Friday, March 22, 2019

Someone sign this guy!

Baseball's offseason is almost always wild, but this one has been flat-out bizarre. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were still unsigned at the start of Spring Training, but eventually they both got $300+ million from teams that aren't usually considered big spenders.

This week Mike Trout's $430 million extension blew them both out of the water. And yet, for all the big money thrown at these future Hall of Famers (a combined billion dollars for three guys!) there is one star player, award winner, and World Series winner who is in his prime and well on his way to Cooperstown... and somehow remains unemployed at the start of the regular season.


Craig Kimbrel won't turn 31 until the end of May. (Hopefully a team will sign him before then.) He's been an All-Star seven times in nine seasons, led the league in saves four times, and finished top-ten in Cy Young voting five times - including 2017 when he was practically untouchable. Kimbrel's 2018 season wasn't otherworldly but he still finished the year with 42 saves, a WHIP under 1.00, and an ERA under 3.00.

Kimbrel did have a rough postseason. So did Yasmani Grandal, but that didn't stop the Brewers from paying him $18.25 million on a one-year deal.

Those same Brewers have kicked the tires on Kimbrel, which would make their league-best bullpen even more lethal (and max out Milwaukee's payroll to near LA/NY levels) but it appears they've found a more cost-effective option

Personally I think a team like the Braves would be a better fit anyhow. Adding a game-changing closer would be a strong counter move to the acquisitions their rivals in New York and Philly made, it would be nice to see him back with his original team, and Atlanta's still got some "new stadium" money to throw around. 

Not every team can fit a player of Kimbrel's stature into their budget for 2019 and beyond. It's why the Red Sox made no attempt to re-sign him (aside from making a qualifying offer - which he unsurprisingly turned down.) Draft pick compensation, payroll constraints, and somewhat declining control are legit reasons to not give Kimbrel a market-altering contract. It's not a good enough explanation for why he has no contract at all.

 I mean...look at these guys. These are the projected 9th-inning arms for every team in 2019:

Tell me Craig Kimbrel wouldn't be an upgrade over 90% of them. Again, he's an all-time great closer in his prime at a time when "bullpening" has been emphasized more than ever. Kimbrel could be a difference-maker for a midde of the road team like the Twins, Rays, Cubs, or the aforementioned Braves. At this point I don't care which team signs the guy (as long as it's not the Yankees - I'd hate to see him cut off that lumberjack beard) I just want to see him on the bump at the end of a close game.

    I don't have the time (or the degree in sabermetrics) to compare Kimbrel's rate stats to other great closers, so let's just look at total saves:

Rank Player (yrs, age) SavesThrows
1.Mariano Rivera+ (19)652R
2.Trevor Hoffman+ (18)601R
3.Lee Smith+ (18)478R
4.Francisco Rodriguez (16)437R
5.John Franco (21)424L
6.Billy Wagner (16)422L
7.Dennis Eckersley+ (24)390R
8.Joe Nathan (16)377R
9.Jonathan Papelbon (12)368R
10.Jeff Reardon (16)367R
11.Troy Percival (14)358R
12.Randy Myers (14)347L
13.Rollie Fingers+ (17)341R
14.Craig Kimbrel (9)333R
15.John Wetteland (12)330R
16.Francisco Cordero (14)329R
17.Roberto Hernandez (17)326R
18.Fernando Rodney (16, 41)325R
19.Huston Street (13)324R
20.Jose Mesa (19)321R

The first thing I notice is that baseball-ref doesn't even list him as an active player. Which is true, in a way. 42 year-old Fernando Rodney has a contract for 2019 and Kimbrel doesn't, so..

Here's another thing that jumps out at me: after just nine seasons, Craig Kimbrel is already halfway toward becoming the all-time leader in saves. Most of these guys pitched into their forties, and there's no reason to think that Kimbrel can't - unless his declining control suddenly becomes a full-blown case of Mark Wohlersitis*. If he can just get a job for 2019 he's all but guaranteed to move into the top ten on this list.

*my friend Brandon coined this term. it's basically Steve Blass disease, '90s-style. 

With each passing day it becomes more apparent that Craig Kimbrel will have to settle for a one year "prove it" contract, and for roughly the amount of the qualifying offer he turned down. He shouldn't have to prove it though. Lesser players have signed for multiple years and loads of money this off-season - one in which players shouted "collusion" until three guys were given a combined billion dollars. Some lucky team is going to get a very motivated pitcher at a bargain price. 

Which team do you think will (or should) sign Craig Kimbrel?