May 19, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) pitches during the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
2) “Kimbrel isn’t worth it”
Now stop. The Red Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel in return for four guys you may not have heard of with names you likely can’t pronounce. Even the Padres front office struggled with Carlos Asuaje’s last name while assuring fans (all five of them) that they came out the winners in the deal. I’m not trying to say to the contrary, but honestly, who are we dealing with here?
Manuel Margot – 21, CF – Margot is the headline in the trade, the number 4 Red Sox prospect on MLB.com and a few steps away from the show at AA Portland. He’s a toolsy, fast, contact-orientated outfielder who has, at least at AA, shown himself to be a fairly decent defensive outfielder and a fairly streaky offensive one. His .276/.324/.419 line for 2015 is good and he’s still very young at 21, but at present Margot is raw. He shows over-aggression at the plate, swinging at almost everything and being too eager at base running. Ultimately locked out of his natural position by Mookie Betts.
Javier Guerra – 20, SS – Guerra is a sleeper hit, a lesser known talent with perhaps more potential but even less to show for it than Margot. He hit 15 dingers to go with his .279/.329/.449 line at Low A Greenville. That’s certainly impressive, but was unlikely to play up as he would move up the system. Had the stuff to be a plus defensive shortstop, with a good arm and strong fielding ability. Basically a younger Deven Marrero. Probably wouldn’t have seen Fenway for a good while. Even longer with Bogaerts and Marrero around.
Logan Allen – 18, LHP – I like Allen, I do. He was a surprise over the slot pickup in the 2015 draft and moved quickly from the GCL to the SS league Lowell Spinners. But let’s be real for a second. He’s very young and is potentially 6 or more years away from the Majors. He has a high floor but also a low ceiling as his three pitch mix lacks a big “out” pitch and his fastball lacks velocity. Still, like I said, he’s very young. A lot of development yet to come for Allen and I don’t imagine the Red Sox will have any opportunity to regret this trade any time soon.
Carlos Asuaje – 23, 2B – A throw-in, to say the least. Asuaje struggled when moved up to AA Portland and never really recovered. His .251/.334/.374 line is reasonable but not for the minor leagues. Unlikely to become anything more than a bench piece, if that. A nice guy with a good clubhouse presence though.
That’s quite a haul, but for those four we got a 27 year old closer called Kimbrel and something, much more.
Kimbrel is elite. His career ERA of 1.63 is the best in baseball history for a reliever who has pitched in at least 250 games. He has maintained a strikeout rate of 35-40% for the last 3 years and is easily counted among the best closers in the game with a career 225 saves in 248 opportunities.
While 2015 may have been, statistically, a down year for Kimbrel at a career high 2.58 ERA, that doesn’t really tell the whole story. He struggled early on with the Padres in the year with the change in parks and the poor San Diego defence. As the season went on though, Kimbrel settled down and started to dominate. And when Kimbrel dominates, it’s by way of the K. In his final month for San Diego, Kimbrel pitched 9 innings in 9 games and fanned 19 of 40 batters, with 7 others retired by ground balls and only 6 getting hits. His speed increased to an average 98 (!) MPH in 2015 and he, on his own merits, will make an instant and real difference to Boston’s fortunes going forward.
But this isn’t a case of the Red Sox now no longer having a 9th inning, on the contrary, the game could now well be locked up by the 7th. With Kimbrel’s arrival, Boston now have one of the most potent 7-8-9s in baseball, with Koji Uehara taking over as setup man and Junichi Tazawa on hand for the 7th. This flexibility is pivotal.
The Boston bullpen was as big a contributing factor to the sinking ship that was 2015 as any other, averaging a 4.24 ERA (even with Koji bringing it down) compared to the league average of 3.71. In fact, the Red Sox’ woeful starters were far closer to the mark than the relievers were when all was said and done. Improving the pitching relief was key to turning things around for 2016 and with Tazawa, Uehara and now Kimbrel taking over, the entire flaming dumpster fire that was the Sox bullpen has been extinguished with one single trade.
So yes, Kimbrel is elite. The prospects we traded for him? Not yet. While, again, it’s impossible to fully judge if Kimbrel was worth the cost until we’ve seen him in action at Fenway, that doesn’t stop some prospect-hoarding analysts such as ESPN’s Keith Law from declaring that the Padres made out “like bandits”. While many share that opinion, what isn’t in discussion is Kimbrel’s talent. He will make an impact and right now that’s exactly what Boston needs.
Next: Goodbye Red Sox Farm