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.
Red Sox still waiting on Kimbrel?
Jan. 16: Spring Training gets underway in less than a month, and the World Series champion Red Sox still don't have a definite closer. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel -- who has held that role with Boston the past three seasons -- also remains available in free agency. Is this lining up to be a reunion after all?
"The closer situation is the big [area of need for the Red Sox]," Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe said in an appearance on MLB Network's High Heat. "I think they're kind of waiting out Craig Kimbrel. If he doesn't get any great offers from anybody, then I think he's going to be back. He'll probably have to take much less than the five or six years he was seeking.
"Although, the Phillies are out there and they've got all this money," Cafardo continued, "and I know they're interested in him."
The Red Sox have indicated all along that they don't anticipate a large expenditure to cover the closer role. While initial reports speculated Kimbrel was asking for something in the range of $80 million to $100 million over five or six years, that is looking less and less likely, which means a return to the Red Sox is at least becoming more of a possibility -- depending on the terms and how desperate either side gets. If Boston doesn't bring Kimbrel back, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are expected to be in the mix to handle the ninth inning.
The Phillies, as Cafardo noted, are one club that is something of a wild card for Kimbrel, as they have plenty of money to spend and could add him to further bolster a bullpen that now includes David Robertson. Philadelphia's ongoing pursuits of superstar free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado appear to be higher on the priority list at the moment, but once they play out, it's possible the Phillies could turn their attention to Kimbrel.
Phils have 'visions' of signing Kimbrel -- along with two other star FAs
Jan. 15: Craig Kimbrel may have to wait out the dominoes of the Hot Stove season, as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain on the market. However, if the Phillies have their way, Craig Kimbrel could be part of what would be a huge haul this offseason.
According to a report on Tuesday from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Phils have their eyes on signing not only Harper, arguably the top position player, but also left-hander Dallas Keuchel -- the market's top remaining starter -- and Kimbrel, the top free-agent closer. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman echoed Nightengale's assertion.
Add Philly's acquisitions of Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura, and signing those three would assuredly propel the club into the conversation to become favorites in the National League East.
Philly has been linked to Kimbrel all offseason, but the club has had its sights more squarely set on the top two available players: Harper and Machado. Many in baseball circles even suggest that the Phils' offseason will be a disappointment if they do not land one or the other. Others have suggested that they could sign both, though Matt Gelb of The Athletic (subscription required) reported earlier on Tuesday that doing so would be unlikely.
Nightengale reported earlier this week that many front office officials believe that should Philly sign Harper or Machado, they will still go after some of the other top talent available.
The Phillies surprised many early in the 2018 season by competing for the top spot in the NL East. But they faded rapidly toward the end of the season, falling to third place with a record of 80-82. With promising young prospects soon to reach the big leagues, the club is apparently looking to bolster the club with superstar power and, per Nightengale, potentially a former American League Cy Young Award winner to slot in behind right-hander Aaron Nola, and/or one of the premier closers in the game.
Could Kimbrel sign 1-year deal with Red Sox?
Jan. 11: The top-tier free-agent relief options are dwindling. The Red Sox have a clear need at the back of their bullpen as they prepare to start their title defense. So in theory, re-signing their closer makes perfect sense. And yet, a reunion with Craig Kimbrel might not be in the cards.
Here's a choice comment from president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, in a recent interview with USA Today's Bob Nightengale: "Craig did a great job for us, he's a Hall of Fame reliever, but we have not anticipated having a large expenditure for a closer."
Dombrowski said something similar earlier this offseason, and his latest comments make it seem like Kimbrel would have to significantly lower his asking price to have any chance of going back to Boston.
It's not out of the question, of course. Yasmani Grandal just accepted a one-year deal for $18.25 million deal with the Brewers after reportedly turning down a four-year contract offer from the Mets worth more than $50 million.
MLB.com's Mark Feinsand predicts Kimbrel will take a similar route, accepting a one-year contract from the Red Sox in the $18 million range and returning to the free-agent market again next offseason, when the relief options won't be nearly as strong.
"This year, you had those alternatives, the Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Zach Britton types," Feinsand said Friday on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" program. "Next year, you look at the relief market, Dellin Betances is the big guy out there, that's really it."
Video: Feinsand predicts Kimbrel with pitch for Red Sox
Is Kimbrel's desire to close actually limiting his market?
Jan. 9: When the offseason opened, Craig Kimbrel was the No. 1 name among free-agent relievers by a large margin. That's even more true at this stage, which isn't necessarily great for his market. So many clubs already have inked late-inning help that they either no longer have the need or the money to target Kimbrel, who may be running out of teams that fit when factoring in the contract he's been seeking.
"If you believe what he wanted -- six years, and he wanted $100 million," MLB Network analyst and former big league reliever Dan Plesac said on MLB Now in reference to Kimbrel's reported asking price at the outset of the offseason, "I don't think ... he's going to come close to that -- either the $100 million or the six years. Three years, maybe four years? I think there would be a few teams in [at that range]. But right now, all the doors that were open ... they're closing, one by one. There aren't that many options left for him right now, with the exception of maybe the Red Sox or going back to the Braves."
While those teams could be possible matches for Kimbrel -- they certainly need relief help -- both Boston and Atlanta have indicated they're unwilling to spend big on a closer, particularly on a long-term deal.
