Yankees Thoughts: Corey Kluber Is Perfect Low-Risk, High-Reward Candidate

The two-time Cy Young winner is worth the gamble

Once the New Year arrives, the countdown to pitchers and catchers is on. If it remains as scheduled, it’s in about six weeks, and that’s not much time for the Yankees to improve their roster, which they drastically need to.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees finally made an offseason move. It didn’t make the team better in any way, but they made a move, so at least we know they know they’re allowed to modify their roster.

The move was to add soon-to-be-28-year-old Greg Allen, an outfielder from San Diego. Allen is a career .239/.298/.343 hitter in 221 games with Cleveland and San Diego with eight career home runs, though he has been able to steal bases (32 in 38 attempts), even if that’s something the Yankees don’t value and all of baseball no longer seems to either.

2. Clearly a depth move, Allen is now currently the team’s fifth outfielder, I guess? Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier then Mike Tauchman then Allen. Giancarlo Stanton is no longer an outfielder and Brett Gardner is still a free agent. Once Gardner inevitably returns, he becomes the fourth outfielder (I would hope), Tauchman becomes the fifth (I would also hope) and Allen falls to sixth.

For now, it’s a nothing move by the Yankees. But when Judge and Hicks eventually go on the injured list, Allen will likely become needed.

3. The Yankees have been connected to many free agents this offseason, like they are every offseason, because they’re the Yankees and content needs to be created and clicks need to be had, but nearly all of the rumors and reports will amount to nothing. They might not make a single move of significance other than re-signing DJ LeMahieu, and who knows if they will even do that? But the one name that has drawn a lot of attention is Yasiel Puig, though I don’t know why.

It’s not that I wouldn’t welcome Puig as an addition the Yankees. I just don’t know where he fits. The Yankees have a full outfield and they have outfield depth. It’s the one area they actually have depth. Signing Puig would mean not signing Gardner, which is a decision I highly doubt the Yankees would make. But even if they were to make that decision, does Puig play over Judge or Hicks or Frazier? I’d hope not. On top of that, you’re adding yet another right-handed bat to a team that lacks an actual left-handed bat (sorry, Hicks). I don’t see it.

4. What I do see is the Yankees signing Corey Kluber. Rather, I want them to sign Kluber. I will go pick him up if needed.

Kluber faced three batters in 2020 before going down for the season. In 2019, he only threw 35 2/3 innings because of injury. But from 2014 through 2018 he was the best pitcher in the American League, pitching to a 2.85 ERA and 1.016 WHIP, while averaging 218 innings per season and 10.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings.

If the Yankees sign Kluber and he’s his 2018 self (20-8, 2.89 ERA, 0.991 WHIP, 9.3 K/9), well then they have Gerrit Cole, Kluber and potentially Luis Severino as their 1-2-3. If the Yankees sign Kluber and he sucks or goes down with another injury, it will have only cost them money. Nothing else. Just dollars. The thing the Yankees make more of than any other team.

Signing someone of Kluber’s ability is a move the Yankees should make because of their financial resources. It doesn’t hurt their prospect pool and doesn’t hurt their bank account given the salary Kluber will sign for to prove he can still pitch.

Will the Yankees sign Kluber? Probably not. Why? Because it will cost money, and the Steinbrenners are now poor following the 2020 shortened, fan-less season.

5. I have no idea how the Yankees plan to build a rotation for 2021, and I have no idea how they think they can without re-signing Masahiro Tanaka.

Charlie Morton (Atlanta on a one-year, $15 million deal) and Mike Minor (Kansas City on a two-year, $18 million deal) are off the board. Robbie Ray re-signed with Toronto and Drew Smyly signed with Atlanta. The list of available free-agent starting pitchers not named Masahiro Tanaka is frightening.

6. Outside of Trevor Bauer, who is the best available, but the worst fit for the Yankees, the other big-name options are Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Cole Hamels, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Leake and Rick Porcello. The problem is that it’s 2021 and not 2016.

Tanaka makes too much sense for the Yankees. He’s consistent (3.74 ERA over seven seasons), he’s durable (at least 27 starts in all full, 162-game seasons since 2016) and he was historically great in the postseason prior to his two 2020 postseason starts. He knows New York and the Yankees and they know him.

I think the Yankees will re-sign Tanaka. I just think it won’t happen until LeMahieu signs with the Yankees or somewhere else.

7. If it’s somewhere else for LeMahieu, I don’t know if I will be writing or podcasting about it. Not re-signing LeMahieu might be the move that officially sends me off the grid, and removes Yankees baseball from my life. Because not signing LeMahieu would be so inexplicable, so irresponsible, so nonsensical and so disgusting I don’t know how I could continue to follow, root for and cover the team.

The fact it’s Jan. 7 and LeMahieu is still a free agent makes me sick. The Yankees are clearly waiting him out to save some money because they need to be financially responsible now that they’re poor, and the longer this goes, the better chance he signs with the Mets or Dodgers or Nationals are someone else.

8. Spring training begins in about six weeks and the first spring training game is scheduled for seven weeks from this Saturday. That’s not that far away. (Yes, this is under the assumption the season will start on time, and until I’m told otherwise, I will operate under that assumption). The Yankees have A LOT of work to do in not so much time. I get nauseous thinking about how little time they have to improve their roster and to stop supporting the frame keeping their window of opportunity open with duct tape.

9. Phil Hughes announced his retirement from baseball, though I think the league kind of announced that for him with the lack of offers over the last couple of seasons. Hughes never lived up the expectations of being a first-round draft pick and the team’s top prospect, but he did have his moments. He served as Mariano Rivera’s setup man in 2009 and was invincible in that role (prior to the postseason), and the following year he was an All-Star for his magnificent first-half production in his first full season as a starter.

Hughes’ Yankees career was marred by inconsistency and an inability to put away hitters and allow two-strike fouls (something I wrote about at length during his final years in New York). He had a lengthy career, made a lot of money and has a championship ring to his name, so it wasn’t like he was a bust. He just wasn’t what I thought he would be.

10. On New Year’s Day, I wrote my resolutions for 2021, and there are three of them, all regarding Aaron Boone. This week, I wrote about how LeMahieu will be a Yankee if the Yankees truly want him back, how the team lacks a rotation (which is kind of important to have) despite having the highest payroll in the league and put together a detailed history of the Yankees’ mishandling of Luis Severino’s recent injuries.

My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!