In an era where free agency does not necessarily mean more money, high-octane closer Craig Kimbrel highlights the crop of relievers looking for a new team for the 2019 season. While other mid-tier arms have secured new contracts, Kimbrel still remains on the market.
Any team that Kimbrel would join should immediately pencil in 10-15 more wins than current projections predict, as Kimbrel is that much of a shutdown arm to throw down in the bullpen. Being a household name as he is, Kimbrel was looking to cash in for his first massive payday.
Reports surfaced at the beginning of free agency that Kimbrel was looking to break records for a reliever, searching for a deal of six years and $100+ million, unheard of for anyone outside of a position player. While he has an outside chance of earning this type of deal, the amount of money teams are willing to spend this late in the offseason is typically lower.
Odds are that Kimbrel will receive one of two types of deals, either a one-year incentive-laden contract or a four-year agreement that puts him below what he was originally looking for. Most likely, Kimbrel will end up signing something like a one year, $18 million deal with a mutual option for 2020 at $20 million.
Not many teams have that much space just burning a hole in their payroll pockets, but here are three teams that should be interested in signing Kimbrel after he has sat on the market for so long.
A surprisingly-active franchise this offseason, the Reds have been rumored to be involved in many deals, including being a big player in the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes. Already having added Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Yasiel Puig from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals, Kimbrel would be a nice cherry on top of their offseason.
While not necessarily considered to be in the running for the National League Central divisional crown, the Reds could stand to make some noise in the Wild Card hunt by adding Kimbrel and keeping him away from big-time teams.
Back in the NL after having a very successful run with the Atlanta Braves, Kimbrel would be familiar with the feel of an NL game and would not need to adjust all that much. Being thrown directly into the fire of the NL Central is another story though, something that the St. Louis Cardinals and closer Greg Holland experienced last season, which ended up going so much worse than poorly.
The Reds, who have a decent amount of payroll space, could spend big-time bucks on Kimbrel, and probably would feel comfortable around four years, $75 million.
San Diego Padres
After trading left-handed closer Brad Hand to the Cleveland Indians last season, the Padres have been looking for a solid closer to shut the door for them. This team has the pieces to become contenders, and are just a few aspects away from becoming serious playoff players.
Kimbrel would help solidify the bullpen, and although Petco Park is an offensive dream, he would help limit the late-inning damage done by opponents and hopefully get the Padres more wins in 2019.
The reports of the Padres being in on Manny Machado could potentially put a fork in the Kimbrel chances, but it could also signify that this franchise is ready to compete and this is how they are marking it. By combining Machado and Kimbrel with Eric Hosmer and company, that is a scary grouping of players in and of itself.
The Padres, similar to the Reds, have been linked to a decent amount of deals and players this offseason, so their pursuit of Kimbrel would be similar in style. They would probably look for a shorter term deal, somewhere around three years for $50 million, just so they can save themselves for any financial burden down the road.
With having Hosmer locked up for another six seasons, his offensive production was not even close to justifying his deal, so this shorter contract for Kimbrel would help present the Friars with an early out in case things did not work out.
The lone American League option on this list, the Astros offer up Kimbrel’s best chance to make it back to the World Series and that still needs a back-end door slammer. Even with the closers of Roberto Osuna and Hector Rondon currently being on the roster, neither are on the caliber that Kimbrel is.
By bringing Kimbrel into the fold, the Astros can shift both Osuna and Rondon to set-up roles to help stretch the bullpen out more and attempt to make up for the eventual departure of left-hander Tony Sipp, who currently is still a free agent but has not been linked to returning to the Astros.
Kimbrel, who obviously is familiar with the AL after his time with the Boston Red Sox, would immediately push the Astros to the forefront of contention in the AL, right up there with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, a great club to be in.
This would obviously be the favorite of the teams included on the list, as it does present Kimbrel with a great opportunity. With the Astros, he would probably be more inclined to sign a bigger salaried one year deal due to the higher potential for results than the other NL teams.
Whoever Kimbrel signs with, that team will reap the benefits of Kimbrel closing games. Whether he succeeds after such an illustrious career so far is the bigger question.