Posted on June 6, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The seventh-month free agency saga appears to be over for Craig Kimbrel. Late Wednesday, multiple outlets reported that Kimbrel has reached a deal with the Chicago Cubs on a three-year, $43 million deal. The deal will likely become official Thursday after Kimbrel has a physical, although it could be up to two weeks until he makes his debut with the team. Nevertheless, the Cubs have landed arguably the top reliever on the free agent market this past offseason, albeit a little late.
In their pursuit of Kimbrel, the Cubs had some concerns about staying below the luxury tax threshold. However, with Ben Zobrist’s extended stay on the restricted list, the team gained some unexpected financial flexibility to make it work. Kimbrel will make $10 million this season and $16 million in both 2020 and 2021. There is also an option for the 2022 season with a $1 million buyout, guaranteeing Kimbrel at least $43 million on the deal.
As a seven-time all-star, Kimbrel is a huge addition for the Cubs, even if they’ll only get him for about half of the 2019 season. He has 333 career saves and a lifetime ERA of 1.98. A year ago, he was 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA with 42 saves in 47 opportunities with the Red Sox. He also has 19 career postseason appearances and was six for six in save situations during Boston’s title run last year. In short, he’s someone who can help the Cubs return to the postseason and then make a deep October run.
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“It’s huge for us,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said after reports surfaced that Kimbrel was coming to Chicago. “It’s like getting a gift on Christmas morning and having to wait to open it for a week or so before he’s here.”
Of all the teams pursuing Kimbrel, the Cubs may have been the team most in need of a closer. Projected closer Brandon Morrow has been on the Injured List all season with elbow issues. The Cubs are hopeful he’ll be able to return later this summer. But there’s no guarantee that he’ll come back healthy and be an effective closer. Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek have both handled closing duties this year, with Strop only returning from the IL on Wednesday after nearly a month away.
Once Kimbrel is ready to join the Chicago bullpen, he’ll be the unquestioned closer. That will allow Strop and Cishek to settle in as setup men, giving the Cubs a strong trio at the back-end of the bullpen. Brandon Kintzler can also be added to that group, as he’s also a former closer who’s having a solid year. Having that kind of depth will help the Cubs avoid using Carl Edwards Jr. and Brad Brach in high-leverage situations, as both have underperformed this season. Meanwhile, Morrow will become a wild card rather than someone the Cubs need.
“He’s awesome. You’re bringing in — if he’s not the best, he’s one of the best closers in the game,” Strop said of Kimbrel. “Hopefully, he’s in good shape so he can help us win another World Series.”
At the moment, the Cubs lead the NL Central, holding a one-game lead over the Brewers. Every other team in the division is within six games, so they should expect a competitive race all season. The addition of Kimbrel will transform a solid bullpen into arguably one of the best in baseball. Getting Kimbrel not only solidifies their bullpen for the next couple of years, but it’s a potential game-changer as the Cubs chase their second World Series title in the last four years.