The 2019 season has already started but top closer Craig Kimbrel still remains a free agent. Kimbrel is an elite closer coming off a World Series season. Because of his contract demands and his specialized talent, Kimbrel can only sign with a select few teams. The truth is every team can use a relief pitcher like Kimbrel, but the boxes you need to have checked make the market very limited.
Teams must be a contender, be willing to spend money, and need to have a hole in the backend of the bullpen. What is not known yet is would Kimbrel sign for one year and start this process all over again next off-season.
Top 2019 Landing Spots for Craig Kimbrel
Let’s start with the most obvious team. The Brewers just lost their all-star closer Corey Knebel for the entire 2019 season, so there is a big hole for Kimbrel to fill. Milwaukee championship aspirations after finishing the 2018 season one game short of the World Series. Also, their ownership has shown a willingness to spend money. But with budding star Josh Hader anchoring the bullpen, would the Brewers opt to sign Kimbrel for more than one year?
Most people felt the Boston Red Sox would just eventually work out a deal and re-sign their talented closer. So it is shocking to see this has not happened. Could it still happen? Absolutely. Boston never filled the closer role by signing another relief pitcher. The Red Sox chose to fill the spot from within. But as the days go by and Kimbrel remains unsigned, Boston will always be in the mix because the team can spend money, they should be in contention, and Red Sox do not have a proven commodity at the back end of the game. Matt Barnes is the current closer and he has one save in the last two years.
It would be surprising if the Mets were indeed looking at Kimbrel, but it would make sense to bring him in if the money and years were right. After all, the Mets just traded two of their top prospects for a young and talented closer in Edwin Diaz who is under team control for a number of years at less than market value. Kimbrel would fit right in as being the third pitcher with experience closing games along with Diaz and Jeurys Familia. This would certainly make New York’s bullpen deeper and among the best in all of Major League Baseball. An even bigger problem than the money and years it would take to sign Kimbrel is would he be the closer or set up man, or would the Mets just go with someone different every night.
Tampa Bay does not do anything the conventional way. Signing high-priced free agents is not what this team does. Tampa Bay just does not spend big money on its players, even if it means letting them leave in free agency. The Rays have mastered the philosophy of letting the market come to them and usually signs the right players. Jose Alvarado is the current closer, and he saved eight games last year. He is not Craig Kimbrel as he does not bring that big game feeling when he comes out to save a game. The Rays had what a sneaky good off-season, and this is the kind of signing that could allow the Rays to stand toe-to-toe with the Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League East. However, there is this money issue the Rays always deal with.
Why the Nationals? They already have Sean Doolittle closing out games, so why would they need Kimbrel. Anyone who has followed the Nationals knows they have had massive bullpen implosions every year. The Nationals were also in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes right to the end, so there is money to spend. The National League East looks to be very competitive, and any edge you can get can make the difference. Plus, keeping Kimbrel away from a divisional rival would be a smart thing to do.
The last team is the Atlanta Braves. Yes, Kimbrel was originally a Brave and was traded on the eve of the 2015 season when Atlanta pushed the reset and rebuild button. Now in 2019, the Braves are the defending division champions and seemingly had a very quiet off-season not spending big money like their other divisional rivals. With Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter atop the closer depth chart, Kimbrel would be an immediate upgrade. Atlanta is swimming in young talent and might prefer to save money and fill the role from within. Kimbrel’s past success as a Brave will always have him on the radar.
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