The Texas Rangers seem quite serious about building a legitimate starting rotation, adding two-time AL Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber in a weekend trade. On the one hand, it is rather easy to overlook Kluber’s lost 2019 season because his problems were unrelated to either his valuable elbow or shoulder. A Brian Anderson line drive broke Kluber’s forearm on the first day of May. However, that was simply the result of bad luck. Kluber missed several months and then, while on the mend, he strained his oblique in August. That was it for his season — and neither malady should continue into 2020. Remember, the great Kluber averaged 32 starts, 17 wins, 246 strikeouts and a 2.85 ERA over the previous five seasons, earning awards and much fantasy love along the way.
While it might seem obvious to give Kluber the proverbial “mulligan” and trust him again, some will view the changing of his home ballpark from Cleveland’s Progressive Field to the new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas (which is still under construction) as an issue. Perhaps it will be, but we need years of data on the new park before making assumptions. A retractable roof could alter the hot-summer power rates we generally see in the Dallas area. Kluber pitched considerably better in home games in Cleveland throughout his career, but most pitchers are better at home. In other words, I will not make any assumptions on this particular potential concern.
That said, Kluber does turn 34 in April 2020 and he did struggle in the opening month of 2019, when he was presumably healthy. Perhaps age no longer matters all that much. After all, we continue to see Justin Verlander and others thrive in their mid-30s, but each pitcher is different. Kluber’s fastball velocity continues to decline and his walk rate, in this past season’s small sample, more than doubled. One can only guess as to whether Kluber would have thrived statistically after his difficult April, but many viewed Kluber as a risk anyway due to his heavy workload in previous seasons, along with the velocity drop.
The good news is that fantasy managers will not need to grab Kluber among the first 20 starting pitchers or in the top 100 overall, as his value is depressed. Those who feel that big numbers are on the way should not wait much longer than that. Would I take a chance on Kluber in the middle rounds? Of course. One cannot arbitrarily pick an age and presume a player is certain to decline from that point forward. Additionally, ballpark factors often mislead. Those who ignored Rangers LHP Mike Minor and RHP Lance Lynn last season (or perhaps ran away from midseason) because of their home ballpark ended up looking silly. Verlander finished as the lone hurler in the sport with more bWAR than Minor and Lynn in 2019. The Rangers have also recently added RHP Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to their rotation. I think Lynn can repeat his success, while Minor will take a step back. Still, Kluber is worthy of an 11th-round choice in roto drafts.
Heading back to Cleveland in this deal is OF Delino DeShields, a speedster and occasional walker who is bereft of power, and RHP Emmanuel Clase, an extreme hard-thrower and potential closer. LHP Brad Hand figures to handle closing duties for the Indians to start 2020, but the team might have to trade him as well for financial reasons. Clase, who routinely hits triple digits on the radar gun with both his fastball and a ridiculous cutter — nobody throws their cutter this hard — avoided home runs last season and earned saves in the minors. He might not be drafted in most ESPN standard leagues, but he should be one of the top reliever handcuffs. Meanwhile, erratic RHP Jose Leclerc keeps the closer role in Texas. Beware the control issues!
DeShields joins a Cleveland outfield featuring Oscar Mercado, Franmil Reyes (unless he handles DH duties) and myriad questions. Still the new arrival seems like a decent bet for his fifth 20-SB season in six years with modest playing time. Just do not expect much else. DeShields has hit .246 with 18 home runs in five seasons. He will fight for playing time with Jake Bauers, Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow and perhaps a free agent to be named later. What an exciting fight this should be!