Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

The latest Kimbrel free-agent rumors

MLB.com

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, and he should be a coveted asset on the free-agent market this offseason.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the right-hander.

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, and he should be a coveted asset on the free-agent market this offseason.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the right-hander.

Could Kimbrel wind up back with Boston after all? 
Dec. 17: Is there a chance Craig Kimbrel could return to the Red Sox? After signing righty Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million contract, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he doesn't expect to make a "big expenditure" to fill the closer's role, according to MLB.com's Ian Browne. So that would seem to rule out Kimbrel, who served as Boston's stopper the past three seasons, culminating in the 2018 World Series title ... right?

Nevertheless, ESPN's Buster Olney lays out the reasons (subscription required) why Kimbrel could find his way back to Boston, including a strong buyer's market for teams seeking relievers, the Red Sox's need for bullpen help and an apparent lack of widespread interest in Kimbrel -- partly because of his lofty asking price (a reported six-year, nine-figure deal), and partly because a number of contending clubs already have an established closer in place.

In fact, Olney draws a comparison to last offseason, when the Red Sox seemed like the best fit for slugger J.D. Martinez all along, then simply waited out the market and wound up getting him at a price that fit their terms.

"There is also this: Kimbrel knows Boston," Olney writes. "He knows the Red Sox staff. Dombrowski traded for him, manager Alex Cora trusted him implicitly, all the way the through the October shakiness. Kimbrel has history with the Red Sox that may continue, especially if the demand for his services doesn't turn out to be as widespread as his agent might have hoped."

Would Phillies splurge on Kimbrel? 
Dec. 14: The Phillies have money to spend. We know this. Heck, their owner himself even said they might be a little "stupid" about it. That has led to most people in and around the baseball world expecting said money to go toward a pursuit of Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. But could those funds make the Phillies a match for someone else instead?

Like, say, Craig Kimbrel?

In an all-encompassing look at where the market stands after the Winter Meetings, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand lists the Phillies as his "potential fit" for Kimbrel.

"The star closer is reportedly seeking a six-year deal worth more than $100 million, which would blow away the previous record of five years and $86 million signed by Aroldis Chapman  two years ago," Feinsand writes. "Several executives cast doubt that Kimbrel will be able to score that type of contract, though he could get five years and upwards of $75 million. The Red Sox have been viewed as having moved on from their closer, but they remain a potential landing spot along with the Braves, Phillies and Cardinals."

Given Kimbrel's unprecendented asking price and the Phillies' financial resources -- not to mention, their need for a proven veteran presence to solidify the back end of a promising but very young bullpen -- maybe the two sides make sense as a match. Plus, with all the money the Phillies could spend this winter, it's not as if approaching nine figures for one of the sport's best closers would preclude them from still signing Harper or Machado.

Relief market starting to move without Kimbrel
Dec. 13: It took until the wee hours of the final night of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, but it looks like the market for relief pitchers has started to move -- finally.

Jeurys Familia has agreed to a three-year deal to return to the Mets, who traded him to the A's last July, and fellow righty Joe Kelly has departed Boston for his own three-year pact with the Dodgers.

Plenty of big-name, late-inning options remain on the open market, including Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, Cody Allen and Joakim Soria, each of whom has generated some buzz for being linked to a number of teams. The biggest name of them all, however, is Craig Kimbrel, who so far has made news not so much for being connected to clubs but primarily for an exorbitant asking price.

The 30-year-old closer reportedly is seeking not only a six-year deal but also one worth nine figures -- both of which would be unprecedented for a relief pitcher.

There had been some speculation that Kimbrel could hold up other relievers on the open market while he waits to land the highest offer, but with the Mets and Dodgers jumping out from the pack to scoop up Familia and Kelly, respectively, on three-year contracts, it might only be a matter of time before other teams -- and other relievers -- start using those deals as a baseline for finding matches. If that happens, the demand for back-of-the-bullpen help could dry up, leaving Kimbrel facing a tricky market.

Tweet from @MLBNetwork: While you may have been sleeping... two relievers reportedly came off the market. #MLBNHotStove #Winter MeetingsJeurys Familia returns to the @Mets. Joe Kelly signs with the @Dodgers. pic.twitter.com/jnf5aJajuq

Kimbrel reportedly seeking record nine-figure deal
Dec. 12: Craig Kimbrel's agent, David Meter, has touted his client's resume as being comparable to those of the all-time great closers, and the right-hander could be seeking a record-breaking deal for a relief pitcher.

