After years of beating Detroit Tigers, Cy Young winner Corey Kluber could help in 2021

Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

Corey Kluber is healthy and ready to impress.

The former two-time Cy Young winner, after missing most of the past two seasons with injuries, is throwing a 30-pitch bullpen for teams Jan. 13 at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

And the Detroit Tigers will be there to watch the 34-year-old's workout as "due diligence," according to a source with knowledge of the team's plan. Also, they were one of about 20 teams to scout left-hander James Paxton's showcase before Christmas, the source said. Paxton, 32, reportedly reached 94 mph.

This doesn't mean the Tigers are interested in Kluber or Paxton. Rather, they're monitoring each situation. The organization already signed right-hander Jose Urena and outfielder Robbie Grossman this offseason but could use another starting pitcher to help combat the expected inning limits.

[ Here's what else the Detroit Tigers could, and should, do in free agency this winter ]

Indians pitcher Corey Kluber throws during the first inning on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, at Comerica Park.
Indians pitcher Corey Kluber throws during the first inning on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, at Comerica Park.

Kluber and Paxton are bounce-back candidates, meaning they will come at cheaper rates this winter. Kluber only made seven starts in 2019 — his last year with the Cleveland Indians — because of a right forearm fracture and oblique strain. He sustained a muscle tear in his right shoulder in his first start with the Texas Rangers in 2020 and didn't pitch again.

The Rangers gave Kluber a $1 million buyout, making the right-hander a free agent, instead of giving him an $18 million club option for 2021.

[ Detroit Tigers sign Jose Urena, but their short-term pitching plan hasn't worked recently ]

Paxton strained his left forearm flexor with the New York Yankees last season, was limited to five starts and had setbacks in his rehab.

If the Tigers become interested, expect them to go after Kluber rather than Paxton for financial reasons. Because Paxton has fewer recent injuries and a greater upside, he is in line for a higher salary and possibly a multi-year contract. General manager Al Avila isn't going to overspend this winter, which likely eliminates Paxton from consideration.

But Kluber is almost guaranteed to get a one-year deal. (In December, ESPN projected Paxton at $12 million per year and Kluber at $6 million per year.) Still, Kluber's value could change depending on the results of his showcase.

[ Why did Robbie Grossman join Detroit Tigers? AJ Hinch's winning culture ]

Righty Taijuan Walker, who the Tigers have interest in, is projected for $8.5 million in 2021 but could seek two years. Other realistic options include Rick Porcello, Carlos Rodon, Chase Anderson, J.A. Happ and Julio Teheran, among others.

Many of these second- and third-tier pitchers are waiting for the market to develop. Their value will become clear when the top free agents, such as Trevor Bauer, sign contracts.

[ What Tigers are telling us about the future with the Robbie Grossman signing ]

A 10-year MLB veteran, Kluber has pitched for the Indians (2011-19) and Rangers (2020). With Cleveland, he often beat up on the Tigers, registering a 12-7 record, 3.48 ERA, 1.153 WHIP, 173 strikeouts and 32 walks in 163 innings against them.

Kluber won the AL Cy Young in 2014 and 2017 with the Indians. He tossed more than 200 innings in five consecutive seasons, from 2014-18, and boasted a combined 2.85 ERA, 1,228 strikeouts and 223 walks during that span.

Since then, Kluber has only made it through 36⅔ innings across eight games. In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, he combined for a 5.65 ERA, 39 strikeouts and 16 walks.

Lefty joins on minor-league deal

On Thursday, the Tigers signed left-handed reliever Miguel Del Pozo to a minor-league contract, the team announced. The 28-year-old did not receive a spring training invite.

Del Pozo has a career 12.46 ERA, 2.538 WHIP, 13 strikeouts and 16 walks in 13 innings across 22 appearances. He played in the majors for the Los Angeles Angels (2019) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2020). His last game was Aug. 7 against the Tigers, when he gave up three runs in two innings.

His fastball averaged 93.3 mph last season. He also has a curveball and a changeup.

This winter, Del Pozo posted a 1.50 ERA in the Dominican Winter League's regular season, adding eight strikeouts and two walks across six innings, for Gigantes del Cibao. So far in the postseason, he has tossed 3⅓ scoreless innings with six strikeouts and no walks.

The Tigers have added three left-handed relievers on minor-league deals this offseason: Del Pozo, Locke St. John and Ian Krol. Of the trio, Krol is the only one with an invite to the team's big-league spring training in February.

[ Detroit Tigers bring back left-hander Ian Krol on minor-league deal for 'revenge tour' ]

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers to scout former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber's showcase