I haven’t been particularly subtle in pointing out how much trade value I think a resurgent Craig Kimbrel has, even in an era of prospect hoarding and financial uncertainty and what-have-you. Dominant closers are the bee’s knees in the postseason, and Kimbrel is poised to be the best closer on the trade market since the Cubs paid out the nose for Aroldis Chapman in 2016. And Kimbrel comes with a team option for 2022.
So, when Buster Olney is saying Kimbrel will be the “most coveted player” on the market, you shouldn’t be surprised. And when Jon Heyman says this, you should nod in agreement:
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) July 6, 2021
“Kimbrel is the big one to me,” Heyman said on the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score. “I mean, that’s the one that people are going to want the most. He’s been one of the two or three best closers in the game this year, an All-Star, regained his form. They should be able to get a ton for him. It’s a real seller’s market. We have many anxious buyers and almost all of them are looking for pitching. So while (Kris) Bryant has been the bigger Cubs player, the bigger Cubs star, Kimbrel particularly with that extra option (team option for 2022). Kimbrel is the one they can get the most for.”
Like I said yesterday, we’ll see what else happens on the market over the next few weeks, but it wouldn’t at all surprise me if we look back and see that Kimbrel netted the most in trade of any player who changes teams (barring some controllable starting pitcher or position player getting moved, which is obviously a different animal).
But how much is “a ton” in trade for Kimbrel in this environment? One where the game keeps getting younger, prospects keep getting more valuable, and an unsettled CBA looms?
Well, let’s start with the comp that’s close to all of our hearts. In late July 26, the Cubs traded Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford, and Adam Warren to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman, then a pure rental. Although the deal became almost immediately reframed by Torres’s breakout later that year, it’s worth keeping the as-of-the-trade context in mind – he was considered a consensus top 50 prospect at the time, and was top 30 to most. He wasn’t quite a top 10 guy, which is what he became soon thereafter. McKinney was a back-end top 100 prospect entering that season, but had taken a step back in the eyes of most by the time of the trade. Crawford was a lottery ticket prospect, with upside, but outside the Cubs’ top 30 at the time. And Warren is a tough one to value as part of the trade, because he’d been so brilliant with the Yankees and had 2.5 years of control, but was BRUTALLY bad with the Cubs and was not going to be sticking around anyway.
So … the Cubs can get a top 30 prospect and a top 150 prospect and another lottery ticket and a throw-in big league piece for Kimbrel is what you’re saying?!?!
… well, no. I wouldn’t quite go that far. The return to the Yankees at the time was roundly considered an “overpay” by the Cubs, even if a completely understandable one given the context. In the current environment, it would be very, very hard to get a top 30 prospect as part of a package (if at all) in a deal for anyone. An elite closer with an extra year of control? Yeah, well, that might be as close as the discussion gets. So I wouldn’t rule it out. But I think multiple really solid prospects – maybe even a 50-100 guy and another near-100 guy? – is absolutely feasible. Maybe more.
To that end, I was trying to come up with a more recent comp that could give us an idea, and it’s really hard, both because no one like Kimbrel has been traded since Chapman, and also because you have to throw 2020 out entirely. So let me try to offer context this way, though it’s only marginally useful: in 2019, the Braves sent the 11th best prospect in their extremely loaded system (lefty Joey Wentz, probably top eight in an average system?) and a lottery ticket type (outfielder Travis Demeritte, a former first rounder) for rental closer Shane Greene, who had been getting great results with thoroughly mediocre peripherals. How much more valuable now is Kimbrel than Greene was then? So, so, so much more valuable. So extrapolate some value much larger than a, say, top eight system prospect and another back-end top 30 prospect.
That is all to say, yeah, Kimbrel should net the Cubs “a ton” if he’s traded this month. Maybe not quite a Chapman-level return, but definitely much more than we’ve seen for a reliever trade since the Chapman trade.