Second Thoughts: The sweet life of Zach and Corey
When the Indians placed Brett Myers on the 60-day DL this week, they also effectively moved the veteran from the “reclamation” pile to the junk pile-- $7 million in dough down the drain for all intents and purposes. Barring a shocking comeback, Myers is this year’s Derek Lowe.
And so, for those with a perpetual ax to grind, it’s another fine occasion to either (a) bemoan all the superior pitching acquisitions not made during the offseason, or (b) start listing all the veteran arms Cleveland will be too cheap to pursue come the trading deadline.
These two avenues of thought admittedly have a long proud tradition around these parts. But even in the midst of a very rough stretch for the Tribe, I’m going to go out on a limb and try some reverse psychology by keeping things relatively positive. To accomplish this, all I have to do is retell the inspiring origin stories—Clark Kent style-- of two current, legitimately productive members of the Indians starting rotation.
As it happens, these two young hurlers didn’t just magically plant themselves on the roster against Shaponetti’s foolish will, either. They were, in fact, intentionally acquired in two separate trades executed on the very same weekend back in 2010.
The first player, of course, is our dinged-up friend Zach McAllister—famously thieved from the Yankee farm system for the corpse of Austin Kearns in a July 30 deal (technically Kearns was traded for a PTBNL who morphed into McAllister several weeks later). The second man, and everybody’s new favorite “It Arm” of the moment, is Corey Kluber—an ex-Padre farmhand shipped over in the July 31 three-way trade that made Jake Westbrook a Cardinal and Ryan Ludwick a Padre.
Both were mid-level minor league prospects at the time as Kluber and McAllister each arrived with minimal fanfare, but have spent the subsequent three years sneakily making themselves relevant pieces in the Tribe’s greater plans. Kluber’s rise, in particular, needed some considerable gestation time.
It’s easy to forget that the former 4th round pick is already 27 years old, and just two years removed from a pretty horrendous 2011 campaign down in Columbus (7-11, 5.56 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 8.5 K/9). Since then, he spun a virtual 180 for the Clippers in 2012 (11-7, 3.59 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 9.2 K/9) and has unexpectedly dug his heels in with the big club this season (4-4, 4.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.9 K/9 in 9 starts).
Here’s how Antonetti described Kluber to the Plain Dealer on the day of the Westbrook deal back in 2010:
"[Kluber] throws between 88 mph and 95 mph and sits at 91-92 mph. He has an average to above-average fastball and a plus breaking ball. He has the ability to miss bats. …He gives us another upper level starter who hopefully can be part of our major league rotation at some time."
If you were a weirdly committed Jake Westbrook fan like myself, this quote hardly eased the pain or got the adrenalin running. Kluber was leading the Texas League in strikeouts at the time and headed to Akron on a three-game winning streak with a 1.73 ERA in those starts. Still, he’d never been a Top 100 Prospect, and at 24, was already too old for phenom status. It was an acquisition forgettable enough to cause most casual fans to, well, completely forget how Corey Kluber ever got here.
As for McAllister—as previously mentioned, he was initially a literally anonymous silhouette: the “player to be named later” in the firesale dismissal of Austin Kearns. When his identity was finally revealed, McAllister was at least a promising 22 year-old already pitching at the Triple-A level. Granted, that wasn’t working out extraordinarily well for him (8-10, 5.09 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 6 K/9 in 24 starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), but before the season, Baseball America had identified Zach as the Yankees’ fifth best prospect overall and the pitcher with the best control in their farm system. For Antonetti, it may have been a bit of a sly, buy-low situation, though the price tag—Kearns—was hardly steep.
That same 2010 summer also saw Antonetti turn Russell Branyan into the semi-serviceable Ezequiel Carrera andJuan Diaz, and roid-suspect Jhonny Peralta into the sometimes intriguing southpaw Giovanni Soto. Not grand larceny on the Kearns-for-McAllister or Broussard-for-Choo scale, perhaps.
But overall, that particular firesale certainly doesn’t look like an unmitigated disaster three years later. And sometimes, a little bit of retroactive optimism can go a long way.
So, I am not sure I would call him "junk pile" yet. Not worth the contract? Sure. But, why couldn't he come back and help as a long man in the bullpen? Or maybe even nail down the 5th spot in the rotation?
I think most would have (and some probably did) call Kluber worthless as even a throw in player in a trade. Now, he looks like he might be a bottom of the rotation pitcher for the next 3 years for us. So, who knows. Meyers might become "junk" but I wouldn't put him that pile yet. I mean Ubaldo and Kluber and thats only THIS seaon. Baseball is full of come backs and surpises.
I would love to see Masterson-McCalister-Ubaldo-Kluber form the core of our rotation this year. Kazmir and Meyers give you some depth for the bottom of the rotation. Bauer and Carrasco give you some fallback options. Like I said one of these guys could even be added to the bullpen.
Its pretty exciting to think if we can sign Masterson long term....... we have Masterson-McCalister-Bauer-Kluber-Carrasco as the core of our rotation for the next 3-5 years.
In any case, McAllister and Kluber are making those July 2010 trades look good. Hopefully they can stay healthy and keep doing what they are doing because if the Indians can rely on both in the third and fourth spot in the rotation the next several years, that is huge.