Could Padres add familiar face in Kluber?

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Credit: USA Today Sports

Backend starting pitching is arguably the biggest hole for the San Diego Padres.

With no established fifth starter and Nick Martinez primed for that fourth spot in the rotation, who solely worked as a reliever after mixed results through 10 starts in his first 12 outings in San Diego, Padres general manager A.J. Preller might need to add another arm before his roster reports for Peoria in February.

As we get deeper into the offseason, more starters have gone elsewhere, limiting the pool of pitchers for Preller. Corey Kluber is one arm that Preller could consider.

Kluber is a former Padres farmhand but was infamously traded for Ryan Ludwick at the 2010 MLB trade deadline before the Padres collapsed in September. He previously played for now Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla in Cleveland. Familiarity there may lead Kluber to sign in San Diego.

There’s no sugar coating it: Kluber is past his prime, a five-year stretch from 2014-18 where in every season, he threw over 200 innings and finished in the top-10 for American League Cy Young voting, winning that award twice and being a finalist two other times.

He will turn 37 years old in April, but he still may have some gas left in the tank. Last year for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kluber pitched 164 innings and posted a 4.34 ERA with a 1.213 WHIP and a 3.57 FIP. His 164 innings would have ranked third on last year’s staff, as would have his 3.57 FIP, finishing just in front of Joe Musgrove.

In his three seasons leading up to 2022, Kluber pitched just 116.2 innings, so his arm may be fresher than other pitchers who threw 164 innings in 2022.

Kluber’s pitch arsenal is focused more on movement rather than velocity. It consists of four pitches that all move in different planes. He used to throw a four-seam fastball in Cleveland but has since used the pitch minimally.

Instead, Kluber throws cutters and sinkers just over 60% of the time, both of which average just about 89 mph. His primary offspeed pitch is his slider(or curveball), thrown 27% of the time in Tampa Bay at 81 mph. Kluber also throws a changeup a couple of times an inning. The cutter is his best pitch, according to run value from FanGraphs, while changeup is also a positive pitch. In his heyday, his slider was far and away his pitch, and Niebla may be able to find that pitch for him again if he joins the Padres.

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A contract for Kluber would definitely be short and likely just one year. Coming to pitcher-friendly Petco Park and working with an old coach may help Kluber find some more success and land a bigger contract after the season.

Options are becoming slim for Preller to add starters via free agency, and Kluber had the best fWAR in 2022 of all the remaining options. Will Preller pull the trigger?

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