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.
Sox not budging on closer stance
Feb. 13: Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has maintained throughout the offseason that Boston will not spend big on a closer. He isn't wavering on that as Spring Training begins -- throwing even more cold water on the possibility of a Kimbrel-Sox reunion in 2019.
Dombrowski said Wednesday, with Red Sox pitchers and catchers officially reporting for camp, that Boston's closer this season will likely be an "internal" option.
Dombrowski maintained that the Red Sox's "no big expenditure" stance regarding closers applies to both short- and long-term deals. If that's in fact the case, signing Kimbrel remains unlikely, despite Boston's need at the back of the bullpen and Kimbrel's free agency lasting into Spring Training.
Red Sox skipper Alex Cora followed up with confidence in the relievers he does have on the roster.
"With the people we have here ... we'll get our outs late in games, and we're going to be in good shape," said Cora, who named Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes as the two standouts from 2018 who will have big roles in '19. The manager, however, also mentioned Heath Hembree and Steven Wright as veterans who had strong stretches last year and will be counted on again.
Would Red Sox re-sign Kimbrel to stay ahead of rival Yankees?
Feb. 6: Pitchers and catchers start reporting for Spring Training in less than a week, 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 -- remains available in free agency. The pieces would seem to fit, right?
"We're not buying that the Red Sox are done with their bullpen," MLB.com's Richard Justice writes in proposing Boston brings back Kimbrel. "Specifically, that they're not going to sign Kimbrel. We take president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski at his word that the Red Sox aren't going to make a major expenditure for the back of the bullpen. But that could also mean the Red Sox are unwilling to give Kimbrel the six-year contract he may have thought he could get. At this point, everyone has to be reconsidering their strategy.
"Dombrowski waited out J.D. Martinez last offseason, and he appears to be doing the same thing with Kimbrel," Justice continues. "But there could be a bit of urgency for both sides. While Kimbrel hasn't found an offer he's comfortable with, the Red Sox have watched the Yankees construct one of the great bullpens ever. Can't you kids figure this thing out?"
Indeed, the Yankees look like a legitimate threat to Boston's hold on the AL East and have a huge advantage in the bullpen after re-signing Zach Britton and adding Adam Ottavino to their bevy of late-inning arms. But is that enough to spur the Red Sox to pay up for Kimbrel?
"Every one of [Boston's] relievers is better if they move one seat down the pecking order in order to make room for a stud," Eno Sarris of The Athletic writes in suggesting Boston should re-sign Kimbrel (subscription required). "And the Yankees have been hard at work, shaving the projected lead in the division down to a single win. The answer is glaringly obvious -- make your old guy your new guy, and also the highest-paid reliever in baseball."
The Red Sox have indicated all along, however, 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.
Braves, Cards both could be dark-horse suitors for Kimbrel
Feb. 1: Could the Braves be "lying in the weeds" for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel? MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports that "folks around the game suspect" that's the case, and that some other teams in the mix include the Phillies, Nationals, Red Sox, Twins and a "mystery" team.
Kimbrel, 30, reportedly initially had been looking for a six-year contract, which would be a record for a relief pitcher. He posted a 2.74 ERA with 42 saves for Red Sox in 2018. In nine Major League seasons, the right-hander owns a 1.91 ERA with 333 saves, the most of any active player.
"There were reports earlier this offseason about Kimbrel desiring a five- or six-year deal worth around $100 million," MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch writes on the possibility that the Cardinals could make a play for Kimbrel. "It's hard to see him getting that in this market. If his price comes down enough, sure, there's no reason why the Cards can't pounce. They have the payroll flexibility and the need."
Could that mean St. Louis is the "mystery team?" Possibly, although the club already has bolstered its bullpen with the addition of lefty Andrew Miller , who could serve as either a setup reliever or closer, with young flamethrower Jordan Hicks handling the other role. But after a disastrous 2018 by their relievers, the Cardinals may be open to the idea of bringing in Kimbrel, too, if the price is right.
A reunion with Boston certainly is possible, but president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has said on multiple occasions that the club will not be spending big on a closer this offseason. That means Kimbrel's price would need to come down for the World Series champion Red Sox to entertain bringing him back.
The Braves, meanwhile, are entering the 2019 season having won the NL East for only the second time since '05. They have added former American League MVP Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Brian McCann for his second stint with the club, while also re-signing veteran right fielder Nick Markakis earlier this month. But Atlanta still could use a solid, stable late-inning arm to fortify its bullpen as it embarks on defending its division title.
With the Nationals, Phillies and Mets all making moves to bolster their respective bullpens this offseason, the Braves may be looking to make sure they don't fall behind in that department.
Could Kimbrel's slow market make the Twins a player for him?
Jan. 28: The Twins acknowledge that they may not be in the most optimum window for contention, but that hasn't necessarily precluded the club from being aggressive this offseason -- and it's why signing Craig Kimbrel might not be out of the realm of possibility.
In a piece published on Monday for The Athletic (subscription required), Dan Hayes outlines that as Kimbrel's market remains cool, Minnesota might be inclined to take an aggressive look at the elite closer. However, Hayes caveats that the club would only be inclined to do so on a shorter-term deal with a higher average annual value compared to the five- to six-year deal that Kimbrel was reportedly seeking at the beginning of the offseason.
"With only weeks left before the start of Spring Training, plenty of payroll flexibility and an unofficial vacancy in the ninth inning, adding Kimbrel would add to what has been a solid offseason for the Twins," Hayes writes. "But while a deal makes plenty of sense for Minnesota, a number of factors would have to go their way."
Manager Rocco Baldelli said recently that he does not yet have an arm penciled in for the ninth inning, and the Twins' immediate success could rely heavily on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, who combined for minus-0.4 Wins Above Replacement last season, per FanGraphs. Hayes speculates that if Kimbrel were to take a shorter-term deal, he would likely be seeking an average annual value in the neighborhood of $20 million. That could be palatable for Minnesota.
"And while that could appeal to the Twins far more than a five-year deal, there's a belief that interest in Kimbrel would increase if he were willing to reduce the number of years he's seeking," Hayes writes.
There's also the possibility that the Twins stand pat with their bullpen. Taylor Rogers proved to be a dominant force over the final five months, posting a 1.56 ERA over his final 60 outings. Trevor May posted a 3.20 ERA over 25 1/3 innings, and Trevor Hildenberger was solid between May and June before showing a significant decline. There are internal options.