If the winds of change are blowing in Cleveland, the first sign of good things to come for the Indians was made official on Sunday. According to reports, the Indians and 2014 Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, have agreed on an extension that can keep him in Cleveland through the 2021 season.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the first five years of the deal are guaranteed at $38.5 million—with escalators that can take the deal to $42.5 million. The team also has options for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, if exercised the base value of the deal pushes to $65 million—with escalators that can make the deal worth a total of $77 million for seven seasons.
Turning 29-years old in a few days, Kluber will be 35-years old for the final season (2021) of his deal. For a team like the Indians that has traditionally had to trade away their front of the rotation starters due to fear of losing them on the open market, this extension is an absolute steal for the organization—and the city of Cleveland.
What makes this situation unique for the Indians and their fans is that “past” factor.
Former “homegrown” Cy Young Award winners, C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, did not finish their careers with the Indians due to the high market value for pitchers of their caliber on the open market. When negotiations for extensions broke down prior to their final seasons with the team, both players were eventually dealt before the trade deadline of that season for prospects.
For many Indians fans—including this writer—the same was expected with Kluber.
In 2013, Kluber burst onto the scene with an 11-5 record and 3.85 ERA in 24 starts. He struck out 136 batters that season and walked just 33 batters, finishing with a WHIP of 1.262—which put him just under the “Above Average” line of 1.25. In his Cy Young Award year in 2014, Kluber made the leap from just under “Above Average” to just under “Excellent” on the WHIP scale. Finishing with a 1.095 WHIP, Kluber accumulated an 18-9 record with a 2.44 ERA last year. In 34 starts, he struck out 269 batters and walked just 51.
Kluber’s emergence from a middle of the rotation starter to a No. 1 for the Indians organization seemingly occurred overnight, which is why it was apparent it was a priority to get him locked up to a long-term deal prior to the 2015 season. With a maximum average value of $11 million per season (if he hits all escalators and stays all seven years), Kluber’s deal is well below that of over 40 other pitchers in the league today. In fact, the previously mentioned Sabathia and Lee both have average salaries double that of Kluber.
The important thing about this $11 million average figure for Kluber is that not only do the Indians maintain salary cap flexibility, but it is also an expectation management number. Say Kluber regresses slightly and is not as dominant as he was last season—instead producing like a No. 2 starter in the rotation—he is being paid like one.
Obviously we are all hoping for the best and that Kluber picks up right where he left off last year. But just in case he does not, the Indians have protected the organization with a very well done deal.
Just one day before the beginning of their season, the Indians could not have asked for better news. Now all they have to do is live up to those lofty expectations thanks to the cover of Sports Illustrated—but that’s a conversation for a different day.