Opening Day is now just weeks away and the Chicago Cubs look increasingly thin in the back of their bullpen. Is it time to make a move for closer Craig Kimbrel?
A weak and uncharacteristically slow free agent market has been particularly hard on one-time potential Chicago Cubs target and right-hander Craig Kimbrel. It’s near-impossible to fathom a market where a player of his caliber can’t find a home and a decent contract – but that’s the state of Major League Baseball in 2019. Not only has Kimbrel continued to languish on the open market, but any sort of deal doesn’t appear close.
Since Kimbrel came into the league in 2011, he leads all players with 332 career saves. His 1.97 ERA ranks second among qualified relievers and his 14.9 K/9 ranks just below Aroldis Chapman‘s 15.07 mark. Kimbrel’s stuff has dropped off since his early days, though.
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Last season, Kimbrel’s earned run average spiked to 2.74, up from a stellar 1.43 ERA in 2017. He still converted 42 of 47 save opportunities for the Boston Red Sox. By all measures, the right-hander still remained an above-average option in the ninth inning, but we’ve come to expect more a closer whose legacy may lead him to Cooperstown someday.
At one point, Kimbrel was seeking to become one of the highest paid closers of all time. That now seems unlikely. After an underwhelming amount of interest in the right-hander, Kimbrel will likely be forced to settle. A month ago, Cubbies Crib pondered whether Kimbrel would be worth a look if the price tag dropped. Now, he may be even cheaper, and he’s definitely more of a necessity for the Cubs bullpen.
Chicago Cubs desperately need bullpen help
The Cubs bullpen has been an area of concern since the end of 2018. After adding Brad Brach and Xavier Cedeno to the mix, the outlook appeared to be slightly better but still lacked impact depth. Closer Brandon Morrow won’t be available for the start of the season, and now Pedro Strop‘s status is up in the air (along with Cedeno’s).
On Tuesday, Joe Maddon announced Strop will be shut down from pitching off of a mound for a week with a right hamstring strain. The righty was expected to be the Cubs’ temporary closer while Morrow recovered.
"“According to the MRI, it was barely noticeable so we don’t think it’s going to be anything horribly wrong,” Maddon said via Chicago Sun Times. “But we don’t know for sure. We’d like to think we’ll be able to get him ready for the beginning of the season. If not, maybe shortly thereafter.”"
Hopefully, Strop is able to return prior to Opening Day, but it may not be smart to rush a 33-year-old veteran. Especially considering he already had to sit out a significant amount of time in 2018 with a left hamstring injury. If his injury lingers into the season, the team will turn to a combination of Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Brandon Kintzler and Brach to finish games. Not the most ideal situation.
A lot has been made of the Cubs’ apparent financial constraints this offseason, and they may not have the funds to make a run at Kimbrel. However, a closer of Kimbrel’s caliber would go a long way towards filling a looming hole on the roster. The addition of Kimbrel would not only give the Cubs an elite closer, it also takes away any doubt that this team is a contender.