Closer Craig Kimbrel has compiled an impressive resume during his nine seasons in the big leagues, recording a microscopic 1.91 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP, 333 saves and a 14.7 K/9 rate. Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the right-hander, who remains unsigned.
Mets interested in Kimbrel -- on one condition
April 21: With Jason Vargas struggling and Jacob deGrom on the injured list due to right elbow soreness, the Mets are in need of some rotation depth. In place of deGrom on Saturday night, Chris Flexen allowed five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, bumping his career ERA to 8.59 in 19 games (11 starts).
One option for New York is signing Kimbrel, which would allow the team to move Seth Lugo to the rotation.
However, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal notes that the club would only be open to doing so if Kimbrel is willing to pitch in different roles rather than just the ninth inning, as it has Edwin Diaz locked in as the closer. It’s unclear if Kimbrel would be amenable to that after spending the past eight seasons getting the final three outs.
The Mets are also an obvious fit for Dallas Keuchel. However, Rosenthal reported Saturday on FOX Sports that New York is much more likely to sign another southpaw -- Gio Gonzalez -- than Keuchel at this point.
A source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand that Gonzalez intended to opt out of his contract with the Yankees on Saturday, giving the team 48 hours to decide whether to add Gonzalez to its Major League roster or grant him his release.
Should Braves forfeit Draft pick to sign Kimbrel?
April 19: The Braves have been consistently linked to Kimbrel since he became a free agent this past offseason, and calls for Atlanta to sign him have gotten louder as the club’s bullpen has struggled and battled injuries.
One major reason why the Braves might shy away from a deal with Kimbrel is the Draft compensation attached to the closer after he rejected the Red Sox's one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer in November. If the Braves sign Kimbrel prior to June's MLB Draft, they would lose this year's 60th pick as well as the $1.157 million bonus pool allotment attached to the slot. Because the Braves are operating under international market restrictions until 2021 after an MLB investigation found the organization violated international signing rules, that slot money takes on additional value for the team.
Atlanta had to forfeit 13 prospects and a third-round pick in 2018 as part of its penalties, which were announced in November 2017, and it can't sign any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period. The Braves' international signing bonus pool for 2020-21 will also be reduced by 50 percent.
However, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal argues in an article for The Athletic (subscription required) that the pick shouldn’t matter that much to a team that is looking to contend this season.
“It’s one thing if the Braves do not want Kimbrel because they believe his asking price is too high, or because they fear his performance at the end of last season is the start of a downward trend,” Rosenthal writes. “But for a team in contention -- a team that has not won a postseason series since 2001 -- the Draft-pick excuse goes only so far.”
As Rosenthal points out, trading for a reliever that is close to Kimbrel’s caliber would surely cost the Braves a more advanced prospect than the 60th overall selection.
Moreover, Atlanta was a revenue-sharing recipient in 2018. If it wasn't, it would have to forfeit its second-best pick -- No. 21 overall -- to sign Kimbrel instead of its third-best pick: No. 60 overall. The team is expected to become a revenue-sharing contributor this season.
How long would Keuchel and Kimbrel take to be game-ready?
April 19: As multiple clubs ponder whether to sign Keuchel and/or Kimbrel, one particular factor they must consider is how long it would be before each pitcher is ready to contribute at the Major League level after such a lengthy layoff.
MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand posed that question to a number of baseball executives this past week. The consensus? Neither pitcher should be rushed into action after they sign.
“The main thing for a free agent who has missed Spring Training and being around the day in, day out competitive grind at this level is knowing every detail about how they’ve been preparing mentally and physically to compete,” one American League executive said. “The more specifics we would have there, the more confident we would be in them being prepared to get caught up. From there, I think we can do the best to individualize and optimize a build-up plan to Major League action. It’s a tall task to just jump right in after months not in Major League games.”
“I would expect Keuchel to take a month to get where we would want him to be,” said another AL exec. “Kimbrel should take a couple weeks.”
Keuchel has been throwing 95-pitch simulated games every five days, but the executives agreed that sim games are different than actual competition.
“I would have to believe that both would have to spend some time facing competition to get ramped up,” a third AL executive said. “Most teams would want to see Keuchel pitch in at least a few Minor League games.” More >
Some teams believe Kimbrel would accept 3-year deal
April 18: Throughout the offseason, the prevailing belief was that Kimbrel wasn’t willing to budge from his initial asking price -- reportedly six years and anywhere from $100-120 million -- but MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the All-Star closer had lowered that price to something in the neighborhood of what Zack Britton (three years, $39 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) received the past couple of years.
MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is hearing something similar, tweeting Thursday that there’s a belief among some interested teams that Kimbrel would now do a three-year deal after initially getting the impression that he wouldn’t accept less than five.
According to Heyman, the Braves, Brewers, Nationals and Phillies are all in the mix. As Heyman notes, Atlanta is seemingly a great fit, especially with closer Arodys Vizcaino undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. The Braves have great familiarity with Kimbrel, who began his career with the team and is said to love Atlanta.
Off to a relatively slow start at 9-8, the pressure is intensifying on the Braves to shore up their 'pen -- and Kimbrel is undoubtedly one way to get that done.
