Who will sign Craig Kimbrel? Ranking the landing spots for baseball's best free-agent reliever
Kimbrel is one of the best relievers in baseball, but you wouldn't know it based on this winter
Craig Kimbrel is one of baseball's most accomplished active relievers. He'll enter the new season with 333 saves, the most ever accumulated through an age-30 campaign. While it's too early to peg Kimbrel's chances of claiming the career record (Mariano Rivera currently owns it with 652), he could nonetheless move into the top 10 all-time in 2019 with a 35-save effort -- almost a given, considering he's topped that mark in seven of his eight full big-league seasons.
There's just one catch: Kimbrel does not yet have a team -- or even so much as a named suitor. At least for the time being, teams appear to be balking at Kimbrel's asking price due to his age, workload, and wavering command (plus an increasing league-wide reluctance to spend on any player).
We figure that between now and opening day, some general manager will break the line and sign Kimbrel. To pass the time, we decided to rank all 30 teams based on the perceived likelihood of them being the ones to do it. Keep in mind, this is art not science.
Now, onto the rankings.
30. Miami Marlins
There's no reason to believe the Marlins are going to spend significant money on a free agent anytime in the near future -- especially not one whose impact is capped to 60 or so innings.
29. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are more likely than the Marlins to splurge on talent. Alas, there's little incentive at the moment for Mike Elias to hand out a multiyear deal to a reliever.
28. Kansas City Royals
We're just working our way right on through all the non-competitive teams. The Royals may decide to add a veteran reliever, but it won't be Kimbrel.
27. Detroit Tigers
26. Pittsburgh Pirates
25. New York Mets
24. Arizona Diamondbacks
Whether or not the Diamondbacks are fully rebuilding, they seem far more likely to enter the season with Archie Bradley as their closer than to spend big on Kimbrel. We'd love to see those two as a tandem, however, if only for the beard comparisons.
23. Houston Astros
The Astros have shown to be opportunistic, but they're probably not going to be the team to sign Kimbrel -- not when they already have a loaded bullpen.
22. Oakland Athletics
Billy Beane and David Forst are overdue for a surprise signing. Given the state of the A's rotation, though, it seems more likely that they'd use their money there. Besides, Blake Treinen is entrenched as the closer.
21. Cleveland Indians
Cleveland could actually use Kimbrel -- or most any reliever, really. But, seeing as how the Indians have spent the winter trimming payroll, they're unlikely to add a big-name free agent.
20. Toronto Blue Jays
Never bet on a Mark Shapiro-led team to spend money.
19. San Francisco Giants
If anything, Farhan Zaidi seems more likely to sell than buy.
18. Cincinnati Reds
17. Los Angeles Dodgers
16. New York Yankees
Replace "Kenley Jansen" with "Aroldis Chapman" and the same sentiment applies.
15. Texas Rangers
We don't think the Rangers are all that inclined to sign Kimbrel. Still, they've added some veteran arms this winter and maybe his price drops far enough where they talk themselves into it.
14. Seattle Mariners
You can never be sure of what Jerry Dipoto is going to do next. The Mariners may well add a closer type before spring rolls around -- right now they'd probably be using Anthony Swarzak or Dan Altavilla in the ninth -- but will it be Kimbrel? Probably not.
13. Colorado Rockies
To this point, we haven't identified a single team as a realistic suitor for Kimbrel. That streak will continue here. The Rockies splurged on their bullpen to poor results last winter, and Wade Davis probably wouldn't take kindly to being demoted to an eighth-inning arm a year in to his deal.
12. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs could frankly use Kimbrel given Brandon Morrow's likely early season unavailability and how Carl Edwards Jr. ended last year. But they're reportedly tapped out financially. Maybe Jed Hoyer will find a way to make room in his budget -- even if he does, Kimbrel seems unlikely.
11. Washington Nationals
10. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies' interest may hinge on whether they land Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. If they come up short, they might have to sign Kimbrel in an effort to load up their bullpen. We don't think the chances are that good of this happening -- not after the Phillies signed David Robertson -- but whatever.
9. Chicago White Sox
8. San Diego Padres
Kimbrel has been there, done that, sure. But A.J. Preller is bold and the Padres were rumored to be interested in making a leap this season. As a result, we're not going to completely rule out the Padres.
7. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have the need and the payroll flexibility to add Kimbrel. They'd probably prefer a short-term arrangement, and that's where things fall apart -- if Kimbrel were open to one-year, he'd likely find a more lucrative payday elsewhere.
6. Minnesota Twins
The Twins, to their credit, have been one of the busiest teams of the winter. That movement includes adding Blake Parker earlier this week. Kimbrel would be a better fit in the ninth, but it's possible Minnesota is saving what's left of its budget space for a starting pitcher.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
We're getting down to the nitty gritty here. The Brewers have Corey Knebel, Josh Hader, and Jeremy Jeffress at the back of their bullpen. But David Stearns is a creative general manager, and one who knows his bullpen will again have to pick up slack for its rotation. Kimbrel would give Milwaukee yet another stud who can help shorten games.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
We're staying in the National League Central and putting the Cardinals here. Yes indeed, they recently signed Andrew Miller. But Miller has never needed the closer's mantle to feel valued, and a back-end of him, Jordan Hicks, and Kimbrel would be nasty.
3. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have came up short on a number of free agents this winter. Kimbrel would be a huge addition for a team that could use the help.
2. Atlanta Braves
Kimbrel returning to Atlanta makes a lot of sense. The Braves are going to have their hands full trying to repeat as National League East champions, and so far they haven't done much to improve their relief corps. Kimbrel would allow them to free up A.J. Minter and would give them an insurance policy against their many injury risks -- Arodys Vizcaino, Jonny Venters, and Darren O'Day.
1. Boston Red Sox
If we're talking Kimbrel reunions, one with the Red Sox continues to make the most sense. We know that publicly Dave Dombrowski is stating Boston is out on Kimbrel. But we're not going to believe he's telling the truth until Kimbrel signs elsewhere.
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