I’ll dispense with the elephant first: we don’t know if the Cubs’ baseball operations department has enough money for this year to sign free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel, even to a pro-rated deal, for this year. We presume they have enough money in the budget for years after this year, should he command a multi-year deal, but we don’t know for sure about this year. That could depend a great deal on what happens with Ben Zobrist’s salary, as discussed this morning. But it’s just a big unknown right now.
Less an elephant, but no less a consideration: it is entirely possible, based on the way he dramatically fell off late last year, his multi-year performance trends, his age (31), his slight reduction in velocity last year, and the fact that he’s been off the job for half a season, that the Cubs have no interest in Kimbrel at almost any price. That’s a bit of an unknown, too, in these discussions: the Cubs may have some proprietary analytical evaluation of Kimbrel that spits out a brightly flashing STAY AWAY.
OK, with those big caveats out of the way, we can say with confidence that the Cubs are extremely in need of additional late-inning reliever options, and, although Pedro Strop is returning soon, the Cubs cannot count on him and Brandon Morrow (who may not return at all) stabilizing the bullpen on their own. A midseason addition (or two) is a virtual lock.
To that end, there should be a robust trade market, as their usually is in the bullpen, but with the draft coming next week, Kimbrel will soon be the only back-end type addition available that costs only money. Maybe you don’t believe Kimbrel can be the very best version of himself this year, and maybe the money would be tight … but wouldn’t you much rather try for Kimbrel than give up a top prospect for a half-year of some other arm?
Moreover, it’s not as if Kimbrel is necessarily going to break the bank. Consider the latest from Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic, who suspects even after Kimbrel is uncoupled from draft pick compensation next week, “it will be an upset if he lands the deal he was seeking in April — three years between $39 million and $52 million.”
That’s a pretty incredible reveal right there, given that those prior demands struck us as downright reasonable. So, let’s say the demands were now … two years and $26 million? Three years and $30 million?
When you consider pro-rating, you’re talking about, what, $6 or $7 million this year, and then $10 million for the next couple years? For Kimbrel’s age 31, 32, 33 seasons? I’m not saying there isn’t risk there, but that’s not so far off from the Brandon Morrow deal, and he came with a heck of a lot more risk than Kimbrel.
Maybe Kimbrel’s on a downward trend, but he’s been so very good for so long: