The curious case of Craig Kimbrel

It’s June, and MLB’s fastest player to ever record 300 career saves is team-less.

That’s right, ladies and gentleman. The same 31-year-old Craig Kimbrel with 333 career saves and the hilarious pitching stance is still a free agent.

33847580110_a7ff78ce91_o.jpg
Craig Kimbrel” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s been over seven months since Kimbrel threw a pitch in the majors. In an age where MLB playoff teams often have two or three flame-throwers in their ‘pen, it might come as a shock to some that one of the premier game-finishers and his 868 strikeouts in 532.2 career innings is still available…or is it?

 

REASONS KIMBREL IS UNSIGNED

Kimbrel entered the offseason with some lofty demands, initially seeking a five year contract in the neighborhood of $100 million. Most teams felt that was an awfully steep price and commitment for a 31-year-old player who might play 60 innings in a season.

Another “knock” on Kimbrel, is that he’s had walk rates over 4.5 BB/9 in two of his last three seasons. Definitely a nit-picky stat since it’s recent, but it’s worth noting. Closers are meant to come in and shut the door, not give free bases and make life harder on a manager, a team, and the die hard fan screaming at the TV and breaking their third remote of the season when the closer walks the lead-off man yet again.

Over the past two seasons, MLB free agency has seen teams shy away from signing big time contracts early in the free agency period. The top four contracts given out in 2018 – Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, JD Martinez and Eric Hosmer – all signed after February 10th. Three of those players not named Hosmer were also 30 years old while waiting for free agency. Too many teams have shelled out some baaaaad, massive contracts to players on the wrong side of 30 in the past 10 years, making me believe teams are letting the value fall on some of the best players in the game.

 

WHY HE’S A VALUE

At 31, Kimbrel still offers value as a closer, as he can still touch triple digits on the radar gun and has a nine year track record of success. It might take a few games for Kimbrel to get back into top form, but Kimbrel could provide a playoff team with a rested arm down the stretch. Rested arms down the stretch are a very, very valuable asset to have come playoff time.

Also, he’s never finished a season under 13.2 K/9, and his career average is 14.7. Aroldis Chapman’s career average is 14.9 K/9. Simply put, this guy does what closers do best: shut the door. Enough said.

 

LIKELY DESTINATIONS

There are many teams right now who could use Kimbrel, mostly being teams already shaping up to be playing in October. With that, let’s take a look at the contenders who might end up signing the valuable flame-throwing ginger.

  • ATLANTA BRAVES

Kimbrel would return to the team where he started his career, where he collected over half of his career saves (186). Atlanta (32-27) remains in the hunt in the NL East, just one game behind the Phillies as of June 2nd. The worst part? The Braves have blown 10 saves so far this year. Give them even half of those back and the Braves would be 37-22 with a four game lead over Philly.

  • CHICAGO CUBS

The Cubs closer situation is in big trouble right now. The Cubs have blown 11 of 22 save chances this year, the worst percentage in baseball. Brandon Morrow was supposed to be closer, but he has yet to return from an injury sustained last season. Sign Kimbrel to close, get Morrow back to throw in the eighth, and the Cubs back-end of the bullpen becomes nasty. The Cubs (31-26) are slumping recently and moved to second place, but could be 40-17 had they converted nine of their 11 blown chances. Sorry to remind you, Cubs fans.

  • MINNESOTA TWINS

The AL Central first-place Twins are the hottest team in baseball, and seem to have all things working for them. A solid starting staff has allowed the bullpen to throw the second fewest innings thus far in MLB. By adding Kimbrel, the Twins would solidify themselves as contenders and give them an imposing arm with postseason experience for a playoff run. The Twins can’t afford to sleep on the high powered offenses of the Yankees and Astros.

  • MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Can you imagine a one-two punch of Kimbrel and Josh Hader at the end of a game? I can, and it would be absurd. With Corey Knebel out for the year and the Brewers bullpen having thrown the third-most innings so far, Kimbrel could step in and give the Brewers a stacked bullpen and fresh arm for the second half. Manager Craig Counsell showed in last year’s playoff run he’s not afraid to go to the ‘pen early. The more arms the merrier.

