Wednesday morning, free agent starting pitcher Corey Kluber hosted a showcase for teams interested in scouting him after two injury-shortened seasons. When he’s healthy, Kluber has a bevy of quality pitches and unbelievable feel for the art of pitching. Naturally, most teams were in attendance. The Tigers are expected to have been on that list, according to a report by Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press.
Tigers fans are well acquainted with the skillset Kluber can offer when he’s in top pitching form. The 34-year-old was a member of the Cleveland rotation from 2012-2019. He was one of the foundation pieces of their roster when the Indians overtook Detroit and Kansas City for supremacy within the division. During his time in the AL Central, he nabbed a pair of Cy Young awards and registered four seasons of at least 5.0 fWAR.
Kluber was limited to 35.2 innings in 2019, and the Indians decided he was no longer an integral part of the team. They shipped him off to the Texas Rangers for an underwhelming return in an effort to create payroll flexibility. Unfortunately for the Rangers, he was able to throw precisely one inning before tearing a muscle in his shoulder and sitting out for the rest of the season.
Understandably, they decided to proffer Kluber a $1 million buyout rather than pay the $18 million salary his contract would have called for in 2021. Now, he’s left looking for a new home in hopes of bringing back the magic that he had in his prime.
Nearly 25 teams showed up at Corey Kluber's showcase today, and scouts came away impressed. His fastball sat 88-90 -- and he's got more velocity in the tank as he builds toward spring training. Kluber threw 30 pitches, including all of his off-speed stuff. Strong market expected.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2021
As fun as it would be to read the tea leaves and concoct some hare-brained theory about the Tigers’ involvement at his showcase, its more prudent to remember that their attendance means very little in and of itself. The bulk of teams will be in contact with Kluber’s camp simply because it’s not clear on the surface level what exactly he will bring to the table next season. Teams keep medical records and details from in-house workouts close to the chest, so to miss an event like this would just be sloppy.
Being on the wrong side of 31, it seems probable that Kluber will be pursuing an agreement with a team that expects to contend for a championship sooner rather than later. He may have earned the “reclamation project” label, but he’s likely to get offers from a number of teams due to his outstanding pedigree. Being in position of some leverage despite the last two seasons, he can afford to be choosy.
If that’s the case, it leaves the Tigers out in the cold. If they want to be serious bidders, he’s likely to demand more money in return simply because he would have a better shot at postseason action with other ballclubs.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Detroit tossed in with rumored suitors as more details regarding Kluber’s market are leaked. Armed with cutting edge information and a coach who is willing to use it, the Tigers have been connected to project pitchers all winter, including Taijuan Walker and recent signee Jose Ureña.
Although they probably aren’t in a position to reel in Kluber himself, it’s good that they were willing to go attend the showcase. At the very least, we’ll be keeping our eye on this story as it unfolds. Kluber may not be the player he once was, but the Tigers need starting pitching, and gosh darn it, Kluber is certainly still an interesting starting pitcher.
Of note, relief pitchers Steve Cishek and Anthony Swarzak also threw pitches at the same event. They’re not the flashiest players, but the sidewinding Cishek could prove useful to a team in need of bullpen depth. He put together four consecutive seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA before a disastrous 2020 season that ended by being released from the final days of his one-year pact with the White Sox.