Twins

The Twins Should Gamble On Corey Kluber

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj (USA TODAY Sports)

It’s Aug. 14, 2015. Corey Kluber is the reigning American League Cy Young award winner and on the bump for the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. The Minnesota Twins are 57-57 and fighting to stay alive in the Wild Card race.

Kluber pitched a complete game one-hitter, the lone hit a Joe Mauer solo home run. Cleveland won 6-1. At the time, Kluber was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. It wouldn’t be the last time he would shut down the Twins. Kluber is 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA against the Twins for his career.

What if I told you that Kluber would end his career in Minnesota?

This offseason, several big-name veteran starters will be on the market, including Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw. With all three likely seeking big money and knowing Derek Falvey and Thad Levine’s track record, it seems unlikely the Twins will target any of them. It is more likely they are interested in a more affordable veteran who still can be a consistent starter.

Kluber fits the mold.

Falvey knows him well, having worked in the Indians front office during Kluber’s time in Cleveland. The Twins have previously shown interest in him, as Falvey was on hand for Kluber’s showcase in Fort Myers last winter. Kluber may not be the same pitcher today as he was in his years in Cleveland, but Falvey knows his strengths and what he can do at this stage in his career.

Kluber’s 2021 campaign was disappointing, but he showed that he still has the stuff to be a quality starter when he is healthy. Kluber has never been a flamethrower and has seen a drop in his fastball velocity over the last few seasons. Last year, his fastball averaged 89.9 MPH. The league-average fastball was 93.5 MPH last year. He relies heavily on a steady curveball, which he threw 29.4% of the time this season, according to Baseball Savant. Kluber also uses a cutter and a sinker, which has always been his best pitch.

It would be a gamble, but a healthy Kluber could easily win 12 or 13 games for the Twins, which would provide a boost to a rotation surrounded by uncertainty. Kluber would undoubtedly be able to help in the development of the Twins young starters, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. Both pitchers have shown potential to be quality starters in limited action this season. However, they would benefit by learning from a veteran starter with experience and knowledge of pitching and leadership. Kluber can provide a voice in the clubhouse for a Twins team looking to rebound and compete in 2022.

Not long ago, Kluber was one of the most dominant starting pitchers in baseball. After being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the fourth round of the 2007 MLB Draft, he spent three seasons in the Padres minor league system before being dealt to the Cleveland Indians at the 2010 trade deadline. After spending most of his 2011 and 2012 seasons in the minor leagues, Kluber joined Cleveland’s starting rotation in 2013. Kluber had a solid year, going 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 24 starts. He also struck out 14 batters in back-to-back starts, which had not been done since Randy Johnson in 2004.

Kluber’s dominance began in 2014 and ended in 2018. Injuries would start to set him back beginning in 2019. Over five seasons, Kluber owned the American League with 83 wins and two Cy Young awards. He proved to be a workhorse, averaging 218 innings and a stellar 2.84 ERA in that period. Kluber will likely not be able to work into the late innings like the past, but the Twins should focus on his ability to win games and not give up many runs. His consistency would be a pivotal addition to the starting rotation.

In the 2019 season, Kluber fractured his throwing arm after being hit by a line drive. Although he pitched a few rehab starts in the minors, Kluber did not see big-league action again in 2019. After being traded to the Texas Rangers in December of 2019, Kluber was expected to make a promising return in 2020. However, he made only one start in the 60-game COVID-19 shortened season. It didn’t last long. Kluber left the game after pitching only one inning.

Kluber had shoulder tightness, and doctors discovered a torn teres major muscle, ending his 2020 season. After signing a one-year deal with the New York Yankees this year, Kluber suffered yet another injury-plagued season. However, he showed some signs of his former self. On May 19, Kluber tossed his first career no-hitter against the Rangers while throwing 101 pitches and striking out nine batters. In his next start on May 25, he left a game against the Toronto Blue Jays with tightness in his right shoulder. An MRI showed that Kluber had a muscle strain in the same shoulder, and he did not return until Aug. 30.

He started 16 games, recording a 5-3 record and a 3.83 ERA last year.

Kluber signed with the Yankees for $11 million last offseason and likely will not be hotly pursued this year, given he’s 35 and has an injury history. He will have a lot of time to recover with several months off before the beginning of next season. I would expect the Twins would be able to sign Kluber on a one-year deal somewhere between $8 and $10 million. It would be affordable, and the Twins haven’t shied away from gambling on veteran starters in the past.

Kluber is worth the risk.

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