Tribe Should Be Cautious on Kluber Extension

Ever since Corey Kluber won the Cy Young Award last November, the jokes starting flying about when the Indians were going to trade the right-hander.

Of course, this comes from the last two Tribe winners as best pitcher in the American League, C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee didn’t make it through the following season as members of the organization.

Kluber is in a different place contractually.  While Sabathia was going to be a free agent after the 2008 season (the Tribe dealt him before he could get to that point), and Lee was eligible for the same thing after 2010 (he was traded in the summer of ’09), Kluber is under the Indians’ control though the 2019 campaign.

He will be 33 years old at that point.

So, of course many fans around town would like GM Chris Antonetti to lock up Kluber now on a multi-year deal to keep him in a Cleveland uniform for a while.

We say let’s put the brakes on that.

Why?

First of all, Kluber will already be in a Cleveland uniform for the next four years regardless of any contract extension.  Now, to be sure, the Indians will try to sign their ace so as to avoid the nasty arbitration process over the next few seasons, as Kluber will be eligible for that after this season.

Another reason is that the pitcher, obtained in a three-way deal in 2010 where Jake Westbrook went to St. Louis, doesn’t have a real track record.

He’s only been in the big leagues for two full seasons, and in his first extended opportunity, he was a solid starter, going 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 24 starts.  He allowed 153 hits in 147 innings, striking out 136 batters.

Those are good numbers.

Last year, he was off the chart, going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA, and pitching 236 innings, fanning 269 hitters.

Since he threw 12 innings at Columbus in ’13, it means Kluber pitched 77 more frames last season than the year before.  That’s a warning signal to be sure.

Now Kluber wasn’t a youngster when he took that quantum leap in innings, he pitched last season at age 28.  There isn’t quite the possibility for problems for a guy approaching 30 as there is for a 22-year-old kid.

On the other hand, Kluber is older and a four or five-year deal would take him into his 30’s.

We understand that the reason to hammer out an extension would be to make the pitcher feel like the Tribe brass has confidence in him being the staff ace going forward.  But it is still risky.

As we all know, the Indians have to be careful how they spend their money, and they have had problems in the past (Swisher, Bourn) paying a lot of money for not so much production.

It would be a problem for several years if they decided to give Kluber over $10 million per year, and have him be a .500 pitcher with an ERA over 4.00 in 2015 or 2016.

And it is an unnecessary risk.  One the Tribe ownership is willing to take for public relations reasons.

We would let this season play out and see what kind of season Kluber puts together.

If he has another Cy Young Award like year, then approach him on a three or four-year deal at big dollars.  He would have established a track record of excellence at that point.

Then, it is a safer deal for the Tribe.

If they were a big market club, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but their payroll constraints, real or imagined, mean it would be better for them to be cautious.

Let Kluber fully establish himself as one of the game’s best hurlers before paying him like one.  That would be financial sensibility.

MW

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