Craig Kimbrel is arguably the top closer available on the free agency market, but giving a six-year deal to a reliever would be an awful decision.
Giving multiyear contracts to relievers in free agency is usually a bad decision for teams looking to upgrade their bullpens. The idea that Craig Kimbrel wants a six-year deal in free agency is just madness.
In fairness to the mercurial closer, there’s an argument to make that he’s the best reliever on the market this winter. We don’t necessarily think he’d be our top choice, but teams who value guys with an established track record of closing games in big moments could easily rank him No. 1 on their shopping lists.
Kimbrel also has every right to look for big money this offseason. 2019 represents his age-31 season. This might be the last chance he gets to hit the open market with an opportunity to make big money. Assuming he signs some type of multiyear contract, he’s not going to get back out on the market again until his mid-30s at the absolute earliest.
With that being said, the idea that he’s telling teams he wants a six-year contract is pure fantasy. Any team that hands that kind of deal to a reliever in his 30s should fire their general manager on the spot. Handing a deal of that length to any player is fraught with danger. The notorious inconsistency of major league relievers makers a six-year deal for a reliever almost unheard of.
The hope here has to be that Kimbrel and his representatives are just throwing six years out there to make it clear they aren’t interested in a one or two-year deal. They may have hopes of equaling the five-year, $80 million deal the Yankees gave Aroldis Chapman back in 2016, but Kimbrel is unlikely to reach those heights. Chapman was younger and more dominant when he hit the open market.
Kimbrel was really good last season, but it’s hard to believe he’ll improve any over the life of his next contract. Last year’s WAR of 2.3 is likely the high mark of what he’s going to provide moving forward. The chances of him experiencing sharp age-related regression are much larger than him improving as he hits his mid-30s.
In the end, look for Kimbrel to back off his initial demands pretty quickly. If he can find a contending team willing to make him a three-year offer that will pay him something around $15 million per season he should take it without hesitation. There’s no team out there foolish enough to give him six years.