The 2019 season was a lost year for two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. The Cleveland Indians ace made seven forgettable starts (5.80 ERA) before a comebacker broke his forearm on May 1. Kluber then suffered an abdominal injury during his minor-league rehab assignment, ending his season.
. The Indians hold a $17.5 million option for Kluber next season, and the $1 million buyout means it is a $16.5 million decision. On Wednesday, team president Chris Antonetti confirmed the Indians will indeed exercise Kluber's option.
Here's what manager Terry Francona told reporters, including Cleveland.com's Paul Hoynes:
"In talking to Corey, he's able to do some things in his delivery that maybe he wasn't able to do -- positions he could get in that he wasn't able to (in recent seasons)," said Francona. "You start accumulating all those innings and with that comes bumps and bruises and nicks and things like that. Good pitchers and good players they keep playing, they figure out a way.
"But over the course of time, his arm was getting lower, his back knee was getting a little lower. You just keep competing, but it does things to your pitches. I think this is almost a blessing in disguise. Yeah, we missed the heck out of him, but come next year I bet you he has a chance to be the Kluber that we've seen and relied on. I betcha he has a chance of being that again because of having a little bit of a layoff."
As recently as 2018, Kluber threw a league-leading 215 innings with 222 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA. He won the Cy Young in 2014 and 2017, and finished third in the voting in 2016 and 2018. Kluber has been one of the game's best and most dominant pitchers for the better part of a decade now.
That said, Kluber will turn 34 shortly after Opening Day, and there were some warning signings going into last season. His velocity has steadily dropped and his swing-and-miss rate slipped with it. That doesn't mean Kluber can't still be effective. Only that there were indications his days as a truly elite starter may be nearing an end.
The Indians had three options with Kluber, realistically. One, they could've declined the option and let him walk as a free agent. The Indians wouldn't make him the qualifying offer -- you don't pass on a $17.5 million club option only to make the $19 million or so qualifying offer -- which means no draft pick compensation. This option was a non-option as far as I'm concerned.
Two, the Indians can keep Kluber next season and try to win with him. Their core remains strong despite missing the postseason this year, and there's always room for a guy like Kluber in rotation. Kluber, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale is a formidable rotation depth chart. You can win with that.
Or three, the Indians could now trade Kluber. He was reportedly on the market last offseason, though that seemed to be due diligence more than anything. Antonetti & Co. wouldn't be doing their jobs if they didn't gauge the market on all their players, even a two-time Cy Young winner signed to an affordable contract. There was plenty of interest, as expected.
Even with Kluber pitching poorly before the injuries, he still has a chance to be very good, and his contract includes another $18 million club option ($1 million buyout) for 2021. I reckon several contenders would happily take Kluber on a 1+1 contract. Even if he is 75 percent of what he was from 2014-18, Kluber is still better than most.
The best plan seems to be taking Kluber into 2020 and trying to win with him before Francisco Lindor prices himself out of town. Win with this core while you can, you know? And if the season goes sideways, the Indians could trade Kluber at the deadline, and the acquiring team would still get him for two potential postseason runs.
The Indians fielded a $121.6 million payroll in 2019 and they only have $65 million or so on the books next year, including Kluber. Clevinger and especially Lindor have big arbitration raises coming their way, otherwise it appears Cleveland has some money to spend this winter thanks to their cheap young starters. Improving the outfield feels like a must.
Antonetti also announced the Indians are declining their club options for Jason Kipnis ($16.5 million with $2.5 million buyout) and Dan Otero ($1.5 million with $100,000 buyout). He did not rule out re-signing either player at a lower salary. Kipnis was the team's longest-tenured player. .