Cross one significant need off of the wish list that the Boston Red Sox have put together for this offseason. Bolstering the bullpen was one of the team’s top priorities and they didn’t wait around long to pull off a huge trade that delivers one of the game’s best relievers.
FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported Friday evening that the Red Sox had acquired closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres. The four-time All-Star has been arguably the best closer in the game for the past several years, racking up 224 saves since 2011, which is 58 more than any other reliever in the majors over the last five seasons.
News of the deal swept through Red Sox Nation quickly and it didn’t take long to receive confirmation of the package of prospects headed to San Diego. Outfielder Manuel Margot headlines the group, which also includes infielders Javier Guerra and Carlos Asuaje and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen.
It’s a steep price to pay, considering Margot and Guerra were the No. 3 and No. 6 prospects in the Red Sox organization respectively, but they also play positions that are well stocked and both would have had their path to the big leagues blocked for the foreseeable future.
Kimbrel is coming off of another spectacular season, posting a 2.58 ERA and 1.04 WHIP while racking up 39 saves. Believe it or not, those impressive numbers actually represent a down year by his lofty standards, as he owns a career 1.63 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Despite the slight uptick in those stats, Kimbrel remained one of the league’s most dominant closers and he still finished among the top-five in the majors with a 13.2 K/9.
The arrival of Kimbrel pushes incumbent closer Koji Uehara into a setup role, which he is probably best suited for now that he’s on the wrong side of 40 and coming off of a season-ending injury. Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski had indicated that he wanted to get Uehara some help at the back end of the bullpen, preferring to acquire a reliever that could provide some insurance for the ninth inning role. He ended up getting one of the few relievers in the game that is actually even better than Uehara, giving the Red Sox a devastating 1-2 punch at the end of games.
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The 27-year old is locked up through 2017 for a total of $24 million, plus a $13 million team option for 2018. The Padres acquired him from the Atlanta Braves last offseason as part of an effort to launch themselves into contender status, but after that plan backfired we may start to see San Diego start selling off more pieces.
Kimbrel is one of several elite closers that the Red Sox were rumored to have interest in trading for, with Aroldis Chapman‘s name floating around in recent days. While Chapman would have been great to have, he is only under team control for one more year, while the Red Sox have up to three years of Kimbrel.
Then again, we can’t rule out the Red Sox still making a run at Chapman too. While they will ideally use their remaining resources to acquire a front line starting pitcher, adding another elite reliever could be a solid backup plan if they aren’t able lure one in by trade or free agency. If they find themselves once again without an ace, assembling the league’s most dominant bullpen could be an interesting strategy to consider instead.
Anything is still on the table at this point for Dombrowski and the Red Sox, but adding Kimbrel is a very promising start to the offseason.