ST. PETERSBURG — Though Corey Kluber was coming off two seasons mostly lost to injury, the Rays last winter made a strong run at the veteran starter right up until he signed with the Yankees in January for $11 million.
Kluber seems less of a question mark now. He made 16 starts for the Yankees — though he did miss three months in the middle of the season with a right shoulder issue — posting a 5-3, 3.38 record and finishing the season healthy.
And the Rays appear to have gotten him on better terms, agreeing with the two-time Cy Young Award winner on a one-year, $8 million contract, plus up to an additional $5 million in incentives based on games started.
The deal is pending a physical exam. Assuming all goes well, he will be announced in the next few days, ahead of the lockout and transaction freeze expected to be implemented with the Wednesday night expiration of baseball’s labor agreement.
Kluber, 35, gives the Rays the veteran, pedigreed starter they wanted to complement the quartet of young starter types they have returning in Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen and Shane Baz. (Michael Wacha, who served that role in 2021, just signed a one-year deal with Boston for $7 million.)
And Kluber gets an opportunity to pitch near his Tampa-area family home and for a team he got familiar with during last year’s negotiations. He is comfortable with the coaching, training and front office staff, and confident in the chance to contend for a championship.
The big question will be Kluber’s health, as he has pitched only 24 games and 116 2/3 innings over the previous three seasons.
He missed most of 2019 with Cleveland after a line drive broke his arm in a May 1 game, with a late-season return foiled by an oblique injury. He was traded to Texas after the season and lasted only one inning of one start in 2020 due to shoulder tightness that was then diagnosed as a small tear in his teres major shoulder muscle.
Kluber recovered and impressed enough in a January 2021 showcase to draw interest from numerous teams, then signed with the Yankees. He went 4-2, 2.86 in his first nine starts, capped by a no-hitter at Texas on May 19. But he left his next start after three innings with right shoulder tightness and ended up sidelined until late August with what was diagnosed as a strain. He came back to go 1-0, 5.40 in six starts and was considered healthy at the end of the season.
Kluber won Cy Youngs in 2014 and 2017 with Cleveland and finished third in 2016 and 2018, and has a career record of 103-61, 3.19 in 225 games over parts of 11 seasons. He is a product of Stetson University in DeLand and is represented by Tampa-based Jet Sports Management.
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The Rays created an opening on the 40-man roster Friday by trading first baseman/outfielder Jordan Luplow to Arizona for minor-league infielder Ronny Simon.
The Kluber deal comes the day after the Rays finalized a franchise-record contract extension with shortstop Wander Franco that guarantees the 20-year-old $182 million over 11 years and could be worth up to $223 million with a 12th-year option and escalator clauses.
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