It almost worked.
But Jed Hoyer’s Padres just missed the playoffs in 2010.
And six years later, the questions still linger over the process that went into Hoyer’s decision that year as the Padres general manager to trade pitching prospect Corey Kluber in a three-team deal at the deadline.
“I’ve never come up with the magic bullet that we missed,” said Hoyer, now the Cubs’ GM, talking on the eve of a potentially critical Game 4 of this World Series in which his team is now tasked again with trying to beat the once-debated Padres farmhand who became a Cy Young Award winner for the Indians.
“I’ve always said I felt as good if not better about that process as any process I’ve ever run or been a part of,” said Hoyer, who got outfielder Ryan Ludwick back from the Cardinals in the three-team trade that sent Kluber to the Indians as a Class AA right-hander.
“But you can’t help but replay that process over and over,” Hoyer said. “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?”
It was the two-seam fastball Kluber developed after the trade to Cleveland that led to his big-league starting debut in 2012, Cy Young in 2014 and a starring role in this World Series – during which he already has beaten Hoyer’s Cubs once, in Game 1.
“It opened up everything for him, and he became this dominant pitcher,” Hoyer said. “You can’t help yourself but think back, like, `Why didn’t we try it? Did we not try it hard enough?’
“Obviously, you look back, and it’s clearly a mistake, and six year’s later you think, `OK< how did that happen?’ How did this guy that we saw as a potential back-end starter but likely reliever turn into a dominant No. 1 starter?”
There may not be an easy answer. Hoyer hasn’t necessarily changed his evaluation processes because of it. And other than the way the new pitch took off, and played off Kluber’s other pitches, the Padres essentially had his skill set well evaluated.
And if Ludwick hadn’t been a late-season bust – or interim manager Mike Quade’s Cubs hadn’t beat the Padres three of four the final week of the season, the Padres might have made the playoffs and made Kluber a non-issue.
If anything, it may have helped Hoyer and by extension the Cubs in how they look at other pitchers, even some – such as Jake Arrieta – who are playing significant roles in this magical Cubs season after being identified as underperforming young pitchers or prospects with less-obvious tools (see: 89-mph Kyle Hendricks).
“It’s the idea that pitching comes from everywhere,” Hoyer said. “A guy with good stuff can alter a grip or change a pitch, and the next thing you know unlock everything.
“I just think with pitching you’ve got to stick with guys and you’ve got to take risks on guys that maybe you liked, who are struggling at the time.”