  • LOS ANGELES DODGERS

The Dodgers seem to acquire some big name every year, and getting Kimbrel would not surprise me. Kimbrel could pair with Kenley Jansen to give the Dodgers the most imposing one-two bullpen punch in baseball. Jansen has only blown two saves this season, but the Dodgers have blown nine as a team. Acquiring Kimbrel would be nothing more than to separate themselves even further from the field and become favorites to make it to the World Series.

  • TAMPA BAY RAYS

Tampa has an overused ‘pen, already with 262 innings thrown, second-most in MLB. If Tampa – currently 35-22 and just 2.5 games out of first – wants to stay within striking distance of the Yankees, getting Kimbrel to close out close games could be the difference. The Red Sox will likely be around come September, so Kimbrel could help the Rays widen the gap in the wild card race and stay ahead of Boston. Tampa is currently led by Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo with six saves each, so neither has run away with the job. Kimbrel would run away with the job. Quickly.

  • NEW YORK YANKEES

Why not? Probably the most unlikely to sign Kimbrel, but it is the Yankees after all. The Yanks haven’t been to the World Series since 2009 and are currently 38-20 in the AL East. Injuries have hampered the Yankees offensively, so they may be better than their record indicates. Kimbrel would give the Yankees the best bullpen in baseball with Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Tommy Kahnle. Signing Kimbrel would make the Yanks a very tough out in the playoffs and legit World Series contenders.

 

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It’s only a matter of time before Kimbrel signs. Whoever ends up signing the ginger gun-slinger will be getting one of the top closers in the game and a game-changer, all without having to sacrifice any prospects or draft picks, thus ending the saga of the curious case of Craig Kimbrel.

PREDICTION: Chicago Cubs

 

 

 

 

2019 MLB predictions preview: AL Central

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Cleveland Indians by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

1. Cleveland Indians

Record: 97-71
Postseason Result: Lost to Houston Astros in the AL Division Series.
Offseason Acquisitions: Traded for Max Moroff from Pittsburgh Pirates, traded for Jake Bauers from Tampa Bay Rays, traded for Jordan Luplow from Pittsburgh Pirates, Walker Locket traded from San Diego Padres, traded for Carlos Santana from Seattle Mariners, traded for Kevin Plawecki from New York Mets, and traded for Nick Wittgren from Miami Marlins.
Offseason Departures: Mike Freeman, Trayce Thompson, James Hoyt, Anthony Gose, Brooks Pounders, Brandon Barnes, Matt Joyce, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Flaherty, Alex Wilson, Ben Taylor, Yu Chang, Corey Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, Oscar Mercado and Justin Grimm signed with Minors, Mike Napoli retired.
2019 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION: It’s given that Cleveland will more likely than not top this division, again, for the fourth consecutive time. The main eyes should be facing the playoffs after, as Cleveland hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. However, it will be even more difficult than last season for them to do so. Despite the signings during the offseason, shortstop Francisco Lindor will be missed in the beginning due to a strained calf injury. Despite the setbacks, this team will still likely beat out any competition in their division to seal a playoff spot. But this team’s waited long enough for a World Series appearance, therefore, can Cleveland bring the title home?
Prediction: 90-72

 

2. Detroit Tigers

Record: 64-98
Postseason Result: Nice try.
Offseason Acquisitions: Signed Shane Greene from New York Yankees, Matthew Boyd from Toronto Blue Jays, Kaleb Cowart from Seattle Mariners and Josh Harrison from Pittsburgh Pirates.
Offseason Departures: Assigned Casey Mize to Minors, Optioned Dawel Lugo, Eduardo Jimenez, Matt Hall, Sandy Baez, Franklin Perez, Willie Castro, Sergio Alcantara and Victor Reyes to Minors.
2019 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION: For the last two seasons, the Tigers have lost 98 games each, and they’ll be hoping to turn that around. The signings of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will definitely help, but they will need more. Detroit will need to look towards good performances from Nicholas Castellano and Jeimer Candelario for support. However, if anything happens to the two of them, it’s gonna be a long season for Detroit. But can Detroit utilize these players and push for second in the division?

