Will the Red Sox make a splash this offseason? Boston has financial flexibility and a strong desire to bounce back from a disappointing 2020. As such, we’ll examine whether several notable free agents make sense (or don’t make sense) as the club looks to retool for 2021 and beyond.
Corey Kluber was one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball as recently as 2018, a season in which he won 20 games and nearly landed his third American League Cy Young Award with the Cleveland Indians.
The veteran right-hander has been beset by injuries the past two years, though, suffering issues involving his forearm, oblique and shoulder. He’s made just eight starts since the beginning of 2019, a stretch that includes tossing a single inning for the Texas Rangers in 2020 before being shut down for the season.
The Rangers declined an $18 million club option on Kluber for 2021, making him a free agent ahead of his 35th birthday. It’s hard to imagine his market being particularly robust, given his injury woes coupled with the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, so he more or less should be viewed as a low-cost reclamation project.
Are the Red Sox a possible fit? Let’s examine.
Position: Starting pitcher
Age: 34 (April 10, 1986)
Weight: 215 pounds
One appearance (one start)
0-0 record, 0.00 ERA, 1 strikeout
1.00 WHIP, 4.19 FIP, 9.0 K/9
*pitched one inning before missing rest of season with shoulder injury
209 appearances (204 starts)
98-58 record, 3.16 ERA, 1,462 strikeouts
1.09 WHIP, 2.99 FIP, 9.8 K/9
Why Kluber makes sense for Red Sox:
Kluber faced an uphill climb to Cooperstown since he didn’t really hit his stride until earning his first Cy Young Award at age 28. But he posted Hall of Fame-caliber numbers with the Tribe from 2014 through 2018, slowing down only after being bitten by the injury bug.
Kluber’s average season during that five-year stretch: 32 starts, 218 innings, 17-9 record, 2.85 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 2.83 FIP, 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.8 walks per nine innings.
He was a legitimate ace, no matter how you slice it, earning two third-place Cy Young finishes (2016, 2018) and a ninth-place finish (2015) in addition to winning the award in 2014 and 2017.
Now, it’s probably unrealistic to think Kluber — firmly in his mid 30s and fresh off a potpourri of ailments — will replicate that level of production in 2021 and beyond. But since he’s only toed the rubber eight times over the past two seasons, there’s very little recent mound work to evaluate. All we can do is reasonably assume there will be some drop-off, the extent of which is unknown.
With that in mind, Kluber is an intriguing low-risk, high-reward option, one that might appeal to a contender looking to round out its rotation.
If he struggles or fails to stay healthy, the repercussions won’t be crippling, as he’ll likely need to settle for a one-year contract this offseason in an effort to reestablish his value. But if the opposite holds true, with Kluber recapturing even a portion of his pre-injury magic, he could be a steal.
Why Kluber doesn’t make sense for Red Sox:
The Red Sox desperately need innings after a 2020 season in which Boston’s starters totaled the second-fewest frames among all major league rotations. The returns of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez — whenever they’re back — will help. But it’s no secret adding starting pitching is Chaim Bloom’s top priority this offseason.
Kluber, despite his upside as a former frontline starter, hardly guarantees innings. Quite the opposite, in fact. While teams can dream on what a healthy Kluber might provide this season, on short money no less, signing him still represents a dart throw.
As such, the Red Sox might be more inclined to add pitchers with less extensive medical records. Under those circumstances, Sale and Rodriguez essentially become the high-upside dart throws, leaving Boston with a deeper rotation that isn’t completely reliant on recently injured bounce-back candidates.
Kluber should be considered a potential luxury, not a necessity. And that just might preclude the Red Sox from targeting the three-time All-Star, unless they sign him in addition to making other moves that augment the rotation.
Verdict: Not a fit. The Red Sox need reliable innings-eaters more than aging, injury-prone former stars.
Prediction: Kluber signs a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.