Jayson Stark of The Athletic reported Wednesday night that he's heard from executives from two clubs that Kimbrel is shooting for a contract valued at more than $100 million for six years. That would exceed the five-year, $86 million contract Aroldis Chapman signed with the Yankees after the 2016 -- the record for a reliever. The Rockies' Wade Davis owns the record for average annual value at $17.3 million, but over three years.

Tweet from @jaysonst: I've heard execs from 2 teams say this week that Craig Kimbrel is looking for a deal north of $100 million for 6 years. He's one of the greatest closers of all time. But is there a record deal out there for him? Hard to say in a bullpen market that has barely moved.

It's unclear if any club would be willing to approach a nine-figurer number, and Stark points out the relief market is difficult to evaluate with minimal activity at the position to date. 

MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi suggested Tuesday a more plausible result is Kimbrel inking a four-year deal exceeding Davis' annual value. Also factoring into Kimbrel's value? He will cost the team that signs him a Draft pick after he declined the Red Sox's qualifying offer.

Kimbrel signing with Phils would align with club's offseason agenda
Dec. 11: The Phillies continued what many anticipate will remain an active offseason on Tuesday by signing veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen to three-year, $50 million deal, MLB.com has learned. Could Kimbrel be the club's next prized acquisition? MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi speculated so as one of five major moves that could come before the Winter Meetings conclude this week in Las Vegas.

Morosi writes that the "McCutchen contract is only the start of the Phillies' offseason spending." The club has long been linked to both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but one of their most prominent needs is for a high-leverage reliever. Phillies relievers last year were worth 4.1 WAR, per FanGraphs, and posted a 4.19 ERA, which ranked 11th and 18th, respectively.

Morosi argues that Kimbrel has the best adjusted ERA of any pitcher in baseball over the last decade among those who've compiled at least 400 innings.

"Perhaps that is the rationale for Kimbrel's reported request of a six-year deal. A more plausible outcome is a four-year contract that surpasses Wade Davis' $17.3 million average annual value, a record among closers," Morosi writes.

The Phils also remain "very aggressive" on All-Star reliever Zach Britton, per MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

Red Sox GM doesn't anticipate 'big expenditure' at closer
Dec. 10: The Red Sox would like to have free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel back, but given the right-hander's contract demands -- he's reportedly seeking a six-year deal -- the club is exploring other options.

GM Dave Dombrowski said he doesn't anticipate a "big expenditure" for the closer's role, according to MLB.com's Ian Browne, who took that further by saying it "would be a miracle" if Kimbrel came back.

Tweet from @IanMBrowne: Dave Dombrowski doesn't anticipate the @RedSox making a big expenditure for the closer's role next year. Cites payroll already being high. Reading between the lines, it would be a miracle for Craig Kimbrel to return to Boston.

Part of that is because Boston has to worry about next offseason when Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Xander Bogaerts can become free agents, and 2020, when Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are set to hit the open market. Bringing back Kimbrel could make it tough to re-sign some of those other players.

So who could the Red Sox target for the back of their bullpen? David Robertson and Adam Ottavino are believed to be high on Boston's wish list, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Robertson and Ottavino are believed high on Red Sox list of back-end relief targets. Of course they���d like to have Kimbrel and Kelly back but they are free agents too. Deep pen market also includes Britton, Miller, Familia, more.

Joe Kelly is also a free agent, which could leave the Red Sox's relief corps without two key contributors from the club's championship run. Much like Nathan Eovaldi, Kelly bolstered his free-agent stock with a strong postseason, recording a 0.79 ERA with 13 strikeouts and only one walk over 11 1/3 innings. Kimbrel had his share of struggles during the playoffs, but he's been one of the top closers in the game for eight years and is poised to cash in this offseason, even if he doesn't get six years.

Video: Dombrowski on possibility of re-signing Kimbrel

Robertson and Ottavino, on the other hand, will cost less than Kimbrel, and Boston could comfortably insert either one into the closer's role in 2019. That said, the Red Sox will have fierce competition for both pitchers, with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reporting that at least a half-dozen teams are showing interest in Robertson, including the rival Yankees -- with whom Robertson has spent the majority of his career. Per Feinsand, the Yanks are also believed to be interested in Ottavino, a New York native.

Boston is also competing with multiple teams for Kelly's services, including the Dodgers, Mets and White Sox, as Rob Bradford of weei.com reported Monday.

