Craig Kimbrel has arguably been the best closer in baseball since he first broke into the big leagues. But there’s no way the Chicago Cubs should go after him.
I know, you probably think that’s a little crazy. Chicago Cubs closer Brandon Morrow is already sidelined through at least the first month of the season and the team lacks impact arms in the pen. But there’s plenty of logic behind this statement.
First, the numbers. In his career, Craig Kimbrel has saved 333 games, the most among active closers. His 1.91 career ERA is eye-popping, and his 868 strikeouts in just 532 2/3 innings make a person salivate. His time in Boston though may make a team wary of signing him.
Kimbrel joined the Red Sox ahead of the 2016 campaign, coming over from the San Diego Padres. In his first year in Beantown, he wasn’t the elite arm we’d seen to that point. He pitched to a 3.40 ERA, 2.92 FIP and 1.2 WAR – by far personal worsts. His 5.1 BB/9 were also abnormally high for the right-hander.
But in 2017 he was back to his normal, dominant self. He made 67 appearances to the tune of a 1.43 earned run average, one of the best he’d put up to-date.
During the Red Sox World Series championship season in 2018, there were some red flags once more. Once again, he walked north of four batters per nine, put up a personal-worst 3.13 FIP and struggled to keep the ball in the yard, allowing seven home runs.
Two of his past three years have not been the dominant Craig Kimbrel we are used to seeing. Couple this with the fact that 2019 will be his age 31 season, and he is reportedly seeking a six-year deal worth over $100 million, that’s an awful lot of risk for a guy who appears to be on the downturn of his career.
There is an awful lot of mileage on Kimbrel’s arm already, pitching in over 60 games in a season seven times in his career to this point.
The Cubs aren’t known for spending recklessly on the bullpen as it is, so even considering that for a guy like Kimbrel should be seen as an outlandish thought, no matter how good he is. The former Braves hurler makes sense for the Cubs as their closer role is a bit in flux right now, with Brandon Morrow’s injury history.
But not to the tune of a nine-figure contract.
If the Cubs are looking for a closer, they will likely try and fill the role internally first before heading to the free agent market. Guys like Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Brandon Kintzler all have closing experience. Kimbrel is definitely a sexy name, but the trends raise too many red flags.