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Should the Cubs sign Craig Kimbrel?

The top reliever is still a free agent, almost two weeks into the 2019 season.

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I’m writing this article thinking the answer is “No,” but let’s examine the pros and cons of the Cubs signing free-agent reliever Craig Kimbrel.

First, I’m not the only one thinking this. This article lists the Cubs as one of six teams that “need Kimbrel the most.” In this Ken Rosenthal article in The Athletic, he writes that Kimbrel could be a “difference-maker” (after first suggesting that the Cubs could be sellers later this year if they are out of contention near the deadline).

The Cubs bullpen has been mostly awful this year, although they are now on an 11-inning scoreless streak over the last two games. Even that still leaves them with a 6.92 ERA in 40⅓ relief innings in 2019, so you can imagine how bad things were before Sunday, and two Opening Day relievers have already been replaced.

When Kimbrel hit free agency after the 2018 season, his reported first salary demand was for six years and $100 million. That’s somewhat more than recent closer multi-year deals (Kenley Jansen, six years, $80 million before the 2017 season and Aroldis Chapman, five years, $86 million, also before the 2017 season). Kimbrel has been a lights-out closer for the last eight years, posting a career 1.91 ERA, 0.920 WHIP, 333 saves and 20.1 bWAR.

There were a few warning signs close to the end of last year for him, though. Over his last 21 regular-season appearances in 2018, Kimbrel posted a 4.79 ERA and 1.209 WHIP. He still wasn’t giving up many hits (10 in 20⅓ innings), but walked 15 in that stretch. Then he got hit pretty hard in the postseason, with a 5.91 ERA and eight walks in 10⅔ innings.

So could there be something wrong with him? Or was that just a bit of overuse in a very long season for the Red Sox?

The Cubs still don’t know when Brandon Morrow will return; there’s been no timetable set. Kimbrel could step in as closer and Morrow could shift back to the setup role he did so well for the 2017 Dodgers.

There is, of course, the issue of money. At this point, Kimbrel’s best course of action might be to sign a one-year deal and hit free agency again this offseason. And the Cubs have made it pretty clear that they intend to stay under the top level of luxury tax. Per Spotrac, their current luxury-tax figure is $225,454,250, a number with which I concur. That sits just below the second tax level of $226 million.

Presumably, that’s to allow some room for a “midseason acquisition.” We’re not quite at midseason, of course, but couldn’t Kimbrel be that sort of acquisition? His first asking figure was an average of $16.67 million; would the Cubs be able to get him for (say) around $13 million or $14 million, considering about eight percent of the season has gone by? That would put the Cubs over Luxury Tax Level 2, but keep them below the top level. It would, of course, not leave any room for anyone else to be acquired when the calendar does get to July.

If the Cubs do this, I would recommend they send Kimbrel to extended spring training, then to Iowa for a short time (they could do this by signing him to a minor-league deal which would become guaranteed when he hits the 25-man roster). The cautionary tale for this is Greg Holland, who the Cardinals rushed to their active roster only nine days after he signed in 2018. Holland was horrendous in St. Louis, so much so that they outright released him after having given him $14 million. The Nationals picked him up and he was lights-out. Guys like this likely need some time to ramp up into game shape.

Having written several hundred words on how the Cubs could fit Kimbrel into their current bullpen (which, frankly, could use the help), I’m sort of disinclined to do it. The money could probably be better saved for July, and given Kimbrel’s shaky outings late in 2018, perhaps he’s not the lights-out guy he used to be.

But perhaps you think they should go for it. Let us know your thoughts.


Should the Cubs sign Craig Kimbrel?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Yes, at any price
    (106 votes)
  • 64%
    Yes, but only if the money is right
    (697 votes)
  • 25%
    (275 votes)
1078 votes total Vote Now