Craig Kimbrel rumors: Cubs making strong push for closer and the Ben Zobrist situation could factor into their pursuit

Now that the beginning of the MLB Draft is out of the way, the markets for free agents Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are heating up (here's how everything is related). In the case of the latter, it sounds like the Cubs are emerging as the favorite. 

Throughout the offseason, Cubs ownership told everyone who would listen that there was no money for big free agents. Their biggest signing was infielder Daniel Descalso (two years, $5 million). What changed? 

For starters, the Cubs' bullpen -- while it hasn't been terrible -- could certainly use a hard-throwing closer in front of the likes of Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek

Past that, the Ben Zobrist situation looms large. Zobrist has been away from the team for around a month on the restricted list while going through a divorce. Recently, Cubs manager Joe Maddon made comments about Zobrist possibly not coming back all season. Rosenthal recently reported as much, noting that players on the restricted list aren't paid. Zobrist's 2019 salary was set to be $12.5 million. 

Add everything up and it appears that the Cubs are pushing to add Kimbrel, at least in part, with some of the money leftover from Zobrist's deal. 

On the Zobrist front, he's 38 years old, was hitting .241/.343/.253 when he took his leave, has won two rings -- and a World Series MVP -- and has made over $75 million in his career. He's a three-time All-Star. It's possible he wasn't going to get a deal at the end of this year anyway, so it's entirely possible he's calling it a career right now. The circumstances are terrible and it's a real shame he might be going out this way. 

For the Cubs, though, this is a business and grabbing Kimbrel with some of the Zobrist money would work really well. 

Kimbrel turned 31 last week. Last season, he pitched to a 2.74 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 96 strikeouts against 31 walks in 62 1/3 innings. The seven-time All-Star has led his league in saves four times and ranks 14th all-time in saves. In nine postseason appearances, though, he had a 5.91 ERA and walked eight in 10 2/3 innings. Come the last few World Series games, the Red Sox were using other pitches to close down games. 

Still, the track record is there (1.91 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in 542 career appearances) and 31 is far from old for a closer. 

The Cubs got Strop back from the injured list on Tuesday and he worked a perfect ninth. Cishek and Brandon Kintzler has been good this season. Carl Edwards Jr. has gone three straight scoreless appearances, too. 

Basically, adding Kimbrel gives the Cubs hope of having a strong bullpen come the stretch run. It could look something like this: 

Closer: Kimbrel
8th: Strop
7th: Cishek
Lefties: Mike Montgomery
Long: Tyler Chatwood
Middle: Edwards, Kintzler, Brad Brach

We won't be confusing that for the 1990 A's or anything, but that group wouldn't be a burden to a contending team either. There's also the question on whether or not Brandon Morrow can come back and the Cubs could add someone (Will Smith? Ken Giles?) in front of the trade deadline while others (Adbert Alzolay?) from the minors could also help. 

Basically, the Cubs' bullpen has had issues, but adding Kimbrel along with several other things lining up would go a long way in helping to resolve them. Having the move tied to what happened with Zobrist is definitely awkward, but life is unpredictable. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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