The Indians traded the two-time Cy Young Award winner — and their unquestioned ace — over the past six seasons to the Rangers on Sunday, a blockbuster deal that could dramatically change both teams.
The stoic and steady Kluber has been one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers since 2014, when he went 18-9 and won his first Cy Young. He got his second in 2017, going 18-4 and leading the AL with a 2.25 ERA.
But his future with the money-conscious Indians grew more uncertain last season when the club managed to stay in the playoff chase until late September despite not having him after May 1.
Kluber broke his right forearm when he was struck by a line drive during a start at Miami and never made it back. He came close to returning to the Indians’ rotation but suffered an oblique injury during a minor league rehab appearance that ended his comeback.
The Indians picked up his $17.5 million contract option for 2020 immediately after last season. His deal includes a club option for $18 million for 2021.
A three-time All-Star, Kluber went 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA over his nine seasons with the Indians. But beyond his impressive stats, Kluber showed Cleveland’s young pitchers what it took to be a professional with his diligent training regimen and meticulous preparation for every start.
Before getting hurt last season, Kluber was struggling and there was growing concern a high number of innings and fastballs were beginning to have a cumulative effect on him. He pitched at least 203 innings in each of the previous five seasons while recording more than 200 strikeouts in each of those seasons as well.
The blockbuster deal involving Kluber may not be the only one executed by the Indians this winter. The club could part ways with All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who has turned down multiyear contract offers from the Indians in the past.
Lindor is under Cleveland’s control through 2021 season, but because the Indians won’t be able to compete for him on the free-agent market, they may be forced to trade him to ensure they get something if he leaves.
Kluber’s exit will be a tough sell for Indians fans, who have seen the club trade CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee — also Cy Young winners — in the past.
The 27-year-old DeShields should give Cleveland another outfield option and some speed. He hit .249 with 24 stolen bases for Texas last season.
Clase, too, has promise. He skipped the Triple-A level last season and made his big league debut with the Rangers in August, going 2-3 with a 2.31 ERA in mostly a relief role.
Texas went into this offseason wanting to bolster its rotation around returning All-Star left-hander Mike Minor and right-hander Lance Lynn, who combined for 30 wins last season while both throwing 208 1-3 innings. The Rangers have now added three new starters this month.
Before the deal for Kluber, who is from Coppell, Texas, about 25 miles from the new Rangers ballpark, the team had already signed free agent right-handers Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson to multiyear deals.
A $16 million, two-year deal was completed Friday with Lyles, a week after a $28 million, three-year contract for Gibson.
The Rangers are moving next season into a new $1.2 billion stadium, being built across the street from the ballpark they called home the past 26 seasons.
Texas went 78-84, then missed out on a pair of free-agent targets at the recent winter meetings, watching star pitcher Gerrit Cole and slugger Anthony Rendon sign with other teams.
Kluber gets a $1 million assignment bonus for getting traded.
Because he was dealt, his $18 million club option for 2021 would become guaranteed if he pitches 160 innings next year and is not on the injured list at the end of the season.