The Winter Meetings may have wrapped up last week, but the stove remains hot. Corey Kluber is the latest big name to move to a new team as the Texas Rangers acquired the two-time Cy Young winner in deal with Cleveland, the teams announced Sunday afternoon. It’s a three-player trade with Cleveland getting outfielder Delino DeShields and pitching prospect Emmanuel Clase.
Kluber, 34 in April, was limited to seven starts in 2019 due to a fractured forearm he suffered on May 1. After a lengthy rehab, he attempted to return late in the year, but came up short in that effort. When Kluber was healthy, he didn’t perform to his usual high standards. Rather, he posted an 82 ERA+ and a 2.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio, both marks far worse than his career norms — for reference, his present-day career ERA+ is 134, with a 5.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Kluber had previously received consideration in five consecutive Cy Young Award ballots, winning the hardware in both 2014 and 2017. From 2016-18 he averaged 211 innings, a 161 ERA+, and a 5.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio while possessing some of the game’s best command. The Rangers are hoping Kluber returns to pre-2019 levels in his new digs — as are fantasy baseball owners.
Kluber is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, and is set to make $17.5 million in 2020. His pact then calls for a club option for 2021 that would pay him $18 million. Alternatively, the buyout on that deal is worth $1 million, making it a fairly risk-free endeavor.
Cleveland was in a somewhat awkward situation with Kluber. Had the team kept him, it risked his value cratering with another injury or run of shaky outings. Of course, if he had performed like he’s capable of, he would’ve helped fuel their attempt at reclaiming the American League Central. In the end, they opted to cash in their chips rather than roll the dice. As a result, Cleveland’s rotation will officially be fronted by Shane Bieber, marking the end of an era.
As for the Rangers, they’ve spent the winter remaking a rotation that last season ranked just 12th in the American League in rotation ERA last season. In terms of FIP (or Fielding Independent Pitching, which scaled to look like ERA but reflects just those outcomes that have nothing to do with fielding — i.e., strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed), the Rangers grade out better — ninth among AL rotations. That said, it was clearly an area of need as the Rangers look to snap a steak of three straight losing seasons and build momentum moving into a new ballpark. Before the Kluber trade, the Rangers this offseason added Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to the back end. Behind Kluber will be Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, who respectively finished eighth and fifth in the AL Cy Young balloting this past season.
The veteran outfielder DeShields, who’s going into his age-27 season, batted .249/.325/.347 with 24 stolen bases in 118 games for Texas. For his career, he owns an OPS+ of 76 across parts of five major league seasons. While DeShields isn’t much of a force at the plate, he’s a plus fielder in center and he adds value on the bases. He’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season.
Clase, 21, had a strong 20 relief appearances and one start for Texas last season. In the minors, he put up an ERA of 3.06 with 195 strikeouts and 70 unintentional walks in 191 innings spread across 19 starts and 73 relief appearances.
Cleveland had originally acquired Kluber as part of a three-team trade at the 2010 deadline. In that deal, Kluber came over from the San Diego Padres while Cleveland shipped out Jake Westbrook to the St. Louis Cardinals.