What to expect of Kimbrel's future
Dec. 7: Kimbrel is said to be seeking a long-term deal for as many as six years this offseason, but at age 30 and coming off a postseason in which he struggled, teams may be reluctant to commit that many years to the veteran closer.

MLB.com's Andrew Simon looked to the past performance of similar players to try to predict what the next six years may look like for Kimbrel, whose 333 career saves rank first all-time for a pitcher through his age-30 season.

The piece narrowed the comparison down to a dozen pitchers who had at least 150 saves and a 130 ERA+ through age 30. Attrition began for most of the pitchers at age 32, where the average ERA jumped from 2.40 to 3.13 for the group, and by age 35, several of the pitchers were out of baseball or barely pitching.

Despite that, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner provide an excellent blueprint as each remained a top closer through age 36, and at least half the group contributed four or more strong seasons.

"Kimbrel has been better at his job through age 30 than anyone, but that doesn't make him immune from the ever-present threat of injuries that could knock him out of action and erode the quality of his stuff," Simon writes. "Still, history suggests that the club that signs him this winter would have reason to hope for a solid return on investment, if health allows." More >

Why Kimbrel's market may take time to develop
Dec. 4: There are three key factors at play when it comes to Craig Kimbrel's free agency. One: He's the most accomplished and established reliever on the open market. Two: Despite being tied to Draft-pick compensation after declining the Red Sox's qualifying offer, he's reportedly seeking a whopping six-year contract. And three: There are a number of other late-inning arms for teams seeking bullpen help to consider.

Add it all up, and how does that affect Kimbrel? ESPN's Buster Olney looks at how the relief market could play out (subscription required): "The sheer volume of options could work against Kimbrel, so it may take some time for his situation to play out -- and the other prime relievers might have to wait for Kimbrel to set the top of the market," Olney writes. "It's possible that some clubs will work to move on and land the best of those relievers not named Kimbrel."

Among the other top names are Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Adam OttavinoJoakim Soria and Cody Allen. To name just a handful or so.

Given those options, the question with Kimbrel becomes whether he will sign earlier than most relievers to help set the top end of the market ... or have to wait for a number of the aforementioned arms to get their deals first in order to see the supply dip and the demand spike. Considering Kimbrel's lofty asking price, the latter would seem more likely.

Will Kimbrel's desire for six-year deal hinder his market?
Dec. 2: Based on the contracts teams have given elite closers over the past few years, Craig Kimbrel is poised to cash in this offseason. But the deal he's reportedly seeking would put him in unprecedented territory. According to ESPN's Buster Olney, Kimbrel's initial ask is for a six-year contract.

Tweet from @Buster_ESPN: Teams being told that in initial ask, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel is looking for a six-year deal.

Even if he has to take a lower average annual value in exchange for a longer contract, a six-year pact still likely would make him the highest paid reliever in MLB history. Aroldis Chapman holds that distinction, having signed a five-year, $86 million contract with the Yankees after the 2016 season. Kenley Jansen isn't far behind, as he landed a five-year, $80 million deal from the Dodgers during the same offseason. Wade Davis holds the reliever record for average annual value at $17.3 million, though his deal with the Rockies is for only three years.

Jeff Joyce of MLB Network Radio doesn't think any team will be willing to meet Kimbrel's demands, or even come close.

"I don't even think he's gonna get a five-year deal like Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman got a couple of years ago," Joyce said. "Maybe a four-year deal. … I personally am not giving him a four-year deal for $60 [million] or $70 million, and I don't know who out there would, when you look at it, and especially when you've got guys like [Adam] Ottavino and [Zach] Britton and [Andrew] Miller and [Jeurys] Familia and [David] Robertson.

"I get it that Britton and Miller might not be what they were a couple of years ago, but I think teams would probably take chances on guys before giving [Kimbrel] this huge contract."

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Reports are that Craig Kimbrel wants a six-year deal. Jeff Joyce says no way he gets that many years. pic.twitter.com/iIsVFSvrby

In any case, Kimbrel's initial demands might make it unlikely he'll reunite with the Red Sox or the Braves. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports for Fancred Sports that, "The Red Sox want Kimbrel back but suggest they won't go five years for a reliever" -- let alone six. And while many consider Atlanta to be the favorite to sign Kimbrel, general mananger Alex Anthopoulos has made it clear the club may not have the financial resources to do so.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Alex Anthopoulos spoke of how Craig Kimbrel (a free agent) is rightly beloved in Atlanta, but he also cautioned that the #Braves may not have the budget to invest in a high-end closer. @MLBNetwork @MLB

Craig Kimbrel