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Crew on Kimbrel rumors: 'It would be huge'

Milwaukee is reportedly talking to seven-time All-Star closer
@AdamMcCalvy
March 20, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Craig Kimbrel in a Brewers uniform? It may be far-fetched for a team already stretching the budget, but the image was pretty compelling to some of the other men in Brewers uniforms. The Athletic (subscription required) reported Tuesday night that the Brewers were in talks with Kimbrel,

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Craig Kimbrel in a Brewers uniform? It may be far-fetched for a team already stretching the budget, but the image was pretty compelling to some of the other men in Brewers uniforms.

The Athletic (subscription required) reported Tuesday night that the Brewers were in talks with Kimbrel, the All-Star closer who is still available in free agency eight days before Milwaukee’s Opening Day game against the Cardinals at Miller Park. Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, who declined comment, does due diligence on a wide swath of available players, and there is a possibility the club’s contact with Kimbrel, the top reliever entering last winter’s free agent market, was just that.

But whether simply due diligence or “pretty serious,” as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman put it Wednesday, the idea was something fun to talk about as Spring Training hits the home stretch.

“I just heard about it,” said left-handed relief ace Josh Hader. “We have a solid group right now, and adding another solid arm, it would be huge. I guess you could say that in this game, it takes an army to win it, an army to get through it. Any piece we could get to put ourselves in a better position to win would be a good thing for that ultimate goal.”

The Brewers are returning their top three relievers from last season, when Milwaukee’s bullpen ranked second in the National League in ERA, innings pitched and batting average against. But while Hader is cruising into the regular season, two other All-Stars, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, are not. Jeffress has been dealing with a bout of shoulder weakness and will begin the season on the injured list, though he is slated to return to the mound Thursday, and an optimistic projection has him back in Milwaukee by mid- to late April. A report from The Athletic on Wednesday said Knebel, too, has taken a break from throwing with what appears to be a tired arm. Knebel told the website’s Robert Murray that he had no pain and suggested the matter was minor.

Regardless of the status of Jeffress and Knebel, Kimbrel would help Milwaukee. He has been an All-Star in seven of the past eight seasons, posted a WHIP below 1.00 in five of the past seven seasons, including each of the past two years, and has struck out 14.7 batters per nine innings in his Major League career. That’s why he entered the offseason reportedly seeking a multiyear contract as rich as nine figures.

But so far, he has not received such an offer. The Brewers, meanwhile, have signed other free agents -- catcher Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas -- to high-dollar, one-year contracts after they were disappointed by the open market and pivoted toward a short-term landing spot with a contender. Kimbrel would make sense for Milwaukee if he would do something similar, whether that’s a one-year deal north of Rockies closer Wade Davis’ record-setting $17.3 million average annual value, or a creative multiyear contract, perhaps one that is backloaded to accommodate a Brewers team already entering the season with its biggest payroll ever at north or $120 million.

“I mean, it’s exciting and it’s encouraging for everybody in the locker room when you see your team associated with the best players available,” said Ryan Braun, who has two guaranteed years left on his own contract and is eager to play in a World Series. “It’s something that can lift the spirits of the entire room. You guys have been there, you’ve seen the response at the Trade Deadline. But the offseason, it’s the same thing. When you add really good players and you’re in the mix for the best players available, it’s exciting and it’s encouraging.”

Said Moustakas: “As a teammate, I would be very excited to have him on the team. Whatever team he goes to, he makes them instantly better. On the other side [as a former free agent], I don’t know. All I can say is selfishly, I want him on this team. With Hader, Knebel, JJ, the rest of our bullpen, it would make it a race to the sixth inning.”

Does Braun think it’s going to happen?

“I don’t know. I’m not here to speculate,” Braun said. “That’s your job, man. You guys can have fun with that.”

He added, “I have no idea how close it is or isn’t. But obviously, for all of us as players, it’s exciting that we’re even in the mix. It’s exciting that our team is involved on almost all the big name guys out there. It’s a good place to be.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.