CLEVELAND — The Indians wasted no time on one of their biggest offseason decisions: Bringing back Corey Kluber was a no-brainer.
Cleveland said it intends to exercise Kluber’s $17.5 million contract option for next season, when the two-time Cy Young Award winner is expected to be healthy _ and maybe rejuvenated _ following an injury-shortened 2019.
Kluber made only seven starts before a line drive in Miami broke his right arm. The 33-year-old endured months of inactivity and rehab and was nearing a return when a strained oblique muscle set him back.
On Wednesday, team president Chris Antonetti announced the team’s decision on Kluber. And while the move wasn’t unexpected, the timing was unusual because the Indians typically take their time with major moves.
The difference this time is that it’s Kluber, who has been one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers the past six years. His track record gives the Indians confidence he’ll bounce back _ and maybe be as good as ever.
Kluber’s been a workhorse, logging at least 203 innings in each of the previous five seasons. It’s taken a toll on his body, but manager Terry Francona thinks the down time could help Kluber going forward.
“I think this is almost a blessing in disguise. Yeah, we missed the heck out of him, but come next year I bet you he has a chance to be the Kluber that we’ve seen and relied on. For the innings and what he has given our team, I betcha he has a chance of being that again because of having a little bit of a layoff.”
The Indians could buy out Kluber’s 2020 option for $1 million. The club has an $18 million option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout.
Antonetti also said the team plans to decline options on second baseman Jason Kipnis ($16.5 million) and reliever Dan Otero ($1.5 million). Kipnis, who has spent his entire nine-year career with Cleveland, would get a $2.5 million buyout. Otero would receive a $100,000 buyout.
Kipnis was having a solid season for the Indians, who won 93 games despite being ravaged by injuries. The 32-year-old doubled in his final at-bat before tests revealed he broke the hamate bone in his right hand _ the same injury that sidelined third baseman José Ramírez during Cleveland’s playoff push.
Antonetti said it’s possible the team will consider re-signing Kipnis, a two-time All-Star.
“I wouldn’t close any doors,” Antonetti said. “All this means is that we’re not going to exercise his option. It just wouldn’t work at that value. We’ll remain open to Kip potentially returning. Irrespective of whether or not he returns, he’s made a huge contribution to the organization in the time he’s been with us. If you think back to him getting drafted as an outfielder in the second round. We were talking the other day about remembering the instructional league games where he was working on the conversion to second base.
“He put in a tremendous amount of work to turn himself into a really good and productive major league player. And he’s been part of a lot of really good teams at the major league level. We’re really appreciative of all the contributions he’s made and are thankful for that.”
If Kipnis is gone, the Indians may move Ramírez back to second base. However, that would leave a hole at third and the club doesn’t currently have an experienced player to fill that position.
Francona said Ramírez told him he’d play wherever needed, but would prefer not to bounce around.
“We’re comfortable that José can play both at a premium defensive quality,” he said. “I agree with him, going back and forth is hard, especially at this point in his career. Wherever he plays, he’s going to be good.”<
NOTES: Bullpen coach Scott Atchison was fired after one season. ... C Roberto Pérez, who had an unexpectedly strong offensive season, will have an injured ankle evaluated and could need surgery. .... The Indians are the first team to win at least 93 games and miss the postseason in the two-team wild-card era (since 2012).