After the long-standing wait for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel to finally choose their new MLB teams ended with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, respectively, getting his services, there are teams who were in on both players that now have to figure out what Plan B-Z looks like.
The likes of the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins, among others, were rumored to have been interested in bringing in Kimbrel, but ultimately their offers and team pedigree did not match up to what the Cubs were able to offer. On the other hand, the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals seemed to be close runner ups in securing Keuchel’s services.
Kimbrel, who made himself big-time money while pitching for the Boston Red Sox, joined starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel as the two big fish still out there on the free agency market, waiting for a team to take a chance on them. While the rumors circulated that once the draft pick compensation went away and was no longer holding teams back from signing either pitcher that it would be a free for all, the timing seemed all too likely that the draft pick compensation that was tied to each player was why they went unsigned for so long.
Nonetheless, Kimbrel can finally cross his name off of the list for still without a job, as the Cubs were able to secure his services for a relatively reasonable three years for $43 million. Obviously not chump change to most people, this was seen as being on the lighter side for a proven commodity out of the pen, so maybe waiting this long hindered Kimbrel’s pocketbook more than helped him.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon seems to believe that in around a three-week timeframe that Kimbrel will be up to speed and ready to join the big-league staff, which would help improve what has been a revolving door at the closer position for the Cubbies. Plagued by injuries and inconsistency, adding Kimbrel will automatically help boost the chances that the Cubs have of making it back to the playoffs and making more noise than their lowly Wild Card exit last year at the hands of the Colorado Rockies.
For Keuchel, he will fall into a great situation with the Braves, who are currently sitting two games behind first-place Philadelphia. Atlanta is a really good team who is relying on its copious amounts of young talent, and Keuchel is that battle-tested, playoff-approved arm that will immensely help this team down the stretch.
The Braves did not put up much of a fight against the Los Angeles Dodgers, which could be tied to their inexperience of being in that pressure spot. While Keuchel is only one person and can only help so much, pairing his veteran leadership with the likes of Nick Markakis, Brian McCann, and Freddie Freeman can only aid this team in getting over that next hump.
Missing out on both Kimbrel and Keuchel is not 100% bad though, as those teams now have that much more money to allocate to extensions or to help acquire other players in helping improve their teams. Bullpen help is easier to come by, but it seems to be just as pricey as needing to acquire starting pitcher help, so here are some options for the teams that missed out on the big fish.
Tampa Bay Rays – Sean Doolittle
For the Washington Nationals, being back 6.5 games in the first week of June is not all that bad. What is all that bad, however, is their record, which currently stands at 28-33. Being five games under .500 for a team that has one of the best starting rotations in the league is not a good outcome, especially with how much their offense needs to pick up the missing production from Bryce Harper.
Once this team gets to the point where they understand that playing for 2020 is much more worthwhile than playing for 2019, then their bullpen will become a hot commodity, especially closer Sean Doolittle, who looks to be the cream of the crop when it comes to tradeable closers. The Rays, who already have Jose Alvarado in the bullpen, need at least one more shut down arm to help close out games and Doolittle fits that bill.
While needing to dip into their farm system a bit to acquire Doolittle, the window for the Rays to compete is now and they need to handle any deals and player acquisitions as such – which plays right into the hands of the Nationals, who should be asking a lot for Doolittle and should command a pretty decent return for his services. Needing to hold onto second baseman Brandon Lowe in this deal should not be an issue, as the Rays farm system is finally developed enough to offer enough of a worthwhile return for other teams looking to tango.
Minnesota Twins – Will Smith
While Minnesota is not all that close to Philadelphia, the Twins should understand that, like the Rays, their window is now, although in different circumstances. Being comfortably in the division lead at this point in the season, up 9.5 games over the struggling Cleveland Indians, the Twins need to close the door and never open it back up again.
The San Francisco Giants offer an interesting pairing in any deal, as their bullpen will become one of the most talked-about leading up to the trade deadline, seeing as how there are a lot of tradeable pieces on the market. Most appealing is what looks to be the second-best closer on the market, lefty Will Smith.
The former Royals and Brewers bullpen arm, who has been around for a decent while in the majors, would be a great fit for any team and the Twins would be smart to secure his services. Similar to the Rays, not needing to give up any top five prospects should be a strong point for the Twins, but giving up a proven guy plus an upper-tier lottery ticket or two should tickle the Giants fancy.
Needing to make sense of where to go from here, anyone who did not secure Keuchel is now scrambling to see what other rotation improvements are out there to take advantage of. Here are the two ways that the two National League Central rivals should handle missing out on Keuchel.
Milwaukee Brewers – Anthony Rendon
Call me crazy, but more offense makes needing better pitching moot, or at least that is what the Brewers have shown me so the past few seasons. Loading up on mashers seems to be general manager David Stearns’ mantra, as he has added quite a few bats at the deadline recently.
Having Mike Moustakas hitting the ball like a beach ball has been key in keeping the Brewers close behind the Cubs, but Travis Shaw’s struggles have really hurt this team. Bringing up top prospect Keston Hiura was a smart move and he paid dividends in the short time he was up, but he is not the fix at this moment.
As previously stated, the Nationals should be in selling mode when the deadline grows closer, and the Brewers would be smart to jump on that train and take Anthony Rendon off their hands. By plugging in Rendon over at third base and moving Moustakas to second, this takes the pressure off of Shaw and gives him time to finesse his swing, while also giving him opportunities to take innings at third, second or even first base.
Rendon should command a pretty penny, but the Brewers have built up their system enough to be able to withstand a hit. A top-10 prospect, coupled with a tail-end top-20 guy and a Triple-A filler should do the trick.
St. Louis Cardinals – Marcus Stroman
A great guy who has toiled for much too long north of the border, the Cardinals should be looking into ways to get Stroman to come to Missouri and become the ace the Cards need. While Adam Wainwright and company have been pitching well as starters, there is something missing, which can be filled by adding Stroman.
Stroman would, again, not be cheap by any means, but as the Cardinals showed when they acquired Paul Goldschmidt this offseason, is that current results matter more than preserving a farm system. Giving up a few prime minor league pieces for Stroman is at least the start of the conversation for the two teams, but more would be needed in order for Stroman to get shipped to the NL.