Yes, the Cubs have won the Craig Kimbrel sweepstakes — a contest that apparently no team cared to enter for the first two months of the season.
Does that particular detail reveal something in and of itself? Hard to say. But the point is the most consistently dominant reliever in Fantasy is back in play.
And in a situation where his claim to saves shouldn't be the least bit in question.
The Cubs have been making due with Pedro Strop, a fine setup man who nonetheless seemed a little overmatched in the starring role. When he went down with a hamstring injury, Steve Cishek proved sufficient, but Strop is back occupying the role now. So while the Cubs have a number of decent bullpen options, none have the lockdown ability that contending teams are accustomed to using in the ninth inning.
And since it's a question that needs to be raised given league-wide bullpen trends, the Cubs will definitely use Kimbrel in the ninth inning. Consistently. For Joe Maddon's reputation as a breaker of traditions, he has always held to a traditional closer, even when the selection wasn't so great.
Now, he has maybe the best in history.
Oh sure, Mariano Rivera has longevity and postseason accolades and all that. And they matter. But inning for inning, here's a reminder of just how good Kimbrel has been, since the world seems to have forgotten:
Craig Kimbrel career MLB ranks— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 6, 2019
(Minimum 500 innings)
ERA+ 211 1st
K% 41.6% 1st
WHIP 0.920 2nd
Opp BA .154 1st
He's the only pitcher in MLB history with more saves (333) than hits allowed (285); minimum 2 saves
Has he lost something in recent years? The numbers, mainly the inconsistent walk rate, would suggest so, and it may be why no team was willing to meet his asking price this offseason. But given the starting point, "losing something" still translates to numbers like these:
In other words, he's still in the mix to be the best reliever in Fantasy Baseball, particularly on a contending club.
Or at least he would be if not for the added wrinkle: Is he ready to go? Right now? How long before he will be? Can we trust he's actually ready when he and the Cubs say he's ready?
Because you may not know, but hasty build-ups following delayed signings haven't always turned out so well for the pitchers who followed that path. The most recent case involving a high-profile closer was Greg Holland just last year, who agreed to a deal with the Cardinals on Opening Day only to put together a 7.92 ERA and 2.24 WHIP in 32 appearances and be released before season's end. He has rebounded this year with the Diamondbacks, which only adds to the mystery of what in the world happened last season.
Here's one part of it: He made his first Cardinals appearance only a week after slipping on the uniform. It doesn't sound like the Cubs will push Kimbrel as hard, at least judging from manager Joe Maddon's comments when presented with the hypothetical over the weekend:
"You'd have to lay out a track there for him to get ready again," Maddon said. "Probably a minimum of three weeks, I would say something like that. You'd have to get him in some games. You'd have to get out there and get through the daily process of being sore. ... There's normally going to be a process to get him up to speed."
So ... factor that into your Kimbrel assessment. The payoff may not be immediate, which may be for the best. And even if the Cubs shortchange the buildup, we shouldn't just assume it'll go as poorly as it did for Holland. We're talking a sample of one, and the one wasn't of the caliber of Kimbrel.
Taking everything into consideration — elite pitcher, good situation, probable wait, with some risk attached — I'm ranking Kimbrel 12th among the true relievers (a little lower if you factor in Brandon Woodruff and Tyler Glasnow), with the potential to move into the top five once he's back pitching and pitching well.