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Cubs free agent target: Craig Kimbrel

Wait, hear me out.

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

I’m writing this article today for two reasons. First, because I really do think Craig Kimbrel could help the 2023 Cubs.

But second, for some dumb reason I woke up this morning with an earworm of his intro music:

It’s actually a pretty good song for that purpose, I think. The Cubs matched it with a video they played when Kimbrel entered the game.

We’re all quite familiar with Kimbrel’s Cubs tenure, which spanned three seasons (2019-21) but just a bit more than two calendar years, his struggles in 2019 and 2020 before he was absolutely lights-out in 2021 before he was traded to the White Sox at the deadline for Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer.

The jury’s still out on the return the Cubs got on that deal, but Kimbrel was pretty bad for the Sox, largely because they didn’t use him properly. Here you have a guy who was the best closer in baseball for four months in 2021 and they told him he’s going to set up for Liam Hendriks? Nice work, Tony La Russa.

Kimbrel was particularly bad against the Cubs after the deal. In three appearances covering 2⅔ innings, he allowed six hits and six runs, including three home runs. That’s nearly half of the 13 runs he allowed as a White Sox player in only one-eighth of his total outings for them. Perhaps the weirdest home run he allowed after the trade was this game-tying blast to Andrew Romine at Wrigley Field [VIDEO].

Anyway, Kimbrel was so good with the Cubs in 2021 that his bWAR that year — 2.5 in 39 appearances — completely wiped out the bad -0.7 bWAR he’d posted with the team in 2019-20 and his 0.49 ERA dropped his overall Cubs ERA from 6.00 in 41 appearances in 2019-20 to 3.22 overall.

Last year with the Dodgers, Kimbrel found himself eventually removed from the closer role after some bad outings in September. But overall, his season wasn’t horrendous. He posted a 3.75 ERA and 1.317 WHIP in 63 appearances covering 60 innings, and had 22 saves in 27 opportunities.

Kimbrel has already had his one big contract — the one Theo Epstein signed him to in June 2019. He’s made $113 million in his career, per baseball-reference. He’ll be 35 in May, and Jed Hoyer and his team have been pretty good at signing older relievers and recovering value from them.

I say sign Kimbrel. Give him a $6 million base salary and an extra $1 million for each of 25, 35 and 45 games finished, which would make this a $9 million deal if he’s a closer and meets all those milestones (those are the guys who have more games finished, and Kimbrel hasn’t had more than 25 since 2018). Then add a $10 million mutual option for 2024 with a $1 million buyout.

That’s not too expensive and I suspect he’d take it; he seemed to like being a Cub and remember, he’s only one season removed from that lights-out four months in 2021. If Kimbrel is good, perhaps that could help the Cubs contend. If he’s good and the team isn’t, he could be flipped again. If he’s done, it’s just a one-year deal.

What say you?


Craig Kimbrel...

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one proposed in the article
    (1029 votes)
  • 4%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but it will take more in dollars or years or both
    (71 votes)
  • 28%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (442 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (20 votes)
1562 votes total Vote Now