Cubs GM Jed Hoyer replays Corey Kluber trade that could define World Series

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer replays Corey Kluber trade that could define World Series

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox before again helping Theo Epstein build the best team in baseball. Yet during one of the proudest moments in his professional life, Hoyer is now getting questions about why he traded Corey Kluber to the Cleveland Indians.  

Near the end of an October where the Cubs already went through Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, Kluber can put his own personal imprint on this World Series. After throwing six scoreless innings during a Game 1 win, Kluber will start Game 4 on short rest on Saturday night at Wrigley Field and loom in a potential Game 7 nightmare. If the Cubs even make it that far. 

The Indians needed to win one without Kluber and pulled off a 1-0 victory on Friday night, taking a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven matchup. Hoyer never saw this coming when he made Kluber part of a three-team deal at the July 31 trade deadline in 2010, trying to secure a National League West title during his first season as the San Diego Padres GM. 

“It’s more like my internal monologue,” Hoyer said. “Because I’ve always said: I’ve felt as good – if not better – about that process than any process I’ve ever run or been a part of.

“You can’t help but replay the process over and over: What did we miss? Did we not do something right? Why didn’t we tinker with a two-seamer in the minor leagues with him?

“How did this guy that we saw as a potential back-end starter – but likely reliever – turn into a dominant No. 1 starter?”

[MORE: Cubs fail to break through against Indians bullpen in tense Game 3]

The answers help explain why Cleveland is in position to win its first World Series title in 68 years. At the time, Kluber had decent numbers at San Diego’s Double-A affiliate – 6-6 record, 3.45 ERA, 136 strikeouts against 40 walks in 122-plus innings – but no top-prospect hype or first-round pedigree. Kluber didn’t make any kind of leap the next year, putting up a 5.56 ERA in 27 starts for Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate.

“No one was pounding the table that we ignored,” Hoyer said. “I sent so many scouts to scout our system because it was our first year and we had tons of looks at him.

“Ultimately – I never would take credit away from the actual person – but it really is a player-development home run. 

“This guy that came to them didn’t have success right away. He really struggled. And then to keep getting better and better and better and better – that’s development.”

That two-seam fastball opened up everything for Kluber, who transformed into a Cy Young Award winner in 2014 and an All-Star this year. It’s a story not unlike the evolution of Jake Arrieta, who got traded from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, cleared his head, returned to his natural crossfire motion and won a Cy Young Award last year. Look at Andrew Miller’s long journey into the heart of the Cleveland bullpen.

“Pitching kind of comes from everywhere,” Hoyer said. “Most of the dominant pitchers in this series were guys that were traded and developed late. 

“Andrew Miller – this guy was bounced around, traded – I think he was put through waivers – and now he’s like the most-sought-after deadline piece. He’s been the key to their team. All of that’s a good lesson.”

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That trade would also be remembered differently if outfielder Ryan Ludwick (.631 OPS in 59 games) had performed for the Padres and Mike Quade’s Cubs hadn’t gotten hot in late September, winning three of four games in San Diego. The Padres won 90 games in 2010 with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, but still couldn’t make the playoffs, allowing the San Francisco Giants to begin their even-year run toward a World Series title. 

As part of that three-team trade, the Padres also shipped pitcher Nick Greenwood to the St. Louis Cardinals, who received pitcher Jake Westbrook from the Indians for giving up Ludwick. Who knew that deal would have World Series implications six years later?   

“I’ve never come up with the magic bullet that we missed,” Hoyer said. “Pitching develops in a way that hitting doesn’t. A guy with good stuff can maybe alter a grip or change a pitch. And then the next thing you know, you unlock everything. 

“You got to stick with guys – and you got to take risks on guys that may be struggling at the time.”


With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper


With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper

The last three games have been more than forgettable for the Cubs.

From Wednesday’s 11-1 drubbing at the hands of the Phillies to back-to-back walk-off losses on Thursday and Friday, the Cubs’ current road trip has looked much like those that preceded it. At various times, the offense has scuffled, the rotation has pitched a clunker and the bullpen has cracked.

The solution to the latest road trip woes? Give the ball to Jon Lester and get the hell out of the way.

Lester —  who pitched a clunker himself Aug. 6 against the A’s — did what the Cubs have become so accustomed to see him do over the past four seasons. The 35-year-old tossed 6+ shutout innings, allowing just four hits, leading the Cubs to a 2-0 win.

Lester had no room for error on Saturday, as the Cubs offense went hitless for the first 4 1/3 innings. While the Cubs bats were asleep, the Pirates threatened to break the game on open multiple times, loading the bases with one out (first inning), no outs (fifth) and getting runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth.

The latter two of those instances were assisted by errors by third baseman Kris Bryant, but that’s neither here nor there. Point being, with how the Cubs looked offensively, any Pirates runs could have proved critical on Saturday. Instead, Lester worked out of every jam, stymying the Pirates bats to an 0-for-12 line with RISP.

Winning Saturday’s game was obviously important for the Cubs, as it puts them a game ahead of the Cardinals in the win column (pending the outcome of St. Louis's game against the Reds later Saturday). But it was equally important for Lester, who called himself the “weakest link” in the Cubs starting rotation after that tough outing against the A’s.

The beautiful thing about baseball is that the regular season is 162 games long. Each day presents teams with a new slate, a chance to forget about what happened in the previous game and move forward.  If Saturday’s start shows anything, it’s that Lester and the Cubs are more than capable of putting a tough game in the rearview mirror and keep moving forward.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Get to know Kelly Crull podcast

NBC Sports Chicago

Cubs Talk Podcast: Get to know Kelly Crull podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, we get to know Kelly Crull. Kelly tells Luke Stuckmeyer about her love of bowling growing up, why she became a reporter and some of her favorite moments covering the Cubs.

01:00 Kelly's love of tennis at an early age

04:00 Following basketball while growing up in Indiana

06:00 Possible tennis showdown between Kelly and Megan Mawicke

09:30 Kelly talks about working in London & interviewing J.K. Rowling

14:00 When did she decide to become a reporter?

15:00 What is her favorite food?

16:00 Kelly's go-to karaoke song

18:00 Kelly's favorite NBA story (it involves Kevin Durant)

21:00 Favorite moments covering the Cubs

24:00 Dealing with the weather at Wrigley Field

28:00 Something we don't know about Kelly

31:00 What does Kelly enjoy watching at home the most?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast