The Cubs need get a lot of value from Craig Kimbrel’s contract this season. It’s a deal that could look bad for Chicago the longer it goes.
Craig Kimbrel entered free agency looking for a mammoth six-year contract. In the end, he only got half that from the Cubs. It’s still a deal that Chicago could come to regret before it comes off their books.
In the end, Kimbrel did pretty well for himself. The three-year, $45 million contract he was able to get from the Cubs will make him the fourth-highest paid closer in MLB this season. That’s not bad for a player who successfully skipped the first several months of Chicago’s 2019 campaign.
Assuming Kimbrel can hit the ground running, he should prove to be a real boost to the Cubs’ bullpen. Steve Cishek has done a decent job in the closer’s role to date, but he’s much better suited to be a setup man. Moving him into that role will also allow Chicago to eliminate a low-quality reliever from the back-end of their bullpen. This is clearly a move designed to win now by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs’ front office.
Solidifying the bullpen is clearly crucial for a team that’s currently engaged in a battle for the NL central crown. The Brewers entered play on Wednesday night tied with the Cubs for the division lead. The Cardinals are also lurking just three games back. There’s no question that adding Kimbrel strengthens Chicago’s chances of winning the NL Central in 2019.
The real question is how this deal is going to hold up as it goes along. It’s very likely the Cubs had to give Kimbrel a three-year deal if they wanted to sign him. That doesn’t change the fact that the former Red Sox closer could end up being a bad signing as soon as the ink is dry on his new contract.
There’s a reason Boston chose not to hand him a big-money contract to continue being the anchor of their bullpen. His 2018 season was a significant step back from the electric form he showed one season earlier. Kimbrel’s ERA of 2.74 was still the mark of a good reliever, but his FIP of 3.13 was the highest mark of his career. There’s significant reason to believe that Kimbrel is heading onto the downside of his career.
If Kimbrel’s production drops to the level of an average closer, the Cubs are going to be stuck with a bloated contract. Chicago has the financial resources to absorb it, but any bad contract always has the ability to limit a future move a team might want to make. That’s not something Cubs fans are concerned with at the moment, but it could become a serious issue in one of the next two seasons.
The bottom line on this deal is that the Cubs gave Kimbrel the contract they needed to in order to get him in the fold. Their front office needs to hope it pays off big in 2019. The chances of it holding up after this year are pretty small. It’s not an albatross that will sink the Cubs’ future, but it it does project to be a bad deal sooner, rather than later.