Craig Kimbrel’s Return To the Red Sox Could Be Imminent

With David Robertson coming off of the board on Thursday, signs could be pointing to a return of Craig Kimbrel to Boston.

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As expected, Craig Kimbrel has become one of the most interesting storylines to follow through another relatively uneventful offseason for major league baseball.

We’re starting to see a trend where team’s holdout themselves in order to nab the player that they want on a strong value. If you’re a major league ball club, why not roll with this strategy if the market continues to be lukewarm for some of baseball’s most coveted talent? We saw the Red Sox take this very same approach last season in regards to J.D. Martinez and they ended up signing him to a deal that is often seen as more team friendly.

Craig Kimbrel is seeing the same pattern during his highly anticipated free agent market venture this offseason. We knew that it was coming but he became an extremely intriguing case as the season wore on and his struggles became more and more apparent, specifically in the postseason.

In late November, rumors began to appear about Craig Kimbrel’s desired salary. He’s no Scott Boras who is known for attempting to squeeze every last dollar out of his client’s suitors, but Craig Kimbrel’s agent, Dave Meter and their team are allegedly in search of a deal worth 6-years, $100M, which would then make him the highest paid reliever in the history of baseball. Clearly the “start high” course was taken here, but nonetheless, that’s a number that would cause my jaw to hit the floor.

Will Kimbrel receive this deal on the market? If you had asked me this question a couple of offseasons ago, I might have said yes based off of many ball club’s willingness to overpay. But in 2019, teams are taking their foot off of the gas slightly unless your name is Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

Kimbrel has been a relatively hot topic in regards to the Red Sox to do list as Truck Day approaches this February. Despite winning the World Series, this team does still have some holes to fill in their bullpen including the current vacancy that is the closer position.

The top names in the relief aspect of free agency fell in order of David Robertson, Adam Ottavino and Craig Kimbrel. There are others out there but these are the names that are more significantly on the Red Sox radar or so it seems. Things were shaken up however as David Robertson came off of the board on Thursday, January 3rd after signing a 2-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Excellent, but that only means the Red Sox options are wearing thin.

Yes, this team won the World Series and the bullpen that was heavily criticized all last season shut their doubters up during the postseason. But you’ve lost names from that already “weak” bullpen and the need to add somebody dependable has grown. With Robertson off the board now and realistically, no concrete speculation on where Ottavino lands, is the possibility of Craig Kimbrel coming back to Boston materializing itself?

Whether you like it or not Red Sox fans, I’m starting to get the sense that Craig Kimbrel could once again be your closer in 2019 and for the foreseeable future. The positive thing to come out of the postseason though, he’ll come at a much cheaper cost than $100M.

The scariest aspect of their other strong free agent option, Adam Ottavino—who sported a 2.43 ERA and a 0.991 WHIP in 2018—is that it seems like his signing is going to be a total wild card. While he has been linked to the Red Sox, at this point we usually have clearer signs as to where these guys could land.

But in all honesty, I don’t understand the clamoring around the 33-year-old pitcher. His 2018 campaign was strong, don’t get me wrong but in 2017 he boasted an ERA north of five and a WHIP of 1.631. While it was the worst year in his career, I think that inconsistency in his most recent two seasons should scream caution to Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox checkbook.

As everything does, this entire role with the Red Sox will come down to money. I have mentioned this in previous columns regarding Red Sox free agents such as Joe Kelly. Yes, you do want to bring back some familiar faces and you do want to add to the arsenal out in the bullpen. However, in the back of your mind, the Red Sox absolutely need to work based off the potential deals that are looming for Mookie Betts and then potentially, Xander Bogaerts next offseason when he becomes an impending free agent.

Kimbrel and his team dangling a 6-year, $100M asking price is absolutely absurd considering what he did to end the regular season and then in the postseason. For Dave Meter—once again, his agent—to come out and try to make the case for his client being perhaps the GREATEST closer of all-time is ludicrous. I think Meter forgot about a guy who goes by the name of Mariano Rivera. But Kimbrel does have strong stats through his career to back him up and not only through his career but here in Boston as well.

He’s been incredibly shaky at times and when I say at times, I mean at some of the worst moments you could imagine, but overall he has been one of the great closers of this current generation.

Over his nine-year career, he boasts an ERA of 1.91 and a WHIP of 0.920. And his statistics in his third and “final” year in Boston weren’t the worst numbers that we’ve seen out of the flamethrower. As people probably remember, things weren’t too pretty for Kimbrel in 2016 upon his arrival after posting an ERA of 3.40.

But his overall career and success in Boston may entice Dave Dombrowski to go out there and offer Craig Kimbrel a deal that could quite frankly be the best one that he gets.

I’d imagine that his dreadful postseason scared off potential suitors and for good reason. There were times where I irrationally wanted Craig Kimbrel booted off of the Red Sox postseason roster. This was the case especially when he loaded the bases in game four of the ALCS and had to be bailed out by a soaring Andrew Benintendi in left field.

The 2018 postseason, while somehow managing to notch six saves, was a roller coaster ride for both he and Red Sox nation. The ALDS was something worth taking heart medication for whenever he took the mound after giving up three runs in 2.0 innings creating an ERA of 11.57. In the ALCS he had an ERA of 4.50 after allowing two runs in 4.0 innings and in the World Series, a 4.15 ERA with two earned in 4.1 innings.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 9: Craig Kimbrel #46 and Eduardo Nunez #46 of the Boston Red Sox celebrate after clinching the American League Division Series in game four against the New York Yankees on October 9, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

To put it frankly, he was absolutely horrendous and resembled nothing that would call for a 6-year contract.

Injury concern is another point that must be made when discussing Kimbrel. While he’s been relatively healthy over a majority of his time here in Boston, the fact of the matter is that he’s a fastball hurler who touches 100MPH. That is asking for an injury in the elbow or shoulder waiting to happen and with a long-term deal starting at 30-years-old like the one that he is searching for, who knows when it’ll come back to bite the club?

The Red Sox have backed themselves into a corner—as strange as this sounds—by allowing Joe Kelly to leave for Los Angeles. Even if you were unable to ink one of these three main relief pitchers that I’ve touched on, at least you had a guy who has shown spurts of excellence that could fill the vacant closer role at least to start the season. With him gone, who’s your backup plan? Matt Barnes of Ryan Brasier? Both fine candidates, but who then takes their roles?

There are a lot of questions that still need answers in the Red Sox bullpen if they want to see a convincing repeat run in 2019. As it stands right now, I don’t have faith in this decrepit bullpen and I think it needs some immediate attention.

With David Robertson falling off of the board and the “who knows” factor with Adam Ottavino, Craig Kimbrel might be the Red Sox best option at this point if, and only if they get him at the right price. By no means should this team overpay for a guy who displayed such inconsistency when it mattered most, though.

One thing that we’ve learned about Dave Dombrowski is that he’s a brand name shopper only. He stays away from the off-brands on the shelves and regardless of recent production, Craig Kimbrel is the more expensive, brand-name that he loves to see on his roster.