I’m gonna say something that will, to some, sound like nothing short of pure wishcasting and homerism. But if you really read me carefully, I’m not being either of those things. Got it? Are you prepped?
The Cubs should treat Craig Kimbrel like a big-time Trade Deadline move.
OK, OK, I phrased it in the most cliche, meatbally, terrible way. I do mean it, but not in the way that bogus phrase is so often thrown around (i.e., to excuse a lack of actual impact acquisitions, and to make injuries or underperformance somehow sound like a good thing).
Don’t worry. I haven’t gone crazy. That’s not what I’m saying.
Here’s what I actually mean: (1) we know that Craig Kimbrel is not at all effective right now, (2) we also know that *when he is effective,* he would be the best reliever the Cubs could realistically acquire in a season like this, (3) the Cubs should be doing everything possible at this moment to maximize the chances that September/October Kimbrel is as good as he can be, and (4) you need to know by September whether you “made that acquisition or not,” so to speak.
In other words, in the remaining few weeks of August (before the Trade Deadline, incidentally), every single Kimbrel-related decision made by the Cubs needs to be about what comes later. Because if and when Kimbrel is not impactful in September, you need to have confidence that you gave him every chance to turn things around before you pull the plug in advance of the playoffs. His upside is, of course, still that significant. A Kimbrel at 90% of his past effectiveness is still a guy you’d want on this team in the playoffs. Something less than that, obviously, is not. So max out the effort right now to get him there, and if it happens, you did that cliche acquisition thing. But if it doesn’t happen, it’s like a trade that never happened; Kimbrel was a guy you never actually had.
I started thinking about all this stuff yesterday when I was writing up the approach of the Trade Deadline and how challenging it’s going to make impact acquisitions this year. Adding a shutdown reliever to a team that is highly likely to go to the postseason is as attractive this year as any year. But you might not – for reasons of supply, demand, uncertainty, and price tag – be able to pull it off this year. I hope the Cubs pursue it aggressively, yes, but I also recognize this ain’t the same situation as 2016. So Kimbrel really might be the best bet (even if I’m hoping the Cubs plan to attempt many bets!).
That’s a big part of why we talk about Kimbrel so much, too. Impact relievers like him wind up being disproportionately valuable in the postseason. We’ve seen it year after year. Yes, you can win without them. But if you’ve got ’em, you can ride ’em.
Then I REALLY started thinking about all this stuff when I heard what David Ross had to say about Kimbrel on the radio, combined with the fact that Kimbrel did not get the 9th inning last night in a six-run game.
“I think we feel like we’re seeing some progress every time he steps foot out there on the bump, but it’s definitely not just one easy mechanical fix and everything is just going to click back into place,” Ross told Laurence Holmes of Kimbrel’s work. “It’s going to take a minute. He understands that. We understand that, and the best thing we can do is support him and continue to work with him and give him feedback and let him work through some issues out there in real competition …. ”
“Like there is that adrenaline that you can’t replace in a bullpen session,” Ross continued. “You can slow things down in a bullpen session and things be cleaned up, all of your mechanics can rest in place. But you get in there, the adrenaline of a game, you know your mind and your mentality, your confidence plays a big role in that when you get in there. Getting out there and harnessing that adrenaline and those emotions and that mentality and being able to compete and everything lining up, so yeah, there’s a lot of things that go into it and into competing and making adjustments in game.”
It’s going to take a minute. That means continued work on the side to get the mechanics right, and also to put Kimbrel in the best position to actually take those mechanics into the game with him.
So, then, whatever reason animated Kimbrel getting into the game or not last night, in addition to wanting to be sure the Cubs got that win, it had to also be about getting Kimbrel right. There had to be a reason – with a focus on SEPTEMBER not AUGUST – that Kimbrel stayed down. Which is clearly fine. But the innings will have to come soon. More competitive, compelling, nerve-wracking innings.
The Cubs will need to know what is going to be possible for Kimbrel when the pressure is the highest, because they’re going to need to know whether he can be counted on in the playoffs or not. And they’re gonna need to know that – or at least have a very good sense of what is likely to happen – by August 31. Otherwise, they might just have to treat Kimbrel like a trade that didn’t happen.