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Should this team make pre-Draft push for Kimbrel?

May 15, 2019

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.

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.

Why aren’t the Phillies aggressively pursuing Kimbrel?

May 15: At this point, with the MLB Draft less than three weeks away, it is widely assumed teams will wait to sign Kimbrel and fellow free agent Dallas Keuchel. Once the Draft passes, clubs will no longer need to forfeit a pick and the accompanying signing bonus pool money, per the qualifying offer rules.

But the Draft pick forfeiture doesn’t seem like it should be a major impediment for some teams, including the Phillies, as MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal pointed out Tuesday in an article for The Athletic (subscription required).

A team that neither exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season nor receives revenue sharing must forfeit its second-highest selection if it signs a player who rejected a qualifying offer. The Phillies fall into this category. But the club already surrendered its second-highest pick to sign Bryce Harper, which means it would need to give up its third-highest selection -- No. 91 overall, plus the accompanying $647,300 in bonus pool money -- to add Kimbrel before the Draft passes.

The Braves, on the other hand, would need to forfeit the 60th overall pick plus $1.157 million in accompanying pool money to sign Kimbrel before the Draft. Because the Braves are operating under international market restrictions until 2021 after an MLB investigation found the organization violated international signing rules, that bonus pool money takes on additional value for the team.

Although the Mets, Braves and Nationals have underwhelmed, the National League East has the potential to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball the rest of the way, and Kimbrel could be a difference-maker. The first-place Phillies entered Wednesday with a 3 1/2-game lead, but they currently have four relievers -- David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano -- on the injured list.

Kimbrel may not necessarily be ready to pitch until June after such a long layoff, but signing him now would allow Philadelphia to avoid a potential post-Draft bidding war, which could include Atlanta and possibly Washington. It’s fair to wonder if that is more valuable to the Phillies than the No. 91 overall Draft pick and the money associated with the slot.

Rays staying in contact with Kimbrel

May 12: Despite already having one of the league's top bullpens, the Rays are among the teams "keeping in touch" with Kimbrel, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays entered Sunday with a 3.21 bullpen ERA this season, which ranked third in the Majors behind only the Astros (2.91) and Indians (3.15). It's also worth noting that the Rays, who often use a reliever to start a game with the opener strategy, have a Major League-leading 2.85 ERA overall.

Kimbrel spent the past three years pitching in the American League East with the Red Sox, putting up a 2.44 ERA and averaging 36 saves per season.

These teams arguably need Kimbrel the most

May 11: While teams seem content to wait for the MLB Draft to pass from June 3-5 before aggressively pursuing Kimbrel, the closer’s market could pick up quickly once that happens, as clubs will no longer need to forfeit a pick to sign him, per the qualifying offer rules.

Here are some of the contenders that need bullpen help and could strongly consider Kimbrel next month.

Cubs: Brandon Morrow has no timetable to return after a recent setback in his recovery from elbow surgery, and replacement closer Pedro Strop is on the injured list as well due to a left hamstring strain. The team is relying on Steve Cishek, Brad Brach and Brandon Kintzler to close games right now.

Braves: Arodys Vizcaino is out for the season following shoulder surgery, and A.J. Minter was optioned to Triple-A on Friday due to his early struggles. Luke Jackson has done a good job recently as Atlanta’s new closer, but the club’s bullpen is thin beyond that.

Nationals: No team in the Majors has a higher bullpen ERA than Washington’s 6.24 mark, even with closer Sean Doolittle (1.06 ERA) and top setup man Kyle Barraclough (1.26 ERA) excelling. The Nats’ ‘pen problems have contributed to a disappointing 15-23 record so far.

Phillies: Philadelphia’s relief corps hasn’t been a glaring weakness, but the team isn’t exactly rich with reliable options. Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano and free-agent addition David Robertson are all sidelined, and Seranthony Dominguez has an ERA over 5.00.

Twins: The team did well to land Blake Parker on a one-year, $1.8 million contract in the offseason, as the righty has recorded six saves with a 1.54 ERA. Taylor Rogers, Ryne Harper and Trevor May are also thriving, and Trevor Hildenberger has a stellar 2.35 FIP behind his 4.63 ERA. Still, the American League Central is there for the taking, and Kimbrel could help Minnesota remain in the driver’s seat.

Angels: Offseason addition Cody Allen was expected to be the closer, but he was removed from the role and now has a 4.96 ERA since the start of last season. An unheralded group of Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Luis Garcia, Cam Bedrosian, Noe Ramirez, Justin Anderson and Luke Bard has performed well, but this team needs a lock-down option in the ninth inning.

Jansen would welcome Kimbrel to Dodgers' bullpen, but not as a closer

May 9: The struggles of free-agent addition Joe Kelly (9.42 ERA) haven't turned out to be a major problem for the Dodgers yet. Pedro Baez, Dylan Floro and Scott Alexander have picked up the slack, and the team is able to use Ross Stripling and Julio Urias out of the bullpen with all of its starters currently healthy.

Still, for a club whose championship window is open now, it would make sense to take a look at Kimbrel, at least once June's MLB Draft passes and teams no longer need to surrender a pick to sign him.

While the Dodgers have an established closer in Kenley Jansen, the right-hander made it clear he would welcome Kimbrel to L.A., according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Why not?” Jansen said Wednesday. "We want to win a championship, right?"

That said, Jansen isn't about to give up the closing job to make way for Kimbrel.

“That’s what I get paid for,” Jansen said. “I get paid for closing ballgames. Why should I have to do anything different? That’s my question. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Granted, Jansen has struggled some himself this season, posting a 4.67 ERA and allowing four homers over 17 1/3 innings -- which continues a troubling trend from last season, when he recorded a 1.6 HR/9 mark. His average cutter velocity is 91.6 mph, down from 92.1 last season, 93.2 in 2017 and 93.9 in 2016.

If Jansen doesn't turn things around over the next month, the Dodgers could find themselves in a situation where they need to consider Kimbrel as an insurance policy for the ninth inning, regardless of how Jansen feels about it.

Kimbrel still seeking multi-year deal

April 30: Even though it's almost May and Kimbrel remains unsigned, the closer still wants a multi-year deal.

According to a report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday (subscription required), Kimbrel's desire is not to sign a one-year contract that would let him build up value for next offseason, when he could re-enter the free-agent market without interested teams facing the restrictions of a qualifying offer.

That separates Kimbrel from his fellow unsigned free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who is looking for that type of one-year value-building deal, per Rosenthal.

Anthopoulos: Braves still looking for bullpen help

April 28: 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.

The Braves’ relief corps ranks 23rd in MLB with a 4.74 ERA. After the club acquired veteran left-hander Jerry Blevins from the A’s on Sunday, general manager Alex Anthopoulos indicated that Atlanta may not be done adding. Could Kimbrel, who began his career with the Braves, be an option?

“I think that goes without saying,” Anthopoulos said when asked if the Braves are still looking for bullpen help. “Look, we need to improve. Obviously we’re not playing well overall. The good news is that no one in our division has really pulled away."

One major reason why the Braves have continued to shy away from a deal with Kimbrel is the Draft compensation attached to him. 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.

But once the MLB Draft passes, teams will no longer have to surrender a pick to sign Kimbrel, who rejected a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox in November. The first day of this year’s Draft is June 3, five weeks from now.

Kimbrel’s contract demands also have been considered a deterrent for Atlanta, but with the right-hander reportedly now open to a deal closer to what Zack Britton (three years, $39 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) received the past couple of years, his chances of reuniting with the Braves have improved.

Despite reportedly lowering demands, Kimbrel still searching for team

April 27: It looked as though the market for Kimbrel was about to pick up when a report emerged from MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal two weeks ago that the closer was open to a deal closer to what Zack Britton (three years, $39 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) received the past couple of years. Kimbrel reportedly began free agency seeking a six-year deal for $100-120 million.

But with Kimbrel still unsigned in the final week of April, it’s fair to wonder if interested teams will continue to wait out this situation, at least until the MLB Draft.

At that point, teams will no longer have to surrender a Draft pick to sign Kimbrel, who rejected a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox in November. The first day of this year’s Draft is June 3, just over five weeks from now.

Mets interested in Kimbrel -- on one condition

April 22: 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.

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.