Kluber trade taught Hoyer valuable lessons
Current Cubs GM made deal for Ludwick while serving as Padres GM
CHICAGO -- Bill Murray and the 1993 film "Groundhog Day" made Feb. 2 a day for do-overs, so we posed this question to Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer: What deal, with the benefit of hindsight, would you like to do over?
In 2010, Corey Kluber was a 24-year-old starting pitcher with the Padres' Double-A San Antonio affiliate. Baseball America didn't include him among the team's top 30 prospects. A fourth-round pick in 2007, the right-hander hadn't dominated in the Minor Leagues at any level.
The Padres had a 1 1/2-game lead in the National League West at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2010 and were looking for some outfield help. Ryan Ludwick was batting .281 for the Cardinals, and on July 30, he came off the bench to smack a double in the 10th inning against the Pirates, and eventually scored the game-winning run. That would be his last game with St. Louis.
The 2010 season was Jed Hoyer's first as the Padres' general manager, having joined the team in October 2009. On July 31, 2010, Hoyer helped orchestrate a three-team, four-player deal that sent Kluber to the Indians, Ludwick to the Padres and Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals.
At the time, the trade was considered a huge plus for the Padres, who would win 90 games that season but come up short, finishing two games behind the eventual World Series champion Giants in the West.
Kluber didn't join the Indians' rotation full time until 2013, but the next year, the right-hander led the American League with 18 wins and won the AL Cy Young Award. Ludwick batted .211 with the Padres in 2010, and was traded the next July to the Pirates. He is now retired.
Hoyer reunited with Theo Epstein in November 2011 in the Cubs' front office. Hindsight is a luxury, but looking back on that trade, what did Hoyer learn? Here's his take:
"The irony of the Ludwick/Kluber deal is that when I look back at the process, I still feel as good about it as any deal I have been involved with," Hoyer said. "In 2010, the Padres were in first place but were being carried by a solid rotation and an incredible bullpen. The offensive production, particularly at shortstop and left field, were well below average and threatened to derail an excellent season.
"We made a trade with Baltimore for shortstop Miguel Tejada [on July 29 for a Minor League pitcher], but left field was the biggest concern, and there weren't a ton of bats available in trade that July. We had some conversations with St. Louis about Ryan Ludwick, but they were looking for a veteran starting pitcher to go in the rotation, and we couldn't match up directly. We had to work on a three-way deal with Cleveland to get Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals.
"Since our payroll was so low in San Diego back then [lowest in MLB that season], I was very reluctant to part with prospects. It was my first year in San Diego, and I sent five to six of our best evaluators to blanket our farm system for a few months prior to the Deadline. We then combined all of our rankings and had a number of meetings to discuss the lists. We were continually asked about the same top four, five guys in every deal, and the Indians were no different with their asks. After a ton of back and forth, they asked about a name we had ranked much lower on our organization rankings, Corey Kluber. They were the first team to ask about him that season. Our scouts and coaches loved his makeup and his ability to spin the ball, but there was a lot of concern with the 'lightness' of his fastball. The consensus was that he would be a quality reliever. Only [assistant general manager] Jason McLeod was willing to say that he thought Kluber was a future starting pitcher. That seemed like the right type of prospect to give up for a team with a good chance to win a division.
"For these reasons, I felt great about the structure of the deal and the process. We did the deal, and I moved on mentally. The deal didn't help us win the division. The Giants got red hot down the stretch and beat us on the last day of the season to clinch the division title. Still, I felt at peace about the trade. I left San Diego for a great opportunity with Theo and the Cubs. At that point, Kluber was still struggling to establish himself with the Indians. He struggled in Triple-A in 2011 at age 25 and then was back in Triple-A again in 2012 for much of the season. Then, in 2013, Kluber really put things together. I will be the first person to admit that I watched a lot of his starts. A lot. His fastball was explosive and his breaking stuff was arguably the best in the big leagues. I started going through all of my old notes to find out where I had been wrong.
"I've done a mental autopsy on the deal many times over. I've concluded a few things: No. 1, it's dangerous making deals in the early stages with a new team. You simply don't know the players or scouts or coaches as well as you will eventually. I think a lot of deals that go bad are done early in a tenure and this mistake was no different. No. 2, there is always a balance between scouting and data. Kluber did have some good pitch analytics in San Antonio that season that probably didn't get enough of a voice in 2010. We talked about that data during the deliberations, but it didn't sway us. If there is one element of the deal that eats at me, it is that we just didn't have the same comfort with the pitch data then and, therefore, we gave it less weight.
"The Indians deserve a ton of credit for the trade [as I said, no one else asked about Kluber] and for his development at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. And, ultimately, it's incredibly admirable that Corey had the makeup and dedication to work through some adversity to turn himself into a Cy Young winner. We watched a very similar evolution with Jake Arrieta here the last two seasons. Whenever you're trading prospects to acquire veteran talent during a pennant race, you are exposing yourself to risk. You try to set up detailed processes to minimize those risks as much as possible. In the case of the Ludwick/Kluber trade, the processes were in place, but the results were clearly not in our favor."