Pitching on the Move: Kluber Traded; MadBum Signed

Corey Kluber traded to TEX for Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr.

It was a busy Sunday with a pair of pitchers finding new homes and sending another shockwave through this ever-moving market. Just as the morning was giving way to afternoon, the Kluber trade came through with him being sent to the Texas Rangers for Clase and DDS. To give you an idea of how obsessed I am with baseball, this was right around lineup lock for my fantasy football playoffs and let’s just say that if there had been a late scratch on my team, I’d have missed it.

The return feels light, especially when we were hearing that the Angels – the other major factor in the Kluber market – were being told that Brandon Marsh is a must to get the deal done. So they needed Marsh and another Top 10 prospect from LA, yet they took a reliever prospect and The Dentist from Texas?! I’ve actually been a DeShields backer in the past, particularly for fantasy as he’s a speedster who can take a walk, but he’s going into his age-27 season with a career 76 wRC+ in 1936 PA. He’s a 4th OF at this point with some SB usefulness in leagues that extend beyond 12 teams (or are AL-Only, of course). That leaves Clase as the cornerstone of this deal for Cleveland.

Clase broke out last year, jumping from Double-A to the majors to put up a 2.31 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 16% K-BB rate in 23.3 IP as a 21-year old rookie. Sure, he’s electric, averaging 99.3 mph on his cutter while mixing in a 90.5 mph slider and being the rare flamethrower that doesn’t seem to have excessive control issues (6% BB at the majors (5% at AA in ’19, too), but I’m just not buying that he capably headlines a deal for a two-time Cy Young winner (who admittedly is coming off his worst year by far).

The absolute best case is that he becomes a righty Josh Hader-type which is no doubt valuable to a team, but in the end, it’s like 3.0 WAR. He’d likely need to develop a more reliable second pitch and he’d have to substantially ramp up his strikeout rate. And that’s the BEST case. For us in the fantasy realm, Clase will be in a middle relief role and thus is probably viable in AL-only leagues and little else. If Brad Hand is dealt, we’d have to reassess Clase. You’d have a hard time convincing me that getting rid of Kluber’s $17.5 million salary for ’19 (and $18 mil option for ’20) isn’t the true cornerstone of this deal for Cleveland.

Kluber’s 2019 was a lost season. He had a 5.80 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 35.7 innings before being hit by a batted ball on May 1st in Miami that broke his arm. While rehabbing, he suffered an oblique strain and was eventually shut down for the season. A .370 BABIP and 9% BB in his seven starts were uncharacteristically high and both likely would’ve almost certainly come down over the course season had he remained healthy.

He had just a 23% K rate, too, which was a six-year low and it’s hard to say where that would’ve gone had he continued. His 12% swinging strike rate was equal to his 2018 mark when he fanned 26% of his batters but even that was a far cry from 2017’s incredible 34% mark. It’s hard to know where Kluber goes from here.

Eno and I have been expressing trepidation about the future of Kluber’s fastball for years considering it’s never been good and will likely only get worse. Of course, he has two Cy Youngs and a career 3.16 ERA in 1341.7 innings with a trash fastball, so I understand why some aren’t as worried. The problem is that it puts a lot of pressure on his curve and cutter to remain elite with little margin for error. Neither were elite in the seven 2019 starts.

I do like this move for Texas, though. It’s a good gamble that didn’t cost them too much and any time you can bet on a former ace when he’s just a year removed from being elite, you have to do it. The shift to Texas isn’t inherently negative either as the new park could play a lot more neutral given that is has a retractable roof that will be closed far more often than not, mitigating the sweltering heat of Texas and thus helping out their pitchers.

Kluber has been going as the 26th SP (around pick 90) off the board in early NFBC drafts which is a perfectly fair price. Even with his challenged fastball, it’s not hard to envision a 3.50 ERA/1.20 WHIP combo with a strikeout-per-inning in at least 180 frames. Buy him as an SP#2 for best results, but he could feasibly front a rotation if you wait a bit on pitching and stack your offense.