Another factor impacting Kimbrel, oddly, may be his strict preference to pitch the ninth inning, as the MLB Now crew discussed. On one hand, Kimbrel's proven ability as a closer makes him a major commodity. On the other hand, though, teams have been favoring relievers who are more open to roles that call for them to be used in all sorts of high-leverage situations rather than, say, only in the final frame of a game.
"Kimbrel likes the ninth," host Brian Kenny said. "Certain guys you can float [around and use in various innings] ... Andrew Miller famously said, 'I'll pitch any [inning].' Kimbrel does like the ninth inning, which might limit some of those options."
One reason to pay up for Kimbrel is ...
Jan. 8: A number of quality, late-inning arms continue to sign deals in what has been a robust reliever market. As the supply dwindles, though, attention turns more and more to Craig Kimbrel, who has been the biggest name in this field since the offseason began -- and yet remains unsigned.
Much of the conversation around the 30-year old with the unsurpassed resume -- including being a seven-time All-Star with a career 1.91 ERA, an 0.92 WHIP and a 14.7 K/9 rate -- has centered on a lofty asking price that has Kimbrel possibly seeking a record contract for a reliever.
But there's also the inarguable fact that Kimbrel has been and continues to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the entire sport, something made abundandtly clear in MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince's rundown of the nastiest pitches, as voted on by big leaguers. Kimbrel's devastating knuckle-curve registered seven votes, making it the fourth nastiest specific pitch thrown by any hurler in baseball.
"Closers typically wow us with their fastball, and Kimbrel has definitely delivered there in his great career (his fastball did get one vote)," Castrovince writes. "But it's this beastly breaking ball with devastating downward movement and 90-mph velocity that has made this current free agent such a consistent late-inning force. He got whiffs on 55.6 percent of his curves in 2018, limiting opponents to five hits in 61 at-bats (.082) that ended on it, per Statcast™."
Video: Craig Kimbrel's nasty curveball fools hitters
"That [pitch] combined with the fastball is a deadly combo," Cubs veteran Ben Zobrist said.
Makes you wonder: What might that be worth to teams that are looking for a big-time bullpen arm and have the funds to spend on a major upgrade?
Red Sox-Yankees rivalry heats up over Kimbrel and Ottavino
Jan. 6: The Yankees lost one potential bullpen target when David Robertson signed with the Phillies this week, but a source has told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that they have agreed to a deal that will reunite them with left-hander Zach Britton. How might this move impact the best two relievers remaining on the market, Craig Kimbrel and Adam Ottavino?
It looks like Ottavino could be the next big-name reliever to find a new home, according to SNY's Andy Martino, who points out that the Yankees remain very interested -- to the extent that they're more focused on Ottavino than Manny Machado at the moment.
MLB.com's Richard Justice writes that as great as both the Red Sox (108 wins) and the Yankees (100 wins) were last season, we should prepare for even more excitement in the rivalry for 2019, given how the offseason is shaking out. Justice notes that Kimbrel is now an even more obvious fit with the Red Sox, and that bringing him back to Boston should be a pretty straightforward proposition given what New York is doing.
"All of a sudden, a six-year deal for free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel doesn't seem so outrageous, does it?" writes Justice. "That's especially true when you've just watched the Yankees construct baseball's best bullpen with a deal to bring back left-hander Zach Britton. ... Wait, what's that? Yankees general manager Brian Cashman may sign Ottavino as well? Reports indicate that's a possibility.
" ... And the Yanks would gain even more if Cashman wins the Machado sweepstakes. To add him to a lineup that hit 40 more home runs than any other AL club last season could set up one of the great division races we've ever had. He'd be nice leverage for Kimbrel in his talks with the Red Sox."
Kimbrel is reportedly looking for a deal in the neighborhood of five or six years; a six-year pact would be a record for a relief pitcher. He's among the elite closers in baseball, having posted a 1.91 career ERA with 333 saves, most among active relievers.
Get ready, because the AL East promises to be one of the most exciting divisions in baseball next season.
Biggest question in reliever market is ...
Jan. 6: Plenty of top free-agent relievers already have landed deals this offseason, but the top free-agent reliever still has to find a home -- and the possible suitors seem to be drying up.
"The biggest question in the relief market remains this," MLB.com's Mark Feinsand writes in a look at the impact of Zach Britton's deal to return to the Yankees, "What will happen with Craig Kimbrel?"
A number of teams that looked like good fits -- both in terms of roster need and financial resources -- at the outset of the offseason no longer appear to be likely destinations for Kimbrel. The Cardinals, for one, added lefty relief ace Andrew Miller, while the Mets brought back Jeurys Familia and the Phillies just signed righty David Robertson. While the Yankees weren't necessarily linked to Kimbrel, their three-year agreement with Britton all but takes them out of the running, if they ever were in it at all.
"According to sources, Boston has been monitoring Kimbrel's market all offseason, hoping it would fall to the point where the Sox could bring the closer back at a price more palatable to [Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave] Dombrowski," Feinsand writes. "Britton's signing makes that possibility more realistic, as Adam Ottavino heads a late-inning relief list that includes Kelvin Herrera, Cody Allen, Bud Norris, Brad Brach and Justin Wilson."
So with a handful of solid alternatives still available and the number of teams willing to spend big on a late-inning arm dwindling, it's starting to look like Kimbrel may have to settle for far less than the $80 million to $100 million deal over five or six years he was hoping for initially.