The Yankees need quality starting pitching. The Indians boast a surplus, and are keen to cut payroll. Two members of Cleveland’s rotation, Corey Kluber (5.9 WAR) and Trevor Bauer (5.8 WAR), were among the ten most productive starters in baseball this season. Both are rumored to be on the trading block, and the Yankees already talked to Cleveland. So which one should the Bombers target?
Bauer enjoyed a career year in 2018. He led the league with a 2.44 FIP and 0.5 home runs per nine, notched career bests with a 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 11.3 strikeouts per nine, and finished sixth in the Cy Young Award balloting. He also received MVP votes and was selected to the All-Star team.
The right-hander turns 28 in January, and has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. MLB Trade Rumors estimates that Bauer will fetch around $11.6 million in arbitration this winter.
There are several reasons for pause when it comes to possibly acquiring Bauer. First, he’s walked 3.5 batters per nine during his career, and failed to markedly improve on that average last season (2.9 BB/9). Next, he seems to live around 175 innings per year. He hurled between 175.1 and 176.1 frames in three of the last four seasons, and threw a career-high 190 innings in 2016.
Finally, there was the Astros Twitter-gate controversy. In May, Bauer insinuated via Twitter that Houston’s pitchers were cheating by doctoring baseballs, and then kind of tried to walk it back with a non-apology. This led many Yankees fans to wonder whether Bauer has the right temperament to pitch in the fishbowl that is New York, and if he would fit into the clubhouse culture in the Bronx.
Kluber has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. He received Cy Young Award votes for each of the last five seasons, winning it twice and notching two other top-three finishes. Kluber also earned MVP votes for three of those campaigns, and is a three-time All-Star.
The right-hander produced an 8.0 plus WAR during each of those Cy Young Award-winning seasons. To put that in perspective, the last time a Yankees hurler reached that mark was in 1997, when Andy Pettitte compiled 8.4 WAR en route to a fifth-place finish in the Cy Young Award balloting. The time before that was Ron Guidry during his historic 1978 campaign. In fact, that level of dominance has only been achieved five other times by Yankees pitchers — two of which occurred during the Dead Ball Era (before 1920).
Kluber’s level of talent is so rarely seen in the Bronx, that only 10 times in the last 40 years has a Yankees pitcher topped his 2018 WAR. Sabathia (6.4 WAR) was the most recent in 2011.
Due to earn $17 million next season, Kluber’s contract also provides a team option for both 2020 ($17.5 million) and ‘21 ($18 million). He turns 33 years old in April, which detractors consider a drawback. It really isn’t, though.
A long list of pitchers have maintained their dominance into their mid-thirties. Max Scherzer produced 8.8 WAR in his age 33 season last year. Justin Verlander compiled 7.2 WAR at age 33 in 2016, and followed that with 6.5 WAR and 6.2 WAR campaigns. Zack Greinke, Cliff Lee, Hiroki Kuroda, and Roy Halladay (twice) are also among the 11 pitchers over the last decade who complied a 5.0 plus WAR season at age 33 or older. Going back a little further, Randy Johnson did it eight times, Mike Mussina three times, and Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling six times apiece.
Kluber is just one year removed from a stellar 2017 campaign, when he led the league with a 2.25 ERA, 202 ERA+, 0.87 WHIP, 7.36 strikeout to walk ratio, and 18 wins. He’s a flame-throwing workhorse who tossed 200-plus innings each of the last five seasons, and has averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine over his eight-year career.
A potential Hall of Famer, Kluber lacks just two things on his resume: a gaudy win total and a World Series ring. He can rack up wins with the Yankees while he helps the club claim its elusive 28th championship.
To me, Kluber is the obvious choice. However, any of these three pitchers would represent a substantial upgrade for the Yankees. Which of Cleveland’s pitchers do you think the Yankees should target? Let us know in the comments section below. Also check back tomorrow, when I delve into whether or not the Yankees actually have the trade chips required to get a deal with Cleveland done.