Corey Kluber understands he can’t be the pitcher he once was.
In fact, it’s been a while since he thought he could be that pitcher.
The two-time American League Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star knows that, at 36, the key to his survival in the big leagues is founded upon skilled craftsmanship — shrewdness on the mound in order to gain an advantage over his opponent.
“The velocity isn’t what it was six or seven years ago,” Kluber said Thursday when his contract with the Red Sox was signed and made official. “But I think to counteract that, I’m a smarter pitcher maybe than I was then without having the ability to rely on quote unquote stuff as much. I think that there are other tools besides just that. I’ve learned how to game plan.”
The Red Sox are banking on those tools after working out a one-year, $10 million contract with the veteran starter that includes a team option of $11 million for 2024. The righthander could earn up to $2 million in bonuses both years.
The signing represents a homecoming of sorts for Kluber. His wife, Amanda, is a Winchester native and the couple and their children have resided there during the offseason during his 10-plus years in the majors, which included the Cy Young campaigns in Cleveland, followed by one-year stops with the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.
This offseason marked the third straight as a free agent for Kluber, and his name was attached to the Red Sox each time. This time around, the sides were able to work out a deal.
“I think just we were able to get across the finish line and align to where it satisfied both sides,” Kluber said. “I think that the last couple years prior, we had a lot of good conversations. I think they got to know me, and I got to know some people in the organization. And, thankfully, we were able to get something done this year.”
The idea of coming home to play wasn’t the ultimate selling point for Kluber. It was about pitching for the Red Sox.
“Fenway is probably my favorite ballpark in the league,” Kluber said. “Just the history of it and the environment there and everything. I wouldn’t say [playing near home] was a determining factor. But I think it’s an added bonus to everything.”
The starting rotation, like much of the roster, is an unpredictable one with just over a month until the start of spring training. Chris Sale and James Paxton are working their way back from injuries. Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck are unproven starters in the big leagues. Nick Pivetta is a fifth starter, at best.
Kluber has faced his share of injuries, too, including shoulder issues while with the Yankees in 2021, but he was healthy for all of 2022 and made 31 starts (10-10, 4.34 ERA, 164 innings) for the Rays.
“I think it’s a very talented group,” Kluber said. “Those younger guys [Houck and Whitlock], their stuff really jumps out at you. Obviously, everybody knows when healthy how tough an at-bat Chris and James are. I’m excited to get to spring training and get going with the group.”
To make room for Kluber, the Red Sox designated righthander Connor Seabold for assignment.
Also on Thursday, the Red Sox and reliever Josh Taylor agreed to a one-year, $1.025 million contract to avoid arbitration. The lefthander missed the entire 2022 season due to a back injury.