Reports continue to surface about the Chicago Cubs pursuit of Craig Kimbrel. While Kimbrel would be a huge boost, he’s not an answer to all of the Cubs problems.
Throughout his nine-year career, Craig Kimbrel has been one of the premier closers in the game. During the long and uneventful offseason for the Chicago Cubs, many fans were left perplexed at the team’s lack of pursuit for Kimbrel. Now, it appears the dynamic has changed. With Ben Zobrist leaving the team due to a personal matter, the Cubs have extra money to spend and have positioned themselves as a front-runner to land Kimbrel.
While Kimbrel would provide the Cubs with a true closer to anchor their otherwise inconsistent bullpen, they would still have work to do to be better positioned for a long run in October.
What to expect from Kimbrel
When Kimbrel finds a team to sign with this season, he’ll be entering his 10th season in the MLB. At 31, Kimbrel remains touted as one of the best relievers in the game, but his numbers have diminished in recent years. Throughout his career, Kimbrel has a 1.91 ERA coupled with an astonishing 14.7 SO/9.
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In 2018, those numbers took a dip. While he still put up an impressive 13.9 SO/9 mark, he showed signs of being human. His ERA leaped to 2.74, but regression is more clearly represented by his 3.13 FIP (the highest of his career). I still expect Kimbrel to be useful, but to expect him to regain the magic he had when he posted four consecutive top-10 Cy Young finishes from 2011-2014 would be a pipe dream.
Other holes to fill
Heading into the offseason after last season, it was clear that the most glaring hole on the Cubs team was their bullpen. After doing little to ease Cubs nation’s skepticism, the bullpen has indeed struggled out of the gate in 2019. Luckily, the Cubs currently sit in first place despite their shaky bullpen, and have put themselves in a position where mid-season upgrades are more “needs” than “wants.”
Adding Kimbrel would go a long way towards filling the void in the ‘pen, but other reinforcements should follow, even if the Cubs were to sign Kimbrel. The only left-handers that the Cubs currently have in their bullpen are Kyle Ryan and swingman Mike Montgomery. Ryan has struggled mightily of late, and Montgomery has battled injuries throughout the season. Joe Maddon has been forced to use his right-handed relievers to get tough left-handers out late in games, and it’s hurt them.
If the Cubs are where they would like to be in terms of standings, they’ll be needing to get big outs down the stretch and into the playoffs against elite left-handed hitters such as Christian Yelich, Matt Carpenter, Cody Bellinger, etc. Adding an experienced left-handed reliever is imperative for a Cubs team with World Series aspirations.
The Cubs went a long way towards filling the void Zobrist left by adding Carlos Gonzalez. Through his first two games, Gonzalez has proved his worth both at the plate and in right field. However, it wouldn’t hurt to add another contact-centric hitter to the Cubs roster. The Cubs young hitters still strike out at an alarming rate.
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The Cubs 9.19 strikeouts per game rank 10th in the MLB. Daniel Descalso was brought to the Cubs to provide the team with a contact hitter, but after a hot start, Descalso has slumped, and currently sits with a measly .198/.289/.298 slash line. Signing Kimbrel would be huge for a Cubs team looking to make a statement to the rest of the league, but the team’s deficiencies won’t all be solved with one acquisition.