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?”
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.”
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.”