Craig Kimbrel still hasn’t signed, and the longer he lingers available the more he’s starting to look like this year’s Greg Holland.
A second straight slow MLB free agent market has led to some notable names being available into spring training. Greg Holland tied for the National League lead in saves (41) for the Colorado Rockies in 2017, yet he did not sign with the St. Louis Cardinals until March 31 last year. Craig Kimbrel did not lead the American League in saves last year, but he did come in second with 42 as he locked down the end of games for the Boston Red Sox.
Kimbrel is still available, with the Washington Nationals recently rumored to be in the lead to sign him coupled with a contradicting report the team will not go over the luxury tax threshold. The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies have had rumored interest, along with the Minnesota Twins mentioned as a team that could sign him, but a return to Boston is not in the cards.
Just as quickly as a report surfaced Kimbrel would sit out the season if his asking price wasn’t met, his agent refuted it.
But the longer Kimbrel goes unsigned the more he’s on track to be this year’s Holland, and a serious fantasy bust.
In 32 appearances for the Cardinals last year, Holland had a 7.92 ERA with a 7.9 K/9 rate and a 7.9 BB/9 rate over 25 innings. So it was no surprise when he was released on Aug. 1, and he landed with the Nationals soon after.
Over 24 appearances for Washington, Holland looked more like the pitcher he had been with a 0.84 ERA (2.97 FIP), a 10.5 K/9, a 4.2 BB/9, three saves and four holds.
There was no repeating 2017 (1.43 ERA, 1.42 FIP, 0.68 WHIP, 16.4 K/9, 1.88 BB/9), but Kimbrel’s fast ball velocity dropped a tick last year while his walk rate (4.5 BB/9) went back to his 2016 level (5.1 BB/9). And now he won’t, at minimum right now, have a big chunk of spring training to get his arm in ideal shape.
As a nod to his elite status, despite being without a team, Kimbrel is still the third reliever going off the board in fantasy drafts right now (via Fantasy Pros). Holland, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a setup man to Archie Bradley, is RP63 based on Fantasy Pros’ ADP consensus.
But a slow start seems to be looming when games start to count. While it probably won’t come with an ERA pushing 8.00 or with K/9 and BB/9 that are equal, like Holland’s 2018 start, whoever has Kimbrel as the anchor of a real-life or fantasy bullpen has to be aware of the increasing risk.