Kluber, in his mid-thirties, is not going to get anything more than a one-year deal. It’s a free agent market with several good arms, but few have the upside or big-game experience of Kluber.
Before we get to landing spots for Kluber this offseason, it’s worth considering what sort of contract he will receive. The Texas Rangers just turned down an $18 million team option on Kluber – his recent injury record will put teams off committing for more than one season regardless of how he looks in his showcase.
The 34-year-old’s free agency will depend heavily on what scouts think of his pitching in January. A one-year pact for under $10 million is the most likely scenario, though it’s not infeasible a small bidding war breaks out and the annual salary edges a bit higher.
Identifying landing spots for a pitcher who has barely taken a Major League mound since 2018 sounds like an impossible art. Of course, there have been limited Kluber rumours to date.
Landing spots for Kluber
Previously a reliable 200-inning guy, Kluber’s role will be different in 2021. The best-case scenario is a carefully managed regular season workload who can be an experienced big-game starter down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The alternative could be rebuilding teams taking a flyer. Pick up Kluber on a no-risk deal, hope he pitches well and flip him for a prospect or two at the deadline? That’s a formula that could work for big-market rebuilders like the Giants and Red Sox – both are in dire need of pitching.
If he impresses in January, teams hoping to contend will be in the mix for Kluber. The Angels, who we covered as a landing spot for Jake Odorizzi, should always be looking out for good deals on the pitching market.
After seeing the Braves pick up Smyly and Charlie Morton, the Mets need to bolster their pitching depth. Kluber could be an option to throw some innings while they await the return of Noah Syndergaard.
A case can be made for the Yankees to throw money at the former Cleveland ace for depth, particularly if they lose James Paxton and/or Masahiro Tanaka. Brian Cashman has plenty of bigger priorities, including DJ LeMahieu’s free agency, however.
Kluber returning to the Texas Rangers shouldn’t be ruled out either. Texas had enough faith in Kluber’s health to trade for him from the Indians last offseason – would they be willing to take another chance on the former Cy Young winner?
There are dominoes to fall before Kluber becomes a headline piece in free agency. As teams cut payroll and look for cheap options, the upside of the three-time All-Star should not be overlooked, even in his mid-thirties.