Now that Spring Training is officially underway and Manny Machado is finally off the market, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ offseason has effectively ended.
Barring an unseen last-minute acquisition, the makeup of the team is set in stone with A.J. Pollock, Russell Martin and Joe Kelly suiting up as the new guys in town. (Well, except for Martin, technically.)
With Bryce Harper still unsigned as of this writing, it’s more than fair to say Los Angeles missed a golden chance by not signing the Nationals star. Just like with Giancarlo Stanton last offseason, an MVP and generational talent was openly beckoning to wear Dodger Blue, but was passed on due to the ownership’s pedantic obsession with the luxury tax. If you follow me on Twitter especially, you know I wanted him badly.
Yet as of late, I can’t help but think the biggest missed opportunity of this meager offseason wasn’t Harper, but rather Indians ace Corey Kluber. It feels like a million years ago at this point, but back in November the two teams were in intense talks regarding a deal that would have sent the right-hander to Los Angeles. Cleveland needed to dump salary in order to acquire younger pieces, and the Dodgers were said to offer Yasiel Puig, with Alex Wood and Yadier Alvarez other potential chips. The deal never materialized, as Cleveland shed salary instead by trading Yan Gomes, and Kluber has reported to Indians Spring Training.
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In just about every way, Kluber would have been an outstanding get. A two-time AL Cy Young Award-winner, he’s fresh off his first 20-win season in 2018. He would have been right next to another multiple Cy Young-winner in Clayton Kershaw in the rotation.
Furthermore, he would have balanced a rotation that can easily be lefty-heavy, especially with Urias and Ryu healthy. He has postseason experience, pitching brilliantly throughout each round of the 2016 playoffs, most importantly two wins in three starts in the World Series against the Cubs.
Lastly, he is a great clubhouse presence, being famously nicknamed “Klubot” for his stoic disposition. Considering L.A. dealt Puig for ostensible personality issues, acquiring a humble star of his caliber would be ideal. It also would have been far, far, far, far, far, far better than getting Trevor Bauer.
This isn’t to say trading for Kluber wouldn’t have had any risks. He turns 33 this year, and while he avoided the disabled list in 2018, he needed an injection in his right knee to make it through the second half of the season. And while he was phenomenal throughout the 2016 World Series run, he hasn’t been on that level the past two Octobers, including being torched twice by Didi Gregorius to complete the 2017 ALDS collapse against the Yankees.
However, as we all know, the rotation as it is now can turn into a M*A*S*H unit at the drop of a hat. Kershaw’s back issues flared up for long stretches in his prime, and could get worse as he gets deeper into his thirties. Julio Urias isn’t far removed from an injury that had him miss the majority of 2017. Rich Hill’s blisters can pop up at any time. And Hyun-Jin Ryu can injure just about any part of his body. Having Kluber would have provided all the more cushion for other injuries.
This is not to say the Dodgers have no chance at a title in 2019 by missing out on Klubot. Even without him, they have what could be the best rotation in the game. Yet it’s precisely because the rotation is great as it is that they should have added him. It would have been the kind of spoiled move most expect from the wealthiest team in baseball, and made their lack of a superstar position player addition far more palatable.
Should the Dodgers need an extra arm this year, they’ll no doubt get it at the trade deadline. But it would have been far, far better to have the rotation shored up right from the opening pop. Additionally, they would have had his services for a few years, rather than just a few months like Yu Darvish. In this moment, Kluber is one of many missed chances for a team that desperately needs an impact move to get that last win in October.