The Rangers and Indians are in the final stages of negotiating a trade that would send two-time AL Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber to Texas, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported on Sunday morning. Rosenthal and his Athletic colleague Levi Levi Weaver reported that right-handed pitcher Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. will head to Cleveland as part of the deal:
Kluber to #Rangers is close, sources tell The Athletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 15, 2019
BREAKING: The Texas Rangers are in the final stages of completing a trade to acquire two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber from the Cleveland Indians, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 15, 2019
OF Delino DeShields Jr. and RHP Emmanuel Clase heading to #Indians for Kluber, source tells The Athletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 15, 2019
Kluber, 33, had one of the worst seasons of his nine-year major-league career in 2019, starting just seven games and posting a 5.80 ERA with a 1.65 WHIP, 38 strikeouts, and 15 walks over 35.2 innings. He spent most of the season on the injured list with a right ulna fracture after being hit in the arm with a line drive on May 1.
Kluber is heading into the final guaranteed season of a six-year contract and is set to earn $17.5 million in 2020. With the trade, he’ll earn a $1 million assignment bonus and will have his 2021 club option converted into a vesting option that kicks in if he pitches 160 innings next year and does not end the season on the injured list.
Kluber was one of the top pitchers in the American League for most of the decade, and he very well may still be — there’s just no way to really know for sure since an injury wiped out most of his ‘19 season. He’s not far removed from a dominant 2018 campaign in which he posted a 2.89 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP over an AL-leading 215 innings spread over 33 starts, including two complete games and a shutout. And his career numbers — a 3.16 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP with 9.8 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings — certainly provide reason to have faith that he’ll bounce back.
The anticipated addition of Kluber likely bumps 22-year-old Kolby Allard from the Rangers’ projected 2020 rotation. Kluber will join Mike Minor and Lance Lynn to form what could be a pretty imposing three-headed monster atop the starting five, while free-agent additions Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles will round out the rotation.
While the Indians have time and time again done a great job of developing young players who weren’t necessarily elite prospects into valuable contributors, this deal feels like a funeral for the Indians’ half-decade-long run of dominance in the AL Central. Bullpen anchors Andrew Miller and Cody Allen deteriorated over time and departed as free agents last offseason, as did outfielder Michael Brantley, who is still very much in his prime. Trevor Bauer, who was a strong number two behind Kluber in the rotation, was dealt to the Reds in a blockbuster deal this past July, and second baseman Jason Kipnis is a free agent and is unlikely to return. Add in the fact that shortstop Francisco Lindor is expected to be dealt at some point before he hits free agency following the 2021 season — and very possibly this offseason — and it feels like the Indians have now entered a retooling phase, if not an outright rebuild.
The 27-year-old DeShields has been a fixture in the Rangers’ outfield for the last half decade, making an impact primarily with his plus defense in center field and elite speed. DeShields posted a 1.3 bWAR in 2019 hitting .249/.325/.347 with four homers and 24 steals over 408 plate appearances. Though he got a solid amount of action in left field earlier in his career and could return to a corner with Oscar Mercado holding down center in Cleveland, DeShields has played exclusively in center field over the past two seasons and played 112 games there in 2019, starting 94 and posting six defensive runs saved. DeShields has stolen at least 20 bases in all four major league seasons in which he has played at least 100 games.
Clase, 21, broke into the majors for the first time in August, posting a 2.31 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP, 21 strikeouts, and six walks over 21 appearances (23.1 innings), including one start as an opener. Clase, who was ranked as the Rangers’ No. 30 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had a 2.82 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP between High-A Down East and Double-A Frisco in 2019, and his stuff is elite — he touches triple digits with his cutter and throws a plus power slider.