Weekly Brew: What to do with Craig Kimbrel

Weekly Brew: What to do with Craig Kimbrel

by January 16, 2019 0 comments

The 2018 Boston Red Sox won the World Series. Yes, you already knew that. Yes, I am going to keep reminding you.

Here in Boston, the classic “seasonal depression” that comes along with the cold, long, days of winter is only worsened by the fact that the Red Sox are in the offseason. While the confetti has long been swept from the streets of Boston and the duck boats have returned to their rightful homes (at least until the Patriots win the Super Bowl), the only thing I can think about is baseball.

More specifically, I can’t stop thinking about winning another World Series. One of the most difficult things to do in any sport is to repeat. Luckily for Red Sox fans, I believe this returning team could actually do it. With a just few more weeks until spring training and a few more months until Opening Day, baseball fans are left with nothing to do other than speculate.

Unlike last year when all eyes were set on J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox seem to have no clear target in this year’s free agent class. Neither of the most hyped free agents, Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, seem to be in talks with the reigning World Series champs. As far as I am concerned, they really don’t need either of them. The only clear hole in this Red Sox roster is another reliever.

While the options for another reliever are open to both the free agent and trade markets, it is possible that the best option could be right under our noses: Craig Kimbrel.

Following the World Series, fair-weather fans were quick to dismiss Kimbrel for his underwhelming postseason performance (5.91 ERA in nine outings). Kimbrel, despite not blowing a single save in the World Series, left a bad taste in everybody’s mouths after walking one too many batters on baseball’s biggest stage. As it is, relievers, and particularly closers, are judged based on small sample size. Many (myself included, for a hot minute) fell victim to recency bias and even suggested Joe Kelly, who posted a 4.39 ERA in 2018, would be a comparable replacement.

Kelly quickly signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, removing himself from the equation and leaving many fans unsure about the fate of the Red Sox bullpen. I’ll agree, Kimbrel had me worried every time he took the mound in October. But to write him off that quickly is preposterous.

Kimbrel is on track to be better than Mariano Rivera, who is widely regarded as the greatest closer of all time. Through their age 30 seasons, Kimbrel has the upper hand over Rivera in ERA (1.91 to 2.63), ERA+ (221 to 180) and saves (333 to 245).

For those who take statistics with a grain of salt, look at how Kimbrel’s pitching style sets him apart from every other closer in the league. Kimbrel’s killer curveball and lower than average release point make it incredibly difficult for batters to anticipate where the ball will cross the plate. Simply put, he has proven to be incredibly effective in high-pressure situations, despite his minor lapse during the postseason.

This brings us to January. Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowksi has displayed no clear intentions of resigning Kimbrel for his rumored $100 million asking price. Reports have surfaced that the Philadelphia Phillies are targeting Kimbrel along with Dallas Keuchel and Bryce Harper.

The Phillies have made it clear that they are willing to spend this offseason, meaning they could have just positioned themselves as the frontrunner for the most dominant closer in baseball. As the window seems to be closing on Kimbrel, Dombrowski either needs to reach into his pockets or start making phone calls. If Kimbrel is not signed, Dombrowski needs to fill two holes in Kelly and Kimbrel—a combined 128 relief innings.

Early offseason reports suggested that Kimbrel (or rather, Kimbrel’s agent) was asking for six years and $100 million. Obviously, the Red Sox aren’t looking to shell out that kind of money. That doesn’t take Kimbrel off the table entirely, it just means its time to get creative.

If the Red Sox are hesitant to sign Kimbrel on a multi-year deal with a high price tag, a reasonable solution would be to sign him to a deal with an opt-out after a year or two. A deal similar to that of Zach Britton with Yankees ($39 million over three years with a player opt out after 2020) might be the solution to the Kimbrel dilemma.

Retaining Kimbrel is not the end-all, be-all for the success of this Red Sox team; Adam Ottavino, a talented yet more affordable option, and many other quality relievers remain on the market. Dombrowski has been known to take his time securing deals. Moreover, he has options here, which is probably why he’s been rather quiet about the Kimbrel front.

The point is, you would have to be absolutely bonkers to think Kimbrel would hurt this team more than he would help. And for those who are still on the fence: does it make more sense to judge a player’s value on a shaky nine games or a successful nine years? If the Red Sox can work around the high price tag, the chances of seeing Kimbrel back in Boston are higher than you think.



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