Prediction: 63-97

 

3. Minnesota Twins

Record: 78-84
Postseason Result: Not last season, better luck this time around.
Offseason Acquisitions: Signed Nelson Cruz from Seattle Mariners, Blake Parker from Los Angeles Angels, traded for Daniel Ozoria from Los Angeles Angels, signed Martín Pérez from Texas Rangers and signed Marwin González from Houston Astros.
Offseason Departures: Dario Alvarez, Mike Olt, D.J. Baxendale, Jordany Valdespin, Wilin Rosario, Pat Dean, Kevin Comer, Adam Atkins, Lucas Duda, Adam Rosales and Tomas Telis signed with Minors, traded Zack Granite to Texas Rangers, optioned Andrew Vazquez, Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Nick Gordon, LaMonte Wader Jr., Luis Arraez, Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey and Lewis Thorpe to minors, released Lucas Duda.
2019 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION: The Minnesota Twins have had a wonderful offseason. The most eye-catching player this season for them has to be Byon Buxton. He’s known as ‘the fastest man in baseball’. According to SBNation, he had the best defense in the league, hitting .300/.357/.546 by the latter end of the season. The Twins can also benefit from the services of Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn to stabilize the lineup. Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios. Even though Satana’s got a finger injury to deal with, Jake Odorizzi is an upgrade from last year, so the Twins should be optimistic. Despite it being a long stretch, can Minnesota dethrone Cleveland at the top of the division?
Prediction: 80-82

 

4. Kansas City Royals

Record: 58-104
Postseason Result: Is this question necessary?
Offseason Acquisitions: Signed Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman from Arizona Diamondbacks, signed Jorge Lopez from Milwaukee Brewers and signed Martin Maldonado from Houston Astros.
Offseason Departures: Assigned Cheslor Cuthbert to Omaha, optioned Arnaldo Hernandez, Ben Lively, Jake Newberry, Josh Staumont, Scott Blewett, Kelvin Gutierrez, Glenn Sparkman, Brett Philips and Jorge Bonifacio to Omaha, assigned Jake Kalish, Andres Machado, Foster Griffin, MJ Melendez, Sebastian Rivero and Samir Duenez to Minor League, traded Jason Adam to Toronto Blue Jays.
2019 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION: The Kansas City Royals didn’t sign much in this offseason nor did they intend to. According to Dayton Moore, the general manager of the team, the team is looking to develop their youth players for the future.

However, going into this season, one main player which will be key for the Royals is Danny Duffy, who’s signed a major five-year, $65 million deal. But although Duffy continues to thrive, he is injury prone, starting no more than 30 games last season. But this season is a good chance for Jorge Soler to show what he’s made of in the case of a Duffy injury.

Though it would be really tough for this young team to make the playoffs, can they outdo themselves and give their fans hope by coming third in the division?
Prediction: 70-92

 

5. Chicago White Sox

Record: 62-100
Postseason Result: Everybody has dreams.
Offseason Acquisitions: Signed Manny Bañuelos from Atlanta Braves, claimed Josh Osich from waivers off of Baltimore Orioles.
Offseason Departures: Assigned Charlie Tilson, Aaron Bummer, Carson Fulmer and Juan Minaya to Minors, Ryan Goins, D.J. Peterson, Matt Skole, Randall Delgado, Evan Marshall, Donn Roach and Brandon Guyer and Preston Tucker signed with Minors.
2019 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION: Though it seems the White Sox don’t fancy winning as of late, they still like to and are surely looking for more of those this season. The main player for the White Sox will be Shortstop Tim Anderson, who will be entering his fourth season with the White Sox. On his MLS debut, he clocked a 2.8 WAR. Along with Anderson, young faces like Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Dylan Cease will hopefully please the fans.

This team is nowhere near settled like the others in this division, but there’s no reason the White Sox can’t improve upon last season. Last season, the White Sox won 62 games, consider 70 as excellent improvement. Can Anderson and co. lead the White Sox to an improved 70 wins or more?
Prediction: 70-92

 

Predicted Division Standings:

Cleveland Indians

Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers

Kansas City Royals

Chicago White Sox

 

Mount Rushmore: American League Central

00440_n_12ag9rg4vb0449” by clare_and_ben is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Chicago White Sox

  • Frank Thomas, 1B/DH, 1990-2005
  • Nellie Fox, 2B, 1950-1963
  • Minnie Miñoso, LF/3B, 1951-1957, 1960-1961, 1964, 1976, 1980
  • Luke Appling, SS/3B 1930-1943, 1945-1950

An imposing figure at 6’5″, 240 pounds, Frank Thomas (a/k/a The Big Hurt) seemed to clobber the ball every time he connected on his 2,468 career hits, most of which came as a member of the White Sox. But he also had a keen eye, leading the league in walks and on-base percentage four times. The two-time MVP gained a World Series ring his last year with the club despite having only played in 34 games that season.