One obstacle to a deal, however, is the Draft compensation attached to Kimbrel after he rejected the Red Sox's one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer in November. If the Braves sign Kimbrel prior to June's MLB Draft, they would lose this year's 60th pick as well as the $1.157 million bonus pool allotment attached to the slot. That slot money takes on additional value for the Braves, who are operating under international market restrictions until 2021 after an MLB investigation found the organization violated international signing rules. The Braves also have the No. 9 and 21 selections this year.
Atlanta had to forfeit 13 prospects and a third-round pick in 2018 as part of its penalties, which were announced in November 2017, and can't sign any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period. The Braves' international signing bonus pool for 2020-21 will also be reduced by 50 percent.
Sweeney and Thomas: Phillies should jump ahead of pack on Kimbrel, Keuchel
April 17: We’re hearing that Kimbrel and fellow free agent Dallas Keuchel are closer to reaching their decisions about 2019, and there’s no shortage of teams who could use either pitcher.
But with the Phillies off to a good start and entrenched in a dogfight in the National League East, should they jump out in front of the pack and sign Kimbrel … or perhaps both?
“We’ve heard about the stupid money, and you’re all in when you get Bryce Harper,” analyst Mark Sweeney said on Fox Sports’ MLB Whiparound show Tuesday night. “They’ve lengthened their lineup … but with that being said, I think there’s some additions that they need. When you look at Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel out there, not only is it just one that would help them -- I think both of them would. I know they have the finances to go out and get them.”
Sweeney added that Kimbrel could bring a veteran presence to the Phillies’ bullpen, particularly with the injuries that have already hit that unit.
“With [David] Robertson on the IL right now, he only has 19 saves over the last two years,” he said. “Craig Kimbrel has a resume to back that.”
Sweeney’s co-analyst, Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas, agreed with that sentiment.
“It comes down to pitching in every division,” said Thomas. “If they shore up the back of that bullpen, that’s the final piece of the puzzle for me. These guys can hit one through nine, they’ve got enough starting pitching, it’s about the bullpen for the Phillies.”
Sweeney acknowledged that while Kimbrel may be hurting his value now by holding out for a multi-year contract, the closer’s bigger-picture concerns could still be in the front of his mind.
“I think Kimbrel’s looking for that length of a deal because he’s trying to build his resume for the Hall of Fame,” he said. “That’s how good he has been, and I think that’s a difference-maker in why he wants to stay.
Wherever Kimbrel signs, Thomas believes he could be an X-factor come October -- particularly for a newly contending club like Philadelphia.
“If I’m a team looking to close this door and win a world championship,” he said, “you need that guy in the back of the bullpen.”
Morosi: Crew consistently connected to Kimbrel
April 16: Ever since expected closer Corey Knebel decided to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery to repair his damaged ulnar collateral ligament, there has been no shortage of rumors linking the Brewers to Craig Kimbrel.
The club has continued to keep in contact with Kimbrel's reps, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, who reports that the pitcher is moving "closer" to a decision. The righty reliever remains on the open market and can be signed by any club at any time, as can lefty starter Dallas Keuchel, who also could be a fit for Milwaukee, per Morosi.
Such a strength in 2018, the club's bullpen has been hindered by injuries to Knebel and fellow righty Jeremy Jeffress, who is set to make his 2019 debut after being activated Tuesday. The 31-year-old Jeffress surrendered at least one run in each of his four Minor League rehab appearances for Triple-A San Antonio.
"If that trend continues once Jeffress returns to the active roster Tuesday," Morosi writes, "Brewers general manager David Stearns is likely to give Kimbrel more serious consideration.
"MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that Kimbrel’s current asking price is in the range of Wade Davis’ three-year, $52 million contract with the Rockies and Zack Britton’s three-year, $39 million deal with the Yankees. That represents a decrease from Kimbrel’s reported stance at the outset of the offseason."
Something in that price range still might be steep for the Brewers, but if Jeffress fails to find his 2018 form at the back of the bullpen with lefty relief weapon Josh Hader, Milwaukee might have to pony up for outside help.
Kimbrel reportedly lowers asking price
April 13: Kimbrel opened free agency reportedly seeking a contract offer of around six years and $120 million, but according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, the All-Star closer has lowered that asking price to something similar to what Zack Britton (three years, $39 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) received the past couple of years.
Per The Athletic's Jim Bowden, Kimbrel was still asking for $100 million as recently as late March. That would shatter the reliever record for guaranteed money, which currently belongs to Aroldis Chapman at $86 million.
In a column for The Athletic published on March 11, Rosenthal wondered if Kimbrel might be willing to hold out until after the MLB Draft in early June.
The point of a holdout would be for Kimbrel to shed the Draft pick compensation attached to him by way of rejecting the Red Sox's one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer last November. Contenders might be more interested in simply paying an expensive one-year prorated salary to the All-Star closer (possibly in the neighborhood of $20 million) instead of dealing away top prospects to acquire a different reliever at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Kimbrel could then re-enter free agency next offseason without Draft compensation concerns.
However, the 30-year-old hasn't shown a willingness to accept a short-term deal up to this point. Otherwise, he would likely already be signed.