The signing of DJ LeMahieu was to keep the New York Yankees lineup as it was the past two years, but Corey Kluber’s signing was to improve the Yankee starting rotation that, for the most part, has failed them in the postseason. To keep their decision to take the risk on Kluber valid, he will have to perform as he did in 2018. If they get that, they will be pleased indeed. But at the same time, they are going to be careful in what they demand from Kluber, the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Corey Kluber looked really good in his bullpen session for interested teams (25) last Wednesday, which led to them signing him to a one-year $11 million low-risk high reward contract. In making that decision, the Yankees were banking heavily on the recommendation of his performance coach, Eric Cressey, whom they hired in January 2020 as their director of player health and performance. His recommendation and Kluber’s performance sealed the deal for the Yankees. There were probably other teams that wanted to sign him, but he made it clear that he wanted to go with a team where he could make the most impact and have a chance at a World Series ring.
After being hit by a comebacker in 2019 and injuring his shoulder in 2020, Kluber has only pitched 32.2 innings in the past two years. This is the same pitcher that is used to pitching 29 to 34 games a year. He won’t do anywhere near that for the Yankees this season. He will likely only pitch 20-25 games, assuming he goes into most games’ seventh inning. The Yankees will be cautious with Kluber, they need him to get to the postseason, but more importantly, they need him as their likely game two starter in the postseason.
If Kluber can return to close to the pitcher he was in 2018 (20-7 ERA 2.89), the New York Yankees will have a formidable one-two punch that will be a task for any team they face to defeat. Gerrit Cole and Kluber both have winning postseason records. As the season progresses, the Yankees will learn more about Domingo German and Luis Severino when he returns; how they pitch will likely put one of them in the game three start in the postseason. With a 162 game season, other pitchers, Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, and Clarke Schmidt, will have time to show their worth and if they will be used in the postseason.
We all remember game 2 of the 2020 postseason when a basically untested Deivi Garcia was put in as an opener, followed by J.A. Happ and the disaster that turned out to be. It probably signaled that the Yankees would not prevail in the ALCS. With a true number two starter, they could avoid that mess caused by their lack of faith in Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka had a horrible 12.39 ERA in the 2020 postseason in a combined eight innings.
With the acquisition of Kluber, few injuries, and just a couple of Yankee starters stepping up to the challenge, the Yankees have a real chance to make a legitimate run for the postseason and beyond.