Craig Kimbrel could be an elite sign-and-flip option

It’s Monday and there’s no Blue Jays game to follow along with on the At Bat app, so I’m going to think out loud just for the hell of it.

Marcus Stroman went on a bit of a Twitter rant this morning in regards to some of the veteran players still floating around on the free agency market. This was much, much more tame than the last time Stroman came out and criticized the Blue Jays front office for not adding veterans to a roster loaded with young players getting their feet wet at the Major League Level for the first time, but one name Stroman mentioned stuck out to me.

At a glance, it’s odd that Kimbrel — a guy who not only appears to be on course to become a Hall of Famer but could end up in the closer G.O.A.T discussion when it’s all said and done — is still on the open market in the middle of March. But, then again, given teams all over the league shrugging at the idea of being competitive coupled with a growing skepticism about the value of relief pitchers, it kind of adds up. If any player was going to fall victim to the odd 2019 free agency market, it makes sense it’s a 30-year-old closer.

Through eight seasons with the Braves, Padres, and Red Sox, Kimbrel has racked up 333 saves, good for 13th on the all-time list. Over his career, Kimbrel has posted a 1.91 ERA while striking out a whopping 14.7 batters per nine innings. He’s also gained velocity over the past few seasons, which likely indicates that he hasn’t reached a fall-off-a-cliff burnout stage just yet.

Kimbrel is also coming off of a World Series win with the Red Sox last fall. That said, unlike Nathan Eovaldi, who completely regained all of his value with some excellent performances in the post-season, Kimbrel, well, seemingly did the opposite. Kimbrel tossed 10 2/3 innings over nine appearances for the Sox in the playoffs, surrendering seven runs on nine hits and eight walks while striking out 10.

It makes a lot of sense for Kimbrel to re-join the Red Sox. Their ‘pen doesn’t look the same without him and they have a closing contention window with key players like Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, and Mookie Betts set to hit the open market in the next few years. But those players needing new deals is exactly why the Sox likely aren’t giddy about handing out long-term cash to a guy who tosses one inning a game.

I’ve talked about this quite a bit this off-season already, but Kimbrel represents another situation in which the Blue Jays can capitalize on the funky free agent landscape of 2019. Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon have been given massive free agent deals in the past couple years to varying success. As I said earlier, the market featuring few contenders coupled with some legitimate skepticism over the value of big contracts for relief pitchers seems to have lowered Kimbrel’s value.

The Jays recently added Clay Buchholz and Bud Norris, two very obvious sign-and-flip options. They’re veterans on one-year deals who likely aren’t in the Blue Jays’ long-term plans, but they can help the team be competitive in the short-term while young players work in the minors, then, prior to the deadline, they can be flipped to contenders for more prospects. We saw this in 2017 with Joe Smith and again in 2018 with Seung-hwan Oh, John Axford, and Curtis Granderson.

Kimbrel could be the elite version of this strategy. Teams like Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee operating on monopoly money budgets are more inclined to add at the deadline than they are in the off-season given the pure cash cost of acquisition. If the organization was willing to flex some financial flexibility, they could offer Kimbrel a massive one-year deal, eat a bunch of money at the trade deadline, and make him available to all of the contenders out there.

I mean, to come down to earth a little bit, Toronto isn’t exactly an ideal situation. Kimbrel would play in a hitter’s park on a non-competitive with a mediocre defence while also facing the Yankees and Red Sox every month. Still, money talks and the season is just a few weeks away.

Again, I’m just thinking out loud here, but, for the Jays, at the very least, it makes a lot of sense.

  • Tuloshyperbaricchamber

    It’s a good idea but does seem like a last ditch option for someone like Kimbrel. I believe anyone who signs him before sometime in June also gives up a draft pick which is somthing to consider.

  • Terry Mesmer

    > Kimbrel could be the elite version of this strategy…offer Kimbrel a massive one-year deal, eat a bunch of money at the trade deadline

    That is a terrible idea. Think it through:

    1) Kimbrel could cost $17,500,000 in salary (the MLBTR estimate)
    2) Kimbrel has a qualifying offer and so (I believe) will cost the Jays their “second-highest selection in the following year’s draft as well as $500,000 from its international bonus pool” (MLB.com)

    You say the Jays could eat salary too. Can they get enough talent back in a deal to justify that cost? You’ll be paying about $15 million + 2nd round pick + $500K pool money. It would take a MASSIVE haul just to break even on the value. And with all that risk in just one player, an injury could wipe everything out.

    I think the “buy several players low then flip ’em high-ish” strategy is the smart way. A rebuilding team with a nice pile of cash (a rarity) can shorten their tank period considerably and perhaps reduce their future reliance on free agents.

    • Guzman's Jheri Curl

      If Kimbrel signs a 1yr value deal he does it in Boston where he can go for back to back titles and then tests FA next year without the QO/draftpick noose. If you remove that issue now the concept of acquiring him still doesn’t really work as he needs to max out term and total dollars as a 30yo reliever

  • Missileman

    If it was just a cash issue then yeah makes a lot of sense for the Jays, however I suspect Kimbrel wouldn’t be too keen unless it was the only real money on the table. Sacrificing a pick to get Kimbrel comes nowhere close to justifying the risk/ reward his signing would involve. Love Cam’s stuff but think maybe he had a few too many poolside during the off day.