Red Sox Free Agency: Looking ahead at the Craig Kimbrel contract situation

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 12: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the ninth inning at Fenway Park on September 12, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 12: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the ninth inning at Fenway Park on September 12, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox will potentially have a huge bullpen gap to fill in 2019 if Craig Kimbrel goes elsewhere. Just what possible scenario could retain Kimbrel?

With the division locked up and the Boston Red Sox suspense down to how many wins, who wins the batting title, and the playoff roster, it is time to jump the gun – or is it the shark – and look at the budding offseason. And offseason will mean the usual crop of pending free agents with the most notable one being closer Craig Kimbrel.

Do you sign Kimbrel? Is he worth the attempt? Kimbrel can frustrate since he is not perfect and will occasionally blow a save but remains one of the best in baseball. If longevity is an issue, Kimbrel has eight full seasons at the major league level with an incredible resume of success. One can cherry-pick through traditional and metrics to give pause for concern, but that can apply to almost any player.

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Kimbel’s historical performance certainly indicates his value, but just what value?  A template exists with Aroldis Chapman who signed a five-year, $86 million contract with the New York Yankees. Chapman and Kimbrel have similar pitching styles that can be translated into a cache of strikeouts and walks but remain elite. Kimbrel will be looking at that and maybe a $100 million as a new closer plateau. I would not give it -yet. I would start contractual patience.

The concern with any long-term contract wear and tear and we in Boston have seen our share of pitchers succumb to injury during their contract years. The Red Sox do have a negotiating ploy that is the result of the latest collective bargaining agreement and that is extending a qualifying offer that affords them the luxury of market determination while not relinquishing negotiations.

The qualifying offer is determined by the average salary of the top 125 salaries in baseball. This offseason expect the offer to be somewhere in the vicinity of $19 million. That sits on the table for ten days while Kimbrel explores the market to determine just what his potential value may be. The Red Sox also would receive a draft pick after the fourth round if Kimbrel relocates.

"If a qualifying-offer free agent’s previous team is over the luxury-tax threshold, said team will receive a compensation pick after the fourth round has been completed. – MLB Glossary"

Kimbrel could also use the qualifying offer as a base for negotiations with the Red Sox.  In 2018, Kimbrel is on the payroll books for $13 million and that may represent a starting point, but the years will most likely be of concern. That is where a potential breakdown could exist.

Trying to examine this with a GM mindset, I would find five years highly risky and anything beyond that potentially dead money territory – dead money is a Red Sox specialty. But embedded in all this is an assumption that the Red Sox want Kimbrel and Kimbrel wants the Red Sox. Kimbrel has mentioned that he enjoys Boston and his current team, but is that just part of early negotiations?

The Red Sox bullpen is questionable and without Kimbrel, in 2019 it would be a gaping hole. The potential free agent list offers some interesting names, but none that come close to the status of Kimbrel.  Internally there is little that also approaches Kimbrel so the option is thin as 1960’s fashion model Twiggy.

The Red Sox could be in a rather delicate situation regarding Kimbrel and the closer situation since Kimbrel has the deck loaded in his favor since the Red Sox have a need and the market undoubtedly will exist for Kimbrel.   Even the compensation for a qualifying offer that is rejected is manageable for teams with a closer need.

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The Kimbrel situation will be determined by Kimbrel’s sincerity in remaining with the Red Sox, market conditions, and length of a contract. With the free agency of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and Xander Bogaerts approaching the money and luxury tax issue could force the Red Sox to take a least expensive approach.