How soon until Kimbrel joins the Cubs' bullpen?
Kimbrel is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Saturday in Chicago, but he will then head to the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz., to begin a "condensed Spring Training," as Epstein phrased it. Kimbrel will work through a series of bullpen sessions and live batting-practice workouts before being cleared for game action. Then, the closer will head to the Minor Leagues for a handful of games prior to joining the Cubs. Epstein did not announce a timeline, but expect the process to take between two to three weeks.
How can the Cubs send Kimbrel to the Minors if he's on an MLB contract?
The Cubs have the ability to option Kimbrel to Triple-A Iowa -- a step that took place on Friday. Chicago can avoid using the injured list under the circumstances.
How will the bullpen be aligned when Kimbrel joins the fold?
Expect to see Pedro Strop bumped into the primary eighth-inning role. That means that relievers Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Carl Edwards Jr. and Brad Brach would slide back to being the main options for the sixth and seventh. The extra layer of quality depth will allow manager Joe Maddon to better consider matchups, while also limiting the number of multi-inning outings for his relievers.
What is the breakdown of Kimbrel's contract?
Kimbrel will earn $10 million in 2019, followed by $16 million in both '20 and '21. There is a $16 million vesting or club option for '22. If it the option does not vest, Chicago can either pick up the option or pay a $1 million buyout. That makes the deal worth three years, $43 million guaranteed.
Wait, but I thought the Cubs had financial restrictions?
Chicago was given a budget to work with over the offseason, and Kimbrel did not fit within the payroll at that time. On May 8, the Cubs placed veteran Ben Zobrist on MLB's restricted list to tend to a family matter, and there is no clear sense of when or if the utility man will return this year. If Zobrist is out for the rest of the season, that frees up north of $9 million of his $12.5 million salary. That unexpected development, combined with a few contracts coming off the books in upcoming seasons, created some monetary wiggle room to help pull off this type of signing.
Does the Kimbrel signing signal that Zobrist is not coming back this year?
There is no clear answer to that question right now. Epstein said the signing and Zobrist's status "are not related in that manner," and the team's president of baseball operations emphasized that the door is still open for the 38-year-old utility man to rejoin the team at some point.
Were the Cubs engaged in talks with Kimbrel over the offseason?
Both Epstein and Kimbrel noted that the sides spoke over the offseason, but the variables in play at the time halted any kind of momentum. The dialogue picked up over the past weeks for a few reasons. First and foremost, the need for an impact late-inning arm remained. Beyond that, the Cubs not only had more payroll to work with, but the signing no longer came with Draft-pick compensation because the MLB Draft finished up on Wednesday.
Has Kimbrel been throwing for the past two months?
Kimbrel noted that he has been mostly working out at Montverde Academy outside Orlando, Fla. That is the high school of Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, who has donated a lot of money to his old school to help improve its baseball facilities. Kimbrel said he had a high school catcher helping him out with mound workouts. The pitcher also joked that he had to cut back on his lifting because he was starting to look like a football player.
What about Brandon Morrow? Will he rejoin the Cubs this year?
There's a big question mark on that situation, too. Epstein did note this week that Brandon Morrow, who had a setback in his right elbow rehab earlier this season, is back to throwing at a distance of 75-90 feet on flat ground. That said, there remains no timetable for Morrow's return. It's possible that he joins Chicago in the second half at some point, but the Cubs are viewing that scenario as more of a bonus than anything else right now.