Madison Bumgarner signs a 5-year, $85 million dollar deal with ARI

Once Zack Wheeler inked a 5-year, $118 million dollar deal, I thought Bumgarner was definitely getting at least $20 mil per year wherever he landed. He came into focus after Strasburg and Cole were off the board with the Dodgers (?!), Twins, Padres, Reds, White Sox, Cardinals, Giants, and of course Diamondbacks being linked to some degree. The NL West teams seemed to have the heaviest chatter, though, and the Dodgers of all teams felt like the frontrunners last week with the Padres close behind. But then the D’Backs came through and added the veteran lefty for a perfectly reasonable $17 mil per year over the next five seasons.

One of the most commonly shared tidbits of the offseason is that Bumgarner is just 10 months older than Wheeler, despite the perception that he is some crusty vet while Wheeler is an up-and-comer. Part of it is the fact that he’s been an MLB mainstay for a decade now, piling up 1948.3 innings between the regular season and playoffs. Wheeler, meanwhile, has battled multiple injuries and amassed just 749.3 career innings.

After two injury-riddled seasons due to an ATV accident and fractured finger, Bumgarner returned to his workhorse level with a league-high 34 starts, posting a 3.90 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 207.7 innings. His velocity was back up to 91.4 mph, a four-year high, and with it his strikeout (24%) and swinging strike (12%) rates reached three- and four-year highs, respectively. He did have an aggressive home/road split, though, with a 2.92 ERA/0.93 WHIP at home and 5.29 ERA/1.41 WHIP on the road.

He’s leaving arguably the best pitcher’s park in baseball, but his new home will remain friendly. From a runs standpoint, the two parks are near-equal per the Park Factors at FantasyPros (ours haven’t updated for ’19 yet), though Oracle Park offers a massive advantage when it comes to home runs. It’s far and away the best park for pitchers while Chase Field is essentially neutral. For his career, Bumgarner has a 3.13 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 118 innings, most of which were pre-humidor. Funnily enough, he had a 5.84 ERA/1.30 WHIP in 12.3 innings there this year with the humidor.

Jumping away from the fantasy angle for a moment, let’s look at how well Arizona has played this. If you take this move in concert with the Zack Greinke deal, they got Josh Rojas, Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, and Seth Beer for Greinke and $20.6 of his remaining $70 million dollars for 2020-21, so then you roll that into Bumgarner’s deal and they’re spending $105.6 mil for five years of him instead of the $70 mil for two years of Greinke, who is six years older than Bumgarner.

Once I saw the Bumgarner news, I messaged our SATB group chat saying this:

Seems like a guy we will keep predicting to fall off but just keeps plugging away. At least he’s in another good park

I think people will constantly try to be “a year early” on getting away from Bumgarner. His mechanics don’t really put him at heightened risk for injury so outside of another ATV trip and just regular “he’s a pitcher and pitchers get hurt” risk, I think we’ll see Bumgarner continue to post 30+ starts a year with useful results. He’s going off as the 34th SP in NFBC leagues, a perfectly reasonable price for him to be a viable #2 or a perfect #3 depending on how you’re building your rotation. Even if his ERA pushes north of 4.00, he should remain a WHIP asset over a ton of innings.

One bit of fallout I am eager to see is who leaves the rotation with Bumgarner’s arrival. We currently have Zac Gallen slotted back into Triple-A, but I simply cannot see that so perhaps one of Mike Leake, Robbie Ray, or Merrill Kelly is traded (with Ray being rumored most heavily, dating back to the July deadline). Of course, it’s also not bad to just have a useful 6th SP on hand, though none of those three, Gallen, or Luke Weaver really fit as bullpen pieces. It’d just be a waste since they’re all capable of six innings every time out. Stay tuned.

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Damn, good call on AZ playing 4d chess, swapping out bum for greinke and gaining assets in the process