Red Sox Rumors: Free agent closer Craig Kimbrel seeking six-year deal

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 30: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after beating the Houston Astros and winning the AL East Division at Fenway Park on September 30, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 30: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after beating the Houston Astros and winning the AL East Division at Fenway Park on September 30, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

Free agent Craig Kimbrel is reportedly looking for a six-year deal that could set a record amount for a reliever. Is that too steep for the Boston Red Sox?

One of the top priorities for the Boston Red Sox this offseason will be filling the vacant seat in the closer role. Bringing back free agent Craig Kimbrel would seem to be the preferred solution, although they may be inclined to explore alternative options based on the flame-throwing right-hander’s demands.

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that teams have been told Kimbrel is seeking a six-year deal.

While financial terms weren’t revealed in the report, it would come as no surprise if Kimbrel challenged the record $17.3 million average annual value that fellow reliever Wade Davis received from the Colorado Rockies a year ago. Kimbrel may settle for a bit less per year on a longer contract that guarantees a greater total but a sixth year would almost certainly break the record Aroldis Chapman set for relief pitchers when the New York Yankees gave him a five-year, $86 million deal two years ago.

Kimbrel will turn 31 years old in May, which means he would be 36 at the end of a six-year deal. Chapman was two years younger at the time he signed the largest contract ever given to a reliever, allowing his deal to expire when he’s 33. Davis was 32 when he signed with the Rockies, which explains the shorter deal. His contract will run out when he’s 35 even if his 2021 option vests.

Giving a reliever a long-term deal is always a risky proposition due to the volatility of the role but if there’s anyone who can say they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s Kimbrel.

Kimbrel has been as steady as can be throughout his career, recording 333 saves over nine seasons while compiling a 1.91 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 13.9 K/9. Even his down seasons are still great compared to the standards of most pitchers