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.
Why Red Sox should consider re-signing Kimbrel
Nov. 15: While a number of key contributors from the Red Sox's historic 2018 season are now free agents, The Athletic's Jim Bowden thinks (subscription required) it's imperative that the club re-sign one of them, in particular, and that's closer Craig Kimbrel.
In terms of average annual value (AAV), Kimbrel is projected to land a deal similar to those signed by Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), Mark Melancon (four years, $62 million), Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) in recent offseasons.
Boston had baseball's highest payroll this past season, but it might be hesitant to give Kimbrel such a large deal. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Xander Bogaerts are set to hit free agency next offseason, and Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. the year after. The Red Sox likely can't keep all of them, even if they don't re-sign Kimbrel.
But Bowden writes that Boston should look to keep as much of the 2018 team together as possible to make another run at a World Series title in '19, and argues that Kimbrel can't be easily replaced, as one of the few elite closers in the game.
MLB Network Radio predicts Kimbrel will sign with Braves
Nov. 14: Given their ninth-inning needs, their return to relevancy in 2018, their widening budget and their longstanding relationship with Craig Kimbrel as the club that drafted him twice, many have forecasted that a reunion with the seven-time All-Star could be in the cards this offseason. In a poll among its experts, MLB Network Radio predicted on Wednesday that Kimbrel will land in Atlanta.
Of the 12 analysts polled, four selected the Braves, while three each selected the Phillies and Red Sox.
For MLB Network Radio's poll, Steve Phillips predicted that Kimbrel would sign a deal for four years and $72 million, which is in the range many have forecasted. MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes predicted a four-year, $70 million pact for the right-hander earlier this offseason. And MLB.com's Mark Feinsand wrote recently that Kimbrel could land a deal in the neighborhood of those signed by Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, who earned $80 million and $86 million over five years, respectively.
The Braves have made it no secret that they intend to increase payroll, but they have tempered the speculations that they are in the market for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado -- both of whom would be strong positional fits currently but are speculated to each sign deals potentially in excess of $300 million.
While the Braves' bullpen made strides last year, it still ranked middle of the pack in most metrics and showed vulnerability in the ninth inning with Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter. Kimbrel, whose 186 saves with the Braves are the most in franchise history, could serve as an established presence to close out wins for Atlanta's blossoming starting staff.
Video: Must C Closer: Kimbrel becomes Braves' saves leader
Could baggage of declining QO hurt Kimbrel?
Nov. 13: In a free-agent class that has a breadth of relievers, Kimbrel is the only one who has qualifying offer baggage attached to him after turning down the Red Sox's $17.9 million, one-year deal on Monday.
While the Draft pick and international bonus pool money compensations could affect Kimbrel's market, he is still arguably the top reliever available, as MLB.com's Mark Feinsand writes. And the qualifying offer compensations for teams that sign players who reject them aren't nearly as taxing as they once were.
"Kimbrel is the lone free-agent reliever with compensation attached to him, though he also possesses the lengthiest track record as an All-Star closer, so he shouldn't have a problem landing a multiyear deal in the Kenley Jansen/Aroldis Chapman range." Jansen and Chapman signed five-year deals for $80 million and $86 million, respectively, after the 2016 season.
• Here's how QO decisions will affect FA market
Video: MLB Tonight on Kimbrel, Grandal's qualifying offers
But what could affect Kimbrel's market the most is the army of available relief arms, as the Boston Globe's Alex Speier writes. The market also includes Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino and Kelvin Herrera, leaving plenty of late-inning options, many of whom will likely be signed at a lower rate than Kimbrel, who has a pedigree as a seven-time All-Star, including each of his three seasons in Boston.
"In sum: Would the Red Sox be happy to have Kimbrel back? Sure. The fact that they made him a qualifying offer suggests as much. But in a free agent class that is deep in options, they have plenty of potential directions to turn while trying to strike the right balance of resources for 2019 and beyond."
Kimbrel or Ottavino -- who's your pick?
Nov. 13: Thanks to his elite track record of 333 saves in eight-plus seasons as a closer, Kimbrel is going to get paid very handsomely this offseason, with Aroldis Chapman's five-year, $86 million contract and Kenley Jansen's five-year, $80 million deal serving as high-end benchmarks for what Kimbrel, MLB's active saves leader, might expect.
But is Kimbrel the free-agent reliever that will provide the most value to his team moving forward? Michael Clair of MLB.com's Cut4 doesn't think so. Instead, he argues that suitors for Kimbrel should be clamoring for the services of Adam Ottavino.
It might sound crazy given Kimbrel's history, but Clair considers it to be just that: history. To make his case, Clair points to some peripherals that suggest that Kimbrel, now entering his 30s, might be in for a regression. Not only did the hard-throwing righty's walk and homer rate rise in 2018, but his FIP also rose to a career-high 3.13 and he lost over a mile per hour on his fastball from '17.
On the other hand, Ottavino is trending up, having worked hard after an abysmal 2017 season to revamp his approach and arsenal, emerging on the other side with a career-best ERA (2.43) and strikeout rate (13 K/9) in '18, a season that rivaled that of Kimbrel -- despite Ottavino playing his home games at Coors Field. (For the record, Ottavino actually pitched better in Denver, with opposing batters registering a .418 OPS against him at Coors.)
Now, as both of these pitchers know, one-season blips happen, and Kimbrel is both more proven and 2 1/2 years younger than Ottavino. Kimbrel took a step back in 2016 but rebounded with arguably the best season of his career in '17. Ottavino is only one year removed from a disastrous 5.06 ERA and 6.6 BB/9 walk rate.
But as a non-closer, Ottavino is more accustomed to being flexible in relief and pitching longer outings when needed, which is more in line with the modern trend of bullpen usage. And given that Kimbrel's price and contract length will likely be driven up by aggressive bidding, Ottavino could still provide better value without requiring as steep of a commitment.
Kimbrel rejects qualifying offer
Nov. 12: Craig Kimbrel, as expected, has rejected the Red Sox's one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer. He instead remains a free agent, and as the best reliever on the market, has been projected to command a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million-$70 million over four years. In addition, any club that signs the right-hander will have to send a selection after the fourth round of next year's MLB Draft to Boston.
Braves unlikely to bid on Kimbrel?
Nov. 10: Although pitching-staff usage continues to change, and fans just witnessed another postseason in which traditional starting pitchers were effectively utilized out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations, the era of the designated closer doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
NBC Sports' Evan Drellich asked a handful of top executives their views on the closer's role, and most were in favor of having a specific pitcher handle the ninth inning, at least during the regular season, which is good news for free-agent righty Craig Kimbrel.
"We'd like to have somebody pitch the ninth inning," Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. "I don't know what your idea of traditional is, but, we do like somebody to close the game...That designated guy."
While Kimbrel is expected to reject the one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer he received from the defending World Series champions, Boston could look to bring him back on a multi-year deal.
However, based on general manager Alex Anthopoulos' comments, the Braves -- a club that has been mentioned as a favorite for Kimbrel -- may not be as interested in the righty as many assumed they would be.
"What I basically said about pursuing high level, expensive relievers with term and significant AAVs: I don't know that makes a lot of sense for us to allocate the dollars available to that position," Anthopoulos said. "Doesn't mean that there won't be a day that we do it. Or if the value lines up -- right now for this current offseason, we haven't, we don't plan to go spend significant dollars and significant years on a reliever. And that doesn't take anything away from the great relievers that are out there. I just think we have other areas we need to address."