Chicago Cubs: The Craig Kimbrel deal is quickly becoming a disaster

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

What once seemed like a brilliant move for the Chicago Cubs, finally giving them their All-Star closer in Craig Kimbrel, could very well become one of the worst deals in franchise history with the help of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the Chicago Cubs signed closer Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43 million deal, it appeared to be a huge victory for the team. After a quiet 2019 offseason, the team finally made a big splash to finally get that big arm out of the bullpen that they so desperately needed, even if it came with a few concerning points.

That first shortened season with Kimbrel quickly spiraled out of control with the closer getting thumped for a 6.53 ERA and an 8.00 FIP, but at least it seemed like there was an explanation. The late signing and lack of a proper spring training left Kimbrel without time to get ramped up for the season, but now with year two of the contract on hold, this deal could get so much worse.

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This pandemic-shortened season will be most problematic to the veteran players like Kimbrel, but he’s in a particularly precarious spot given last year’s performance and his rocky start to spring training. Assuming that the MLB resumes play (which is only if the MLBPA and team owners can work out a plan), Kimbrel will likely have a shorter and partially interrupted spring training. If last year was any indication, the rush to prepare for the new, shortened season could leave Kimbrel once again out of rhythm.

Another troubling year from Kimbrel is what will really tip this transaction over into disaster territory. It could be similar to what happened with Brandon Morrow where the Cubs essentially got half a season out of a two-year deal, but at least Morrow produced when he wasn’t recovering from injuries. The same could be said for Yu Darvish‘s messy debut with the Cubs, but he bounced back in the second half of 2020 with an insane strikeout-to-walk ratio of 16.86 and an ERA below 3.

Then again, maybe Darvish’s situation is comparable to Kimbrel in that he needs to settle in with the team before he can make a return to form. The two situations are similar in that they both began with below-average performances capped off by a string of injuries. The difference is that Darvish still had several years on his deal after his 2019 disaster, while Kimbrel only has two (potentially one if the season were to not resume or as many as three if his option is picked up).

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Unless we see a relative return to form this year from Kimbrel, this deal is going to haunt the Chicago Cubs. With the money spent on this contract, they could have potentially brought back fan-favorite Nicholas Castellanos or spent to sure up the rotation after the departure of Cole Hamels. There is still time for Kimbrel to right the ship, but that window is closing even faster as a result of COVID-19.