Representatives of about 25 big league teams arrived for a showcase in West Palm Beach, Fla., two weeks ago, unsure what they would witness. Corey Kluber’s pedigree as a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner was undeniable, but the former Indians ace had made just eight big league starts over the past two seasons.
With each loud pop of the catcher’s glove, those onlookers scribbled in their notepads, many believing that Kluber has more to offer. The right-hander’s lengthy training relationship with Yankees performance coach Eric Cressey gave them something of an inside track, and Kluber said that he is looking forward to a new beginning in The Bronx.
“One of my most important criteria when looking for a team was trying to identify a team that was a contender and had a chance to win a World Series,” Kluber said on Thursday. “I felt like I could go there and have a chance to pitch well and contribute to be a part of that.”
The session at Cressey’s institute marked Kluber’s fourth bullpen of the offseason, and he said that it has been a welcome change to be in spring preparation mode instead of rehab. He was sidelined for most of 2019 after sustaining a broken right forearm on May 1, then pitched only one inning for the Rangers in '20 due to a Grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle in his right shoulder.
Yet the Yankees saw enough in that bullpen session -- and in digging through reams of Kluber’s analytic readings -- to extend a one-year, $11 million offer.
“I consider myself to be healthy at this point,” Kluber said. “I’m not rehabbing anything or tending to any issues with anything lingering. I’m basically at a normal stage of my offseason right now, which is a good feeling.”
When healthy, of course, Kluber has been among the game’s best pitchers. A three-time All-Star, Kluber won his Cy Youngs with Cleveland in 2014 and '17, going 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA over 208 regular-season games (203 starts) from 2011-18.
Among active pitchers, Kluber ranks third in career ERA (3.16), behind only Clayton Kershaw (2.43) and Chris Sale (3.03). Since the beginning of the 2019 season, though, Kluber is 2-3 with a 5.65 ERA in eight starts for Cleveland and Texas.
“That was an extremely frustrating time for me, but I don’t think I ever got down on myself about it,” Kluber said. “I did everything that I could do during the pandemic to keep myself ready.”
Kluber will slot in behind ace right-hander Gerrit Cole in what could be a high-risk, high-reward Yankees rotation. Right-handers Domingo Germán, Luis Severino and Jameson Taillon all may be significant contributors this season, but none of them pitched a single inning in 2020. Taillon, Germán and left-hander Jordan Montgomery could break camp in the starting five, while Severino should return from injury in June or July.
“Gerrit’s one of the best pitchers in the league, and Jameson has had spurts where he’s right up there,” Kluber said. “They’re top-tier pitchers. Severino, if he’s able to come back healthy, he’s got great stuff and has proven that he can pitch at an extremely high level. It’s all about that process of getting through Spring Training and hitting the ground running.”