Fox, seven inches shorter and 80 pounds lighter than Thomas, went to the All-Star game 15 times during his 19-year career while winning the MVP in 1959 and earning three Gold Gloves between 1957 and 1960.

Minnie Miñoso won just as many Gold Gloves as Fox while heading to the All-Star Game nine times. The lifetime .298 hitter also appeared in several White Sox games at the age of 50–and then again at 54! He’d finish his career with 50.5 WAR and four Top 5 finishes for MVP.

Playing his entire 20-year career with the White Sox, Appling, a Hall of Famer, won two batting titles on his way to seven All-Star Games. For his career, he hit only 45 home runs, but his career WAR was 74.4. He finished with a career slash line of .310/.399/.398 for a .798 OPS. Not bad for a guy whose career high in home runs was eight.

 

Jim Thome” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cleveland Indians

  • Larry Doby, CF, 1947-1955, 1958
  • Jim Thome, 1B/DH/3B, 1991-2002, 2011
  • Bob Feller, SP, 1936-1941, 1945-1956
  • Tris Speaker, CF, 1916-1926

The American League’s first African-American ballplayer, Doby, in his first full season in the pros, helped the Indians win their most recent World Series–in 1948. He’d go on to play in seven All-Star Games while leading the league in nine different offensive categories over the years, including winning 2/3 of the Triple Crown in 1954.

Thome, a fellow Hall of Famer, hit 337 of his career 612 home runs as a member of the Indians. Overall, the hefty lefty earned a WAR of 48 while in Cleveland. The five-time All-Star would also go to two World Series with the Indians, both of which they lost.

Debuting at age 17, Feller went 5-3 with a 3.34 ERA and 76 strikeouts over 62 frames in 1936. Overall, he finished with 266 career wins (all with Cleveland) while playing in eight All-Star Games. He won at least 20 games six different times in his career. In 1940, he won the “Pitcher’s Triple Crown,” leading the AL in wins (27), ERA (2.71), and strikeouts (261). Now consider this: he missed three seasons, when he was 23, 24, and 25, due to military service. What might he have accomplished with those three seasons? Regardless, Feller’s one of the best pitchers to have ever played the game.

Finally, Speaker is another exclusion to my rule of leaving out players from the Dead-ball Era. He was just too good. In 11 seasons with Cleveland, he had a .965 OPS despite averaging less than seven home runs per season. A member of Cleveland’s 1920 World Series championship team, he was a doubles-machine (no one’s hit more than his career 792) who hit over .380 three different times.

 

Justin Verlander” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Detroit Tigers

  • Al Kaline, RF/1B, 1953-1974
  • Justin Verlander, SP, 2005-2017
  • Hal Newhouser, SP, 1939-1953
  • Ty Cobb, CF, 1905-1926

Kaline finished with just over 3,000 hits, a .297 career batting average and a WAR of 92.8. Though he never won the MVP, he was part of the club that won the 1968 World Series. Plus, he won 10 Gold Gloves, appeared in 18 All-Star Games and won the 1955 batting title–when he was 20.

Still playing today for the Astros, Verlander helped rise the Tigers franchise from the dead. In his rookie season, he helped Detroit win the American League Pennant. His Tigers teams would make the playoffs five times. Overall, Verlander–who won the Rookie of the Year in 2006 and who captured both the Cy Young and MVP in 2011–won 183 games for Detroit. A durable starter, he’d also make six All-Star teams during his tenure.

Newhouser, however, was a southpaw, and he did win a World Series with Detroit–back in 1945. During the course of his career, Newhouser won 207 games with a 3.07 ERA, good enough for 63.3 WAR, 59.4 of which came with Detroit. He won back-to-back MVPs in 1944 and 1945.

