The Red Sox are among the teams interested in Corey Kluber
The market for free-agent starting pitchers has moved at a glacial pace with only a few of the options to hit the market this offseason reaching an agreement thus far. The Boston Red Sox are desperately seeking an upgrade to their much-maligned rotation and the lack of activity has led to mounting frustration from an eager fan base. Those concerns will soon be put at ease as the hot stove is about to start burning.
One of the roadblocks holding up the pitching market is the uncertainty surrounding the health of Corey Kluber. The two-time Cy Young winner arguably has the highest ceiling of any pitcher on the market but he comes with considerable risk. Kluber has made only eight appearances since his last All-Star campaign in 2018, including one inning last season before he went down for a Grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle in his right shoulder.
Teams need to get a good look at Kluber on the mound before deciding if they can invest in the right-hander and they’ll get that opportunity on Jan. 13 when he’s scheduled for a throwing session. The Red Sox are among the interested teams that will be watching this showcase, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.
One throwing sessions isn’t enough to proclaim Kluber as the ace he once was but he can put some concerns to rest. Teams will be tracking his velocity, the movement on his pitches and whether he consistently manages to repeat his delivery. Passing these hurdles would go a long way toward convincing teams that he’s worth the investment.
In his last healthy season in 2018, Kluber went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA and finished third on the AL Cy Young ballot. He led the league in innings pitched in his fifth consecutive seasons topping 200 innings. The previous season he captured the second Cy Young award of his career by leading the league with 18 wins, a 2.25 ERA, 0.869 WHIP, and 7.35 K/BB ratio.
That’s the type of ceiling teams are hoping to unlock. The 34-year-old may not have that type of performance still in him but anything remotely close to that level would still make him among the league’s best starters.
In the wake of two injury-ravaged seasons, Kluber can’t be counted on to be a workhorse who can handle 200+ innings but the Red Sox don’t necessarily need that. With Eduardo Rodriguez expected to be ready for Opening Day and Chris Sale joining him in the rotation by mid-season, Boston can be content with a middle of the rotation starter. Preferably one with the upside to serve as the No. 2 behind E-Rod while Sale remains sidelined.
A healthy Kluber should be capable of that and he has more upside than the other mid-tier starters on a saturated market. Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton and Jose Quintana are among the other options with name value but none can hold a candle to Kluber at his peak.
Why would the Red Sox be in a rush to sign any of those pitchers before they can determine if Kluber is a viable option? They might only have enough roster space and room in the budget for one of those pitchers considering they still have other needs to address. They would be kicking themselves if they jumped on another option a month ago simply to cross their greatest need off the list early only to watch Kluber dazzle during his showcase.
Many of these other pitchers should also be reluctant to sign until Kluber’s status is determined. If he impresses in his throwing session then he helps set the bar for the comparable pitchers in this class. If he fails, one of the top targets they are competing with for a job falls off the map and increases their leverage. Even if Boston wasn’t interested in Kluber and wanted to move on to someone else, they might be hard-pressed to convince their top choices to sign now.
One way or another, expect the outcome of Kluber’s throwing session to open the floodgates on the free-agent pitching market. If the Red Sox don’t land Kluber they will quickly pivot to one of the alternative options. If Boston does sign Kluber, it means they are confident in his ability to bounce back next year, in which case they’ll be glad they waited to address the void in their rotation.