We are now just two weeks away from the start of the MLB Draft, which is of course important and interesting on its own merits, but the fact that there are still two unsigned qualified free agents out there makes it all the more significant.
At this point, teams for whom signing Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel would cost draft pick(s), draft bonus pool space, and international bonus pool space have very little incentive to rush to sign either free agent arm. After a ramp-up period, you’re going to get them for only a bit over half of a season anyway, so why not wait two more weeks and save some draft/IFA currency in the process?
And, for the free agents, being uncoupled from compensation can only help their own bottom line, both because of the reduced “cost” to teams to sign them, and also potentially a little more competition for their services.
Including … from the Cubs? Obviously there’s an ongoing need in the bullpen for back-end arms, and Dave Kaplan, at a minimum, thinks the Cubs are gonna be in on those talks:
We’ve talked a good bit about Kimbrel in the past, and while he is unlikely to be the guy he was at his various peaks, it’s also hard to imagine he wouldn’t be a significant contributor in a competitive bullpen.
The price tag on Kimbrel? Well, there have been indications that he is not interested in simply signing a partial-year deal and then hitting the market again in November. Instead, he reportedly wanted to sign something like what Wade Davis and Zach Britton got in recent free agencies – around three years, and $13 to $17 million per year. You would pro-rate that first year for the time that he’s missed, and, frankly, even if you don’t love the projections for him in the next two years, that’s a really reasonable ask.
The Cubs will have Pedro Strop returning soon-ish from a hamstring injury, but obviously there is still some injury risk there. And then there’s Brandon Morrow, who could possibly be back in late July, but (1) that’s far from a lock, and (2) no one knows what he’ll actually be pitching like at that point.
In other words, as the Cubs head toward trade season, they will almost certainly be in the market for a back-end reliever anyway. Kimbrel, then, should be viewed as just that kind of option – albeit one you could have a lot sooner and for only money.
Ah, but about that money. I thought the Cubs said they didn’t have any. Well, there are two huge caveats that now have entered the picture: (1) the Cubs always reserve some funds for midseason acquisitions, and although there wasn’t any flexibility left at the end of the offseason, there should be some for “trades”, and (2) with Ben Zobrist still out on the restricted list, as awkward as it is to mention, the Cubs may have spent less on his salary this year than originally projected (if Zobrist is not being paid on the restricted list, the Cubs save about $470,000 of his $12.5 million salary for each week he misses).
That is all to say, it does not seem like a lack of money – alone – would be a reason for the Cubs not to pursue Kimbrel in the coming weeks.
Just another reason to anticipate the draft.