The Cubs have been very careful not to elucidate a precise ramp-up timeline for newly-signed closer Craig Kimbrel, who missed Spring Training and the first two-and-a-half months of the season while waiting for the stars to align in free agency. Fortunately, those stars aligned with the Cubs on a three-year deal, but the first of those years is only going to be a partial one – whenever Kimbrel is ready.
As for the timeline, Joe Maddon has intermittently suggested something akin to a normal Spring Training process for a reliever, which would be at least three weeks. But then we got word that Kimbrel may have been more ready to go than expected when the Cubs first got him in a bullpen session this weekend.
Ken Rosenthal reports today at The Athletic, however, that, “The Cubs, mindful that Greg Holland spent less than 10 days in the minors with the Cardinals after missing spring training last season, want Kimbrel to mimic a closer’s normal spring-training buildup, which means he could be about three weeks away from joining the team.”
Players are idiosyncratic, and Holland’s struggles don’t necessarily mean the same thing would happen to Kimbrel on an accelerated ramp-up timeline, but it’s also not as if we don’t know pitchers need a certain kind of build up process – throwing full out against hitters, resting soreness, recovery, throwing again – to not only avoid injury when first pitching in a competitive environment with the adrenaline flowing, but also to make sure the arm is good to go for maximum pitch feel/command.
That is to say, as excited as this weekend’s word on Kimbrel’s status got me, I’m still going to guard my heart against expecting Kimbrel back much before the end of this month.
The Cubs begin a long home stand with a two-game set against the White Sox on June 18, just 10 days after Kimbrel would have gotten into the organization. That home stand extends through June 27 against the Braves, and that series would be just shy of the three-week mark for building up a guy like Kimbrel in Spring Training.
I tend to think that’s the range we should be looking at, but it wouldn’t be an extreme concern if it were a touch after that. At least if the Cubs get Kimbrel by the end of this month, they’ll effectively be getting him for a month before the Trade Deadline, giving the Cubs that “bonus” time of a midseason acquisition, but also giving them a month to evaluate how things are looking in the newly-constituted bullpen before they have to make any big decisions on the trade market.