Ah, the most famous Tiger of them all–Ty Cobb. Not a very good person. Probably a horrible person, from all accounts. But an incredible ballplayer. He led the league in runs scored five times, hits seven times, doubles three times, triples four times, home runs once (with 9 in 1909, the year in which he won the Triple Crown), RBIs four times, stolen bases six times, on-base percentage seven times, slugging percentage eight times, OPS 10 times and total bases six times while winning 12 batting titles. Incredibly, he won the MVP only once, in 1911. In the most glaring lowlight of his on-field performance, his Tigers reached the World Series three times–and lost every time.

 

Alex Gordon” by Minda Haas Kuhlmann is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kansas City Royals

  • George Brett, 3B/1B, 1973-1983
  • Bret Saberhagen, SP, 1984-1991
  • Amos Otis, CF, 1970-1983
  • Alex Gordon, 3B/LF, 2007-Present

Brett was by far the easiest choice here, as he’s the only player enshrined in Cooperstown as a Royal. Part of the Royals’ first World Series championship team in 1985, Brett collected more than 3,000 hits, including 317 home runs. The 13-time All-Star won the 1980 MVP, won one Gold Glove and collected three Silver Sluggers. For his career, he slashed .305/.369/.487.

In eight seasons with the Royals, Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards, in 1985 and 1989. He was also named the 1985 World Series MVP after throwing two complete games (one a shutout) for a 2-0 record and a 0.50 ERA. His importance to the Royals goes beyond his career win-loss record. An important cog in some of the team’s first glories, Saberhagen pitched another eight seasons after leaving Kansas City, but never was the same type of pitcher.

The last two spots really came down to ten players. Among the notable misses: Kevin Appier, Dan Quisenberry, Frank White, Salvador Perez, Willie Wilson and Bo Jackson.

Otis is the only one of four players selected who wasn’t on either the 1985 or 2015 World Series championship teams. But he made five All-Star Games and won three Gold Gloves with the Royals. In his 14 seasons in Kansas City, he totaled 44.8 WAR. While he hit for power, his true value came on the basepaths and in the field.

Gordon is entering the last year of his contract with the Royals. He’s had a star-crossed career: drafted early, praised as a moribund franchise’s savior, then labeled a bust, he re-made himself as a Gold Glove outfielder with a rifle for an arm. His bat’s regressed after 2015, but played key roles in both 2014 (when the Royals lost the World Series) and 2015 (when they won it all). Perhaps more importantly, he stuck around, and will most likely finish his career having only played for the Royals–just like Bret.

 

Kirby Puckett Statue at Target Field” by Jeramey Jannene is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins

  • Harmon Killebrew, 1B/3B/LF, 1954-1974
  • Rod Carew, 1B/2B, 1967-1978
  • Kirby Puckett, CF, 1984-1995
  • Walter Johnson, SP, 1907-1927

The Killer played for both the Washington Senators and then the Minnesota Twins, after the franchise re-located prior to the 1961 season. He hit all but 14 of his 573 career home runs as a member of the Senators/Twins en route to 13 All-Star Game appearances that included the 1969 MVP. He helped the Twins reach the 1965 World Series, which they lost in seven games. Overall, as a member of the Senators/Twins, he slashed .258/.378/.514 for an .892 OPS.

The first half of Carew’s career came in Minnesota, where he won the 1977 MVP while making 12 All-Star Games. He won Rookie of the Year in 1967 and went on to win seven batting titles, all while a member of the Twins. He collected over 3,000 hits in his career with over 2,000 of them coming as Twin. In his 12 seasons in Minnesota, he slashed .334/.393/.448.

Man, Puckett was great, and he could have been so much better had his career not tragically ended. But before that unfortunate ending, Puckett led the Twins to a World Series title in 1987. The Hall of Famer reached 10 All-Star Games, won six Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers. In 1991, he won the ALCS MVP. In 1989, he won a batting title.

Lastly, there’s Walter Johnson, who won 417 games with the Senators in his 21-year career, all with the Senators. He won two MVP awards in that time while winning 20 or more games 12 times and twice winning 30 or more games. Of the 666 career games he started, he completed 531 of them, including 110 shutouts. Overall, he had 3,509 career strikeouts with a 2.17 ERA and a 1.061 WHIP. His only World Series title came in 1924 when he won his second career MVP. He was 36.