Craig Kimbrel has been one of the most dominant relievers in MLB history, but he still can’t find a job — maybe one of these five teams will open the checkbook.
It’s hard to imagine a closer doing much more to earn a contract on par with the league’s most expensive ninth-inning men than still-waiting-to-sign free agent Craig Kimbrel. In nine full MLB seasons, the red-bearded ace has been named to seven All-Star teams, led the league in saves four times, won NL Rookie of the Year, finished in the top five of Cy Young voting twice, won a World Series and struck out nearly 15 per nine while allowing less than a baserunner an inning.
Kimbrel is one of the best to ever handle the ninth inning in MLB history, but the 30-year-old has had barely a nibble as a free agent. He deserves every bit as much money as Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, who both topped $80 million on five year deals. Unfortunately for Kimbrel, he gave up his chance to hit free agency as soon as possible by signing an extension early in his career.
Teams have shied away from giving out massive contracts to closers, and Kimbrel may be forced to settle for a deal in the range of the three years and $52 million Wade Davis landed with the Colorado Rockies. Another factor working against Kimbrel here is that his old team, the Boston Red Sox appears to have no interest in re-signing him.
It’s still early in the season, and a closer should be able to get up to speed much faster than a starter like Dallas Keuchel, who is also unsigned. One big injury to a contender’s closer, and Kimbrel will have a job in a matter of hours. While the All-Star is forced to wait it out for a multi-year offer, any one of these five teams makes sense as a potential landing spot.
5. Atlanta Braves
Kimbrel spent the first five years of his career with the Atlanta Braves, and a reunion could definitely be in the cards. Arodys Vizcaino has the closer’s job for now, but has lingering shoulder issues that could flare up at any time. A.J. Minter also has experience closing, but is already on the injured list with his own shoulder issues. The Braves could be looking for help in the ninth inning at any time.
While the rest of the NL East was busy doling out big contracts this winter, the Braves mostly stood pat with the roster that got them back to the playoffs last year. Because their roster is so young, the flexibility is there to scoop up Kimbrel if closer becomes a more obvious need in Atlanta.