Free agency ratings: Rays look to solidify starting rotation with Corey Kluber

The Tampa Bay Rays won 100 games in 2021, proof that a great starting rotation doesn’t need to be necessary in this era of baseball, at least not with every team. Not that the Rays’ rotation was terrible – he finished a respectable sixth in the AL with a 4.08 ERA, but the team had obvious holes. Considers:

  • The Rays’ top two starters in terms of innings pitched were Ryan Yarbrough (5.11 ERA) and Michael Wacha (5.05 ERA).

  • The Rays starters finished 14th out of 15 American League teams in innings pitched.

  • The Rays ranked 13th in quality starts, finishing only ahead of the Twins and Orioles.

So it’s no surprise that the Rays are looking to beef up their rotation this offseason, especially since Wacha has already left for the Boston Red Sox. On Sunday they agreed with two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber on an $ 8 million deal that could earn him up to $ 13 million.

Kluber, coming off two injury seasons (he made seven starts with Cleveland in 2019 and one start with Texas in 2020), signed a similar deal with the Yankees ($ 11 million) in 2021. He started well: a 5-3 record with ERA. 3.83 and a no-hitter through May 19, but then Kluber missed three months with a shoulder strain. His last six starts were in late August and September after he returned from his shoulder injury, and in those outings he pitched more than 4⅔ innings just once with a 5.40 ERA.

Obviously, Kluber is not the pitcher he was a few years ago. He still has that curve ball to strike out, but he was never a flamethrower and, like Zack Greinke, now he has to rely on cunning and experiment with more than just stuff. In 2021 it averaged just 90.7 mph on its two-seam fastball, from 93 to 94 at its peak. That puts him in the ninth percentile of all pitchers in fastball speed. Many of his other advanced metrics were still positive in 2021: 82nd percentile for hard hit rate, 66th percentile for airswing rate, and 64th percentile for expected slugging percentage. It’s still pretty good at inducing weak contacts.

Tampa has gone the veteran starters’ route multiple times in recent seasons, with mixed results:

2021: Wacha (3-5, 5.05 ERA). Meh. They had 23 starts and 124 innings from him, but he was the same late-rotation starter he had been in previous seasons.

2021: Rich Hill (6-4, 3.87 ERA). It was good, exactly what I would have expected, before he was traded to the New York Mets.

2021: Chris Archer (1-1, 4.66 ERA). Hoping for a recovery from injury, Archer only made five starts.

2019: Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA). This was a home run. Morton set personal records for wins, ERA and innings and finished third in Cy Young voting.

2018: Nathan Eovaldi (4-4, 4.26 ERA). After Tommy John’s surgery, he was traded to the Red Sox for Jalen Beeks.

Where will Kluber fit on this spectrum? It depends in part on how much the Rays need from him. He made 16 starts for New York last year; the Rays would love to get 25 from him (they expect at least 20).

That means the success of this deal will depend primarily on his health, and who else the Rays can get to gobble up tickets. With Kluber, the Rays’ rotation looks like this:

1. Shane McClanahan
2. Shane Baz
3. Kluber
4. Yarbrough
5. Drew Rasmussen
6. Luis Patiño

Also in the mix: Josh Fleming, who spent time in the majors and Triple-A last year, and a few pitchers returning from injuries: Yonny Chirinos, Beeks, Brendan McKay. There’s also Tyler Glasnow, who had Tommy John surgery in early August. The Rays have options with Glasnow: wait for a return at the end of the season, eat his 2022 salary (an estimated $ 5.5 million) and keep him preparing for 2023, or look to trade him to save on payroll.

One potential cover is Tommy Romero. Acquired from the Mariners in 2018 by Alex Colomé, Romero has always been a standout statistician. In recent years, his things have taken a step forward, his fastball is at 92-94, and he had a terrific 2021 season between Double-A and Triple-A with a 2.61 ERA in 110 innings, keeping hitters down. .189 average.

So here’s some interesting depth. McClanahan looks like, if not an ace, a solid No. 2 after an outstanding rookie season (10-6, 3.43 ERA, 141 K in 123⅓ innings). Patiño has one of the best arms, though his ability to catch left-handed hitters with his fastball / slide repertoire remains in doubt (he’s working on both a switch and a curveball). Rasmussen was a huge surprise, standing out as a starter in short starts after coming from the Brewers. Inning limits will certainly continue to be an issue for McClanahan, Baz and Patino, but the Rays don’t have their starters pitching deep into games anyway.

It’s a pretty strong group with a really high ceiling if everything fits. There is always the risk of injury with Kluber, in addition to the youth risk with untested starters. But overall, I like the roll of the dice on Kluber, especially if they get 130 entries from it.

Grade: B