Weighing a potential Cubs reunion with Craig Kimbrel this winter

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

After bouncing across Chicago from the Cubs to the White Sox last year, Craig Kimbrel spent 2022 with the Los Angeles Dodgers – but was left off the team’s NLDS roster after struggling much of the year.

The longtime closer will once again test the waters of free agency this winter and, while a far cry from what he once was, will undoubtedly warrant consideration from plenty of teams looking for bullpen help – and the Cubs could be among them. No, really. Hear me out.

Craig Kimbrel could be a low-risk addition for the Cubs in 2023

During the 2022 regular season, Kimbrel still posted a 3.75 ERA in 60 innings of work. Although hardly elite by any means, he wasn’t terrible either. In fact, a 3.75 is much improved over the disastrous numbers he turned in early during his ill-fated Cubs tenure. But it’s how that run ended in 2021 that gives me some hope for a reunion. He dazzled, posting a 0.49 ERA with the Cubs in 36.2 frames, notching 23 saves in that time before being traded to the Chicago White Sox as part of the team’s massive sell-off.

Given the fact Kimbrel hasn’t been his former self in more than a year, you can imagine most competitive teams on a tighter budget gulping at the idea of signing him as a piece for the back end of their bullpen. Sure, Kimbrel will have a market, but it’s unlikely he’s mulling over any lucrative offers to handle ninth-inning duties. A shorter-term pact, maybe a one-year deal with an option for 2024, could get the job done.

The Cubs in recent years have been all about reclamation projects. Coming off a down year in 2021, Chicago brought in Drew Smyly, who had a solid bounceback season this year, posting a 3.47 ERA – prompting mutual interest in a potential reunion next year. Last season, the team picked up Adrian Sampson, who had really struggled in Texas. He has gone on to notch a 2.80 ERA while splitting time as a reliever and starter in 2021, followed by a 3.11 ERA in 2022.

The Cubs have done a fantastic job helping turn guys around in recent years, showcased by the dominance of the starting rotation, as a whole, in the second half of 2022. And let’s not forget the revolving door of veteran relievers who’ve been flipped over the last two years.

Next. 3 starting pitching trade targets for the Cubs. dark

When it comes to Kimbrel, it’s important to keep in mind that, even though he struggled with the Sox and Dodgers, it wasn’t that long ago he was dominant for the Cubs late in ballgames and was a highly sought-after deadline commodity. He might not be what he once was, but he’s more than worth a flyer, especially for a team with financial flexibility like the Cubs.