The Cubs are better served keeping Craig Kimbrel heading into next season.
A couple years back, Craig Kimbrel went into the offseason with big money on his mind. He was looking for that big contract. He waited… and waited… and waited. No one called. It took until halfway through the summer for the Chicago Cubs to come calling with a three-year, $43 million deal.
Kimbrel hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. But heading into the final year of his contract, the closer has gained some momentum and Chicago needs to ride that into 2021.
When Kimbrel was signed, it was one of the least controversial moves made by Theo Epstein. Chicago had been in need of a closer and Kimbrel happened to be the best one on the market at the time. Signing the seven-time All-Star seemed like a no-brainer. However, his performance early on was nothing short of horrific.
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As difficult as it was to come in without a Spring Training and enter the mid-season atmosphere, Kimbrel was not worth the money in year one. In 2019, he made 23 appearances and turned in a 6.53 ERA with a 1.597 WHIP. The numbers couldn’t have been any worse and the Cubs were forced to remove any expectations from the right-hander.
Year two told a whole different story and is why the team has to feel good about their closer heading into 2021. In 2020, he got off to another brutal start. However, in his last 14 appearances, he posted a 1.42 ERA with 26 strikeouts through 12 2/3 innings. He really flipped the switch and ended 2020 as the old, dominant Kimbrel that baseball fans know and love.
With the Cubs entering re-tool mode in 2021, Kimbrel will be in the final season of his three-year deal. Jed Hoyer has made it known big changes are in the cards, but Kimbrel presents the opportunity for the Cubs to surprise some people. With that strong finish in 2020, he finally got his bearings on the North Side and if he can carry that momentum into next season, Chicago will find itself with one of the most dominant closers in baseball.
This team still has the talent to win games and with the NL Central set up to be very winnable this coming season, having a lockdown arm at the back of the bullpen could made a large impact.
Sure, the Cubs could deal the closer to a team that wants to contend for a World Series, while clearing $16 million in cap space, but we can’t think the Cubs will go full rebuild as the group still has the potential to compete.
Kimbrel began his career in Chicago on one of the sourest notes anyone can imagine but he has an opportunity to return to form and give fans a season to remember in 2021. Let’s hope Hoyer does the right thing and holds on to the right-handed fireballer.