Cubs Rumors: Craig Kimbrel may wind up having actual trade value

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

Craig Kimbrel rebounded late this year and may now be a trade chip for the Cubs.

To say the least, the Cubs haven’t got what they expected out of their three-year deal with Craig Kimbrel. After bringing the seven-time All-Star in halfway through the 2019 campaign to fill a major need at the back of the bullpen, Chicago has been faced with an uncomfortable truth: he hasn’t been the answer they’d hoped for.

In his Cubs career, Kimbrel has made 41 appearances, working to a 6.00 ERA and 1.528 WHIP. Looking at those numbers, it’s hard to envision him having any real trade value this offseason. But if you hone in on his performance late in the season, it’s an entirely different story.

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Over at The Athletic (subscription required), they break down Kimbrel’s final 14 appearances perfectly: he carried a 1.42 ERA (one appearance during that span with a run allowed), struck out more than 53 percent of batters he faced and showcased his signature velocity in his final appearance of the year for the first time since 2018.

Of course, that could mean one of two things for the Cubs. If they hold onto all their chips this winter and run it back one last time, Kimbrel will undoubtedly be a part of the team. But if Theo Epstein decides this is the end of the road and starts tearing it down, someone like Kimbrel makes a ton of sense – both in terms of trade value and shedding a good chunk of payroll.

He’s set to earn $16 million in 2021 and would have to finish 55 games and stay healthy in order to see his 2022 team option become guaranteed. Otherwise, the Cubs can pay him a $1 million buyout at the end of next season and go their separate ways.

We’ve focused a great deal on the core position players who are heading into their final year of team control. But here’s the issue: they almost universally underperformed in 2020, diminishing their value on the open market and in trade.

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Chicago could sell low on guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense, regardless of payroll concerns. But a contending team in need of a big arm at the back of the bullpen would undoubtedly be intrigued by a Craig Kimbrel – especially on a one-year deal.