot of sense for Corey Kluber––as Corey Kluber should to them.
The potential deal I’d expect him to land is something in the neighborhood of Morton’s contract; two years, $37 million with a club option for an additional $17 million in Year 3. Overall, it would look like three years for $54 million.
If that’s his ballpark, then Chaim Bloom and co. should have no problem pulling the trigger.