A name like that of Corey Kluber in free agency always excites. Why not? For five years from 2014-18 he was arguably the majors’ best pitcher, combining durability and excellence.
But notice the last superb season was 2018. Kluber has made eight starts since, just one last year before succumbing to a shoulder injury with the Rangers. He turns 35 in April.
Still, that name. It pushes the mind to think, “What if my team signs him and he rebounds to even close to form?” Just know it doesn’t happen a lot. Usually a mid-30s broken-toy pitcher stays that way despite all the encouraging words about the rehab.
Conversely, John Smoltz missed his age-33 season following Tommy John surgery and returned, first, as an elite closer and then again as a quality starter. Of course, he is John Smoltz, Hall of Famer. Bartolo Colon did not pitch at 37 in 2010 due to multiple arm maladies. He came back to have more productive years. He also was suspended 50 games in his age-39 season for failing a test for illegal performance enhancers.
There are other examples. Just they are rare and often come with extenuating circumstances such as the pitcher was historically great or hopped up on PEDs.
Still, Kluber is holding a mound session on Jan. 13 at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and at least the dozen teams that have expressed curiosity will send a scout. The Mets will be among those, The Post has learned. The Yankees would not divulge if they will scout Kluber’s session, but it would be a surprise if they didn’t. Plus, they might have more insight into this player currently than anyone.
Eric Cressey, who runs Cressey Sports Performance, was named the Yankees’ director of health and performance last offseason and is training Kluber through rehab this offseason. Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake worked at Cressey Sports before joining the Indians as director of pitching performance in 2016 and, thus, was with Kluber for his final four Cleveland seasons.
The case for both New York clubs — or any team — to try to sign Kluber is easy if he is healthy, considering his pedigree and that the righty likely will have to sign a low-base contract with performance bonuses for innings and/or starts, tying a lot of money to his health. So is he healthy?
In a text, Cressey wrote: “Corey is doing great. It’s been a really smooth rehab with no hiccups and he’s already been off the mound several times.”
Due to first a fractured arm and then an oblique strain, Kluber made just seven starts in 2019. Yet, the Indians picked up his $17.5 million option for 2020 and traded him to the Rangers — again, the power of the name and history outweighed the mid-30s broken toy. Kluber then made one start for Texas on July 26, leaving after one inning with a tear in his shoulder, and the Rangers did not pick up his $18 million 2021 option.
Both the Mets and Yankees could use a surer rotation add. But if you want a reminder of why Kluber entices, then know his 2014-18 (ages 28-32) looks a lot like Jacob deGrom’s last five seasons (ages 28-32). Both Stetson alums (isn’t it amazing both went to the same school too) won two Cy Youngs in that term with Kluber also finishing third twice and deGrom once. Kluber had an ERA plus of 151, deGrom 153. Kluber walked 5.2 percent of batters faced and whiffed 28.5, deGrom 6.1 and 30.3. The slash line vs. Kluber was .220/.266/.353 with a .618 OPS, vs. deGrom’s .219/.269/.339 and .608.
Kluber then collapsed physically, so the Mets need the comparison to stop now. For deGrom is their rotation certainty. Marcus Stroman had a calf injury and opted out of last season. Noah Syndergaard missed 2020 following Tommy John surgery and is not due back before June, though he also is training with Cressey, who reported Syndergaard is doing great. Can David Peterson repeat a fine rookie season over a full schedule? Is Seth Lugo a major league starter? The same could be asked of Steven Matz.
The Mets are not in on Japanese ace Tomoyuki Sugano, but they are considering other free-agent starters such as Jake Odorizzi. And this is an area in which Steve Cohen’s bankroll could make a difference. The Mets could sign, say, Odorizzi and if they like what they see from Kluber, Cohen could write a bigger check than others. If it succeeds, really great. If not, Cohen could easily write it off as the kind of one-year, not-huge-money (for him) risk that the Wilpons would not take.
This offseason the Yanks are more in Wilpon mode too. Their current intentions are to stay under the $210 million luxury tax threshold. That leaves roughly $30 million-ish to spend. They have to know how much of that DJ LeMahieu will take up (or not take up) before redirecting elsewhere. If they stick to this policy, it complicates even a performance-heavy deal because the Yanks would have to budget as if Kluber will earn them to assure they stay under $210 million.
Yet, if Cressey and Blake and the Yanks’ internal information says Kluber is a good bet then they have to consider this. Because they have Gerrit Cole and then … Like Syndergaard, Luis Severino is due back around June after Tommy John surgery. How much rotation quality and how many innings could the Yanks expect from Deivi Garcia, Domingo German, Michael King, Jordan Montgomery, Clarke Schmidt, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure?
A solid Kluber would fit in ideally behind Cole. But is he solid? Or a famous name and broken toy?