NEW YORK — Corey Kluber was looking for a place to prove he’s healthy and back to his elite form and the Yankees, home to the biggest stage in the game, were looking for a veteran starter they could get on a reasonable, short contract. It seemed like a perfect fit and Friday night they were finalizing a one-year deal that would have the two-time Cy Young Award winner joining their rotation, the New York Daily News confirmed. Reports said the deal is worth $11 million.
The right-hander who will turn 35 in April is coming back from a series of injuries that limited him to one inning pitched since May of 2019. He broke his arm off a come-backer in 2019 and in his only inning pitched for the Rangers in 2020, he suffered a shoulder tear that wiped out his season.
Kluber, the Cy Young winner in 2014 and 2017 with Cleveland, had been doing his rehab from the shoulder injury as a free agent in Jupiter, Fla., at the facility owned by Eric Creesey, who also happens to be the Yankees’ director of health and performance. Last week, the Yankees were among teams that went to watch Kluber throw. While his velocity was down a tick, topping out at 91 miles per hour according to one scout there, Kluber looked healthy and ready in the 30-pitch bullpen.
The Yankees, who re-signed DJ LeMahieu earlier on Friday, needed a cost-effective way to bolster its rotation, which is basically an ace and a bunch of question marks.
Behind Gerrit Cole, the Yankees have a lot of uncertainty and inexperience. Luis Severino is likely out until June or July as he rehabs from February 2020 Tommy John surgery. Domingo German has not pitched in an MLB game since September 2019, his suspension for domestic violence wiping out his entire 2020 season. Jordan Montgomery had an up-and down 2020 season and rookies Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt flashed incredible talent but also their lack of professional pitching experience in 2020.
While the Yankees rotation has potential, they also have limited innings in 2021. The unusual stop-and-start and limited work load last season has teams worrying about workloads and potential injuries heading into this season.
After claiming they lost the most money of any team in baseball during the coronavirus pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Yankees came into this offseason with a limited amount of payroll flexibility. Their priority was to sign LeMahieu and were able to get him on an extended deal that averages out to a $15 million Annual Average Value hit to their payroll. That left a little room to sign a veteran starter to shore up the rotation.
While the sentimental favorite was Masahiro Tanaka to return, Kluber is a high-reward, low-risk gamble for the Yankees. He was among the most effective pitchers before the series of injuries sidelined him the last two seasons. From 2014-18, Kluber had a strikeout percentage of 28.5 and a walk rate of just 5.2% while pitching to a 2.85 ERA.
Of the free agents available, FanGraphs projections has Kluber with the third highest WAR (2.5) behind Trevor Bauer (3.8) and Tanaka (2.9), who walked away as a free agent after last season.
Kluber was not only on the Yankees radar working with their health and performance director in his recovery, but he also is very familiar with the Yankees pitching program. Pitching coach Matt Blake, heading into his second season with the Yankees, worked with Kluber for years in his previous role as Cleveland’s assistant director of pitching development.©2021 New York Daily News. Visit at nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.