Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees should perish the thought of ever acquiring Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber.
Imagine, if you will, a baseball edition of The Matrix. New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman is Neo, while Cleveland Indians GM Mike Chernoff is Morpheus. The scene is the iconic moment where the choice between the red and blue pills is offered.
Now, before you really start questioning my sanity, I’m going somewhere with this. The above scene from The Matrix actually represents something happening inside the Yankees’ front office. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported last week the Indians would be shopping most of their roster due to “market constraints.”
Among the names mentioned by Olney was Indians ace and two-time AL Cy Young-winner Corey Kluber. A few days later, Jon Heyman of Fancred reported the Yankees as being “interested.”
Yankees have interest in Kluber, Carrasco and Paxton in addition to free agent targets Corbin, Happ and CC. NYY meeting with at least Indians today.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 6, 2018
The right-hander would indeed fill an immediate need for the pitching-hungry Yanks, but he’d come at a steep price. Paying that price would severely narrow the Yankees’ championship window.
Thus, Cashman has two choices. He can take the blue pill and keep with the original strategy, drafted long before Kluber was available. Or, he can take the red pill, trade for Kluber, and hope the veteran arm’s flaws aren’t exposed as New York chases a World Series title.
The risk of Kluber
To be 100 percent clear, Corey Kluber is an elite pitcher. He went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA in 2018 and struck out 222 hitters in 215 innings. In the last three seasons, he has gone 56-20 with a 2.77 ERA. Kluber also won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014 and 2017 and is a true ace. On numbers alone, he would be an immediate boon to the Yankees’ starting rotation.
Except, Kluber is not without flaws. Though he had a 1.83 ERA in the 2016 postseason, his October fortunes have since trended in the opposite direction. Kluber has posted a 10.63 ERA in the playoffs the last two years. Not only that, he turns 33 in April. No disrespect intended to Kluber, but the Yankees’ rotation needs to get younger, not older.
Granted, Kluber did have to face two talented Yankees and Houston Astros teams in each of the last two postseasons, so he could have just had bad luck. His team-friendly contract also makes him an intriguing trade target. Kluber will earn $15 million in 2019 and has team options for 2020 and 2021 worth $15.5 and $16 million, respectively. This is someone who, under different circumstances, would be earning well north of $20 million a year. To be able to trade for that kind of value from a two-time Cy Young winner is incredibly rare.
Tempting as that may be, the Yankees need to not even think of making an offer. Adding Kluber would cost a minimum of pitching prospect Justus Sheffield. Outfielder Clint Frazier, who came to New York with Sheffield from Cleveland in 2016 via the Andrew Miller trade, would also be on the table.
Playing the long game
Sheffield isn’t quite ready for the majors yet, but he could easily be a midseason call-up in 2019. He was 7-6 with a 2.48 ERA in 20 starts across Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and is still just 22 years old. He is extremely important to the Yankees’ future, so should the team really consider trading him for someone already in their thirties?
As Tag Team said back in 1993, Whoomp (There It Is). The main reason the New York Yankees should drop the idea of Kluber like a fresh coal from Hades is the long-term future would be at stake. On top of Sheffield and Frazier, the team would almost certainly have to include one of two young stars in Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Both men are AL Rookie of the Year finalists and have years of team control remaining. Trading either for a talented but aging Corey Kluber just isn’t worth it.
Keep in mind, Cashman is a shrewd negotiator and would see right through the Indians’ demands. Trading Kluber is, for all intents and purposes, a salary dump. Despite that, Cleveland will want appropriate compensation for trading its best pitcher. One way or another, the Yankees would have to give up a top player, and that’s just a bad idea at this point.
The good news is, regarding the Yankees and Corey Kluber, talks do not seem overly advanced. As of this point, all New York has done is talk to Cleveland about both Kluber and fellow Cleveland righty Carlos Carrasco at the GM Meetings, per Heyman.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 9, 2018
If anything, the Yankees should only check in on Kluber so another team overpays for him. New York would sacrifice just too much of its future in making such a deal. Torres and Andujar combined for a 4.6 WAR last season and are only going to get better. Andujar himself has five years of control remaining.
Thus, why should the Yankees trade that plus a young arm in Sheffield for only three years of Kluber? Kluber’s age and recent October struggles aren’t worth that, Cy Youngs or no.
The Yankees’ future is now and beyond. In adding Kluber, it would become all too brief.