The Cleveland Indians are not tearing it all down but are looking to manage their payroll after an increase in spending. Attendance has still been relatively low, and they seem to want to reign in their costs.
Kluber is not the only available player according to the reports. Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes and Edwin Encarnacion could all leave as well, but it’s Kluber – one of the game’s best pitchers – who would bring the greatest haul.
The starting pitcher market has already lost its biggest potential star when Clayton Kershaw resigned with the Dodgers on Friday. The supposed bumper free agent class of 2018 is relatively short on starters. Any ace available via trade will have plenty of interest from potential 2019 contenders.
Weak free agency
Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin are the star free agents. Corbin is coming off a monster career year in Arizona, but Keuchel is no longer the pitcher than won the American League Cy Young award back in 2015.
This is a good time to trade away a starting pitcher. Despite the increased bullpen usage, the undoubted, long track record aces are still valued commodities. Kluber is in that shrinking group of starters who are a guaranteed rest day for the relieving group – something that will retain importance while roster composition remains as it is.
Kluber has finished top three in AL Cy Young voting in three of the last four seasons (he finished ninth the other year) and won the award twice. It remains to be seen where he ranks in 2018, but another top 10 finish is almost certain after posting a 2.89 ERA. He is under club control for three more seasons with team options in 2020 and 2021 at $17.5 million and $18 million respectively.
The price – assuming he remains an elite pitcher – is incredibly cheap. Keuchel and Corbin will both get higher per year as free agents. It’s worth mentioning that Kluber was still elite in 2018 despite a drop in strikeouts per nine innings compared to 2017. His xwOBA (0.276) ranked 13th in the majors of pitchers with more than 2000 pitches, which is better than Corbin and Kershaw and only 0.006 higher than probable AL Cy Young winner, Blake Snell.
Cleveland are in a strong negotiating position as a result. They will likely demand near-ready prospects or players on league minimum who can help them in 2019 and 2020.
Kluber’s age (the 2021 campaign will be his age-35 season) will be on the minds of potential trade partners. Those team options, though, protect against any dramatic drop off to an extent. The combination of club control and the innings he’s already clocked make any trade discussions intriguing.
You would expect to see a group of highly regarded prospects when a pitcher like Kluber is on offer. His age reigns in those expectations slightly.
Yankees must be involved
The Yankees are the first team that comes to mind. Brian Cashman will be aggressive this offseason after resetting the luxury tax and starting pitching is the priority.
New York have the resources to make a deal work for Kluber. His salary will be no concern and their farm – even after trades for Andrew McCutchen, J.A. Happ and Zach Britton – is still loaded with talent.
Cashman has young pitching that he may consider dealing for a player like Kluber. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that New York acquire a free agent starter (perhaps Happ) as well as trading for Kluber. They have the assets to make something like that happen.
With the Yankees outfield loaded with talent and Cleveland short in that area, Estevan Florial would likely be at the centre of any trade discussions. Cleveland may also look for some pitching, which New York have in abundance in the minor leagues.
If Kluber really is available, every major league team should be checking in. Few will be as motivated to get a deal done or have the resources to compete in a bidding war like the Yankees, though.