For the past few years, as Corey Kluber inked a succession of one-year deals, the two-time Cy Young winner and the Red Sox had been circling each other without ever dancing. Though he signed with the Yankees in 2021 and with the Rays in 2022, the possibility of a partnership with the Red Sox remained strong, as Kluber, who lives in Winchester, made no secret of his interest.
“I’m looking for an opportunity to win as well as an opportunity that works well for our family,” Kluber said in November of his approach to free agency this time. “I think [the Red Sox] are well aware of how I feel when that time comes and things start kind of picking up.”
Things did indeed pick up, and Kluber and the Red Sox found their way to a deal Wednesday. According to major league sources, the 36-year-old righthander reached a one-year, $10 million deal with the Sox. Kluber can earn an additional $2 million in bonuses. The contract includes an $11 million team option for 2024, with salary escalators based on his performance in 2023 and bonuses based on his performance in 2024.
Kluber made 31 starts for the Rays last season, going 10-10 with a 4.34 ERA in 164 innings. According to MLB.com, based on the quality of contact against him, his strikeout rate (a career-low 20.0 percent), and walk rate (3.0 percent, lowest in MLB among qualifying starters), he had an expected ERA of 4.00.
The workload was Kluber’s largest since 2018 and surpassed his three-year total of 24 starts and 116⅔ innings from 2019-21, when he dealt with a succession of injuries. Arriving at an offseason having made 30 starts and completed a healthy season represented a source of considerable satisfaction for Kluber.
“It’s nice to not have to go through rehab or get constant MRIs to check up on something,” he said.
The agreement with Kluber came one day after righthander Nate Eovaldi signed a two-year deal with the Rangers that includes a vesting option for a third season and one day after lefthander Rich Hill agreed to a one-year deal with the Pirates.
The Red Sox had pursued a reunion with Eovaldi. According to a major league source, they offered three-year deals to Eovaldi, who emerged as a central contributor to the 2018 title, an All-Star in 2021, and a leader who embraced his commitment to the team and a role as a mentor.
Eovaldi, Zach Eflin (who turned down a three-year, $40 million offer from the Sox to sign for the same amount with the Rays), and Andrew Heaney (who turned down a two-year offer in the $30 million range from the Sox to sign a two-year, $25 million contract with the Rangers) had been targeted by the Sox ahead of Kluber. But with those names off the board, the Sox landed a pitcher who slots into at least the No. 4 spot and could exceed that projection as he gets further removed from his lengthy run of injuries.
“I believe in myself enough that if I can be healthy, I’ll be able to figure it out, whether it’s the same as last year, different than last year or two or three years ago, whatever it may be,” said Kluber. “There’s something to be said about just being able to pitch.”
The Sox now have Chris Sale, Kluber, Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock, James Paxton, and Tanner Houck as starting candidates. A team source did not rule out the possibility of a six-man rotation but characterized such a strategy as extremely unlikely.
The Sox are likely done adding free agent starters (that market is well picked over, save for Michael Wacha) but will continue to explore trades. The addition of Kluber also makes it easier for the Sox to contemplate trades —for a front-line starter or middle-of-the-field player to complement Kiké Hernández and Trevor Story — involving young starting candidates such as Houck.