Adam Wainwright still going strong at the age of 33. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
What About the Post-Arbitration Years?
There’s really no debating how great of a deal the Cleveland Indians got over the first four years of the Corey Kluber deal. The only question about the deal that really could arise is whether or not the Cleveland Indians will still like this deal come 2019 and beyond, once Kluber has reached his free agent years. There is definitely some risk to this part of the deal. Kluber is no spring chicken despite his lack of service time. He will be 33 years old at the end of the 2019 season, the last guaranteed year of the deal. That’s not exactly over-the-hill though it is getting to that age where one starts to worry about decline. There’s also plenty of examples of pitchers that were still very effective at that age. Adam Wainwright is one such pitcher that comes to mind.
Like Kluber, Wainwright had a bit of a slower start to his career. His start was stunted due to starting out in the bullpen but he eventually found his way to the rotation full-time and had his breakout season at the age of 27, same as Kluber. Wainwright was forced to miss a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery but came back as strong as ever. In fact, just last season Wainwright threw over 200 innings with a 2.38 ERA, 2.88 FIP and 4.8 fWAR. Not too shabby for a guy that turned 33 last August.
Wainwright isn’t the only example but probably the one best suited for Kluber. In addition to being a bit of a late bloomer, and a bonafide ace, Wainwright’s stuff is very similar to that of Kluber’s. In 2014, Kluber’s curveball rated as the best curveball in the major leagues, and the second best curveball belonged to Wainwright (per fangraphs). Kluber’s cutter rated as the 2nd best cutter in the major leagues last season, and Wainwright’s cutter rated as the best in baseball. In fact, they were only six pitchers in all of baseball to have two pitchers rate as a 10 or better according to Fangraphs (Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Garrett Richards, and Jordan Zimmerman were the other four). Needless to say, Kluber and Wainwright were in rare company.
Obviously just because Wainwright and Kluber have similarly great repertoires doesn’t mean that Kluber will be the same pitcher at 33 that he was at 28. There’s undoubtedly some risk and concern over regression/loss of stuff. However, given the amount the Indians are likely to save over his four pre-free agent years, does it really matter if he’s lost a bit by 2019? Even if Kluber is a fraction of the pitcher that he’s shown capable, he’d still prove to be more than worth the deal he just signed.
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