Since he first appeared for Atlanta in 2010, Craig Kimbrel has been an elite reliever in baseball. Now that he’s got a World Series title under his belt, it’s time for the 30-year-old flamethrower to enter free agency for the first time.
Position: Relief Pitcher
2018 Stats: 0.99 WHIP, 2.74 ERA, 2.58 DRA, 58 DRA-, 1.7 WARP
How He Fits: Kimbrel is an elite closer, among the very best in the league. Year after year he is tested and always comes out on top. Whether it was with Atlanta, his one season with the San Diego Padres, or in his time with the Boston Red Sox, Kimbrel has been the epitome of the lights out closer. That’s why he’d fit on the Chicago Cubs; he’s an elite arm that can still get it done.
The key with Kimbrel has always been his ability to adapt. He can throw his four-seam fastball upwards of 101 mph. That’s impressive, don’t get me wrong, but his ability to work around his mistakes and to learn from his mistakes is what has always impressed me about Kimbrel. Just look at last season’s American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. He was off in his first three appearances.
In those first three games against the Astros, he was wild and couldn’t locate his fastball at all, and when he was in the zone he was being hit pretty hard. The reason for this ended up being that he was tipping his pitches. He had developed a mechanical hitch that was affecting his ability to throw and also letting the Astros know whether the fastball or knuckle curve was coming. By Game 5, Kimbrel had adjusted where he was holding his glove, and he found his location while no longer tipping the Astros off to what he was throwing. The result: an extremely overmatched Astros lineup that didn’t stand a chance against the hard-throwing Kimbrel.
Why It Won’t Work: While I just wrote a lot of superlatives about the American League version of Gritty, I don’t truly believe the Cubs should go after him. He is going to ask for more than I think teams should pay for a 30-year-old closer with 532+ high-stress innings on his arm. But, that’s not the real reason I think the Cubs should shy away from the Alabaman.
The real reason the Cubs shouldn’t pursue an elite closer in Kimbrel is that I believe, as do most it seems, that his days of being an elite closer are numbered. His peripherals have been trending the wrong way for the past few years. His four-seamer may still come in at 101 mph, but that happens less often, and even when it does there’s less movement on his ace pitch. Remove his completely dominant 2017 season from the mix and Kimbrel hasn’t had any other years where he’s been a truly “must sign this guy” knockout closer since 2014. The wear and tear of being elite for so long is catching up to Kimbrel, and it’s not a matter of if, but when he’ll regress to being a liability as opposed to lights out.
Alternatives: The Cubs already have two closers and elite relievers on the team in the form of Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. While I have my doubts about Morrow, there’s no reason to doubt Strop. That is as long as Joe Maddon doesn’t make him try and leg out any double plays in 2019. The free agent market is saturated with closers: Zach Britton, Cody Allen, David Robertson, and Andrew Miller to name a few. They aren’t all elite arms, and some will be reclamation projects, but they are viable alternatives for a bullpen that already has Strop and Morrow as members.
Lead photo courtesy John Hefti—USA Today Sports