TAMPA — For those concerned that nerds already have too much say on the Yankees, it surely won’t hearten you to know that the team’s ultra-popular Machine has been joined by a Klubot.
Then again, who wouldn’t want Corey Kluber to become the team’s pitching version of DJ LeMahieu?
Actually, the Yankees probably would settle for Kluber, the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, providing half the value LeMahieu averaged (4.45 wins above replacement, as per Baseball-Reference.com) in his first two Yankees seasons, as long as he’s good to go for October. Though Brian Cashman and company gambled $11 million that the 34-year-old Kluber could rebound from two injury-prone seasons, his Machine-like approach to the game and its potential benefits weren’t lost on them.
“I think when we started down this road with Corey, and you start diving into maybe a guy’s makeup or whatever, some of those comparisons were naturally uttered just because of DJ being here obviously, so there probably are some similarities,” Aaron Boone said Friday, following a pitchers and catchers workout at the Yankees’ player development complex. “I also like to think that as much as those guys are The Klubot and The Machine and low-key in certain ways, they’re also guys that, when you get in there, have some really neat personalities.”
Kluber, who pitched for Stetson University alongside another quiet fellow named Jacob deGrom, said Friday of his nickname: “I wouldn’t say I dislike it. I think that it was maybe overplayed a little bit, would be my thought. I wouldn’t say I’m for it or against it. It doesn’t make a difference to me, honestly.”
If you watched Kluber drive the Indians to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, one win shy of ending the franchise’s title drought, you might argue that the handle got underplayed, so prominent were his coolness on the mound and dryness in the media room. When his manager, Terry Francona, lifted him during the seventh inning of AL Championship Series Game 1, with the Indians holding a 2-0 lead, Kluber walked to the dugout and didn’t acknowledge the Progressive Field standing ovation. When a troublemaking New York reporter (OK, it was me) asked him about the possible diss, a surprised-looking Kluber replied: “I’m still locked in at that point in time. I can’t just flip a switch and turn it off.”
Spoken like a true Klubot, wouldn’t you agree?
“I think that’s his character. I wouldn’t say ‘dry’ in my words, but I do think it’s very concise and efficient in his language and his communication,” said Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake, who got to know Kluber while working in the Indians’ minor league system. “I do think that he does open more in some of the social fabric of a team. I think he draws a lot from those relationships. I think the most valuable part of him that a lot of people speak to is just his consistency and his preparation and the way he goes about his work and is very focused and detailed and intentful. That’s going to fit right in here with a lot of the guys.”
“For sure. I don’t think I’m ever going to be the most vocal person in a room,” Kluber conceded. “But I think that probably as most people, the more comfortable you get in a situation, the more you open up to people. I think that’s part of team-building.”
LeMahieu joined the Yankees for 2019 after receiving a surprisingly large commitment ($24 million over two years) and coming off a couple of underwhelming seasons. The soft-spoken veteran quickly became a clubhouse and crowd favorite, his actions speaking loudly and his few words resonating, and the Yankees retained him for $90 million in January.
It’s highly difficult to envision Kluber, arriving under related circumstances, attaining a new career peak in pinstripes as LeMahieu has. It’s easier to wonder if he can join ace Gerrit Cole as a postseason starting option. And if he can imbue his teammates with wisdom and steadiness along the way.
It’s anything besides a nerdy proposition. All eyes are on The Klubot to see if he can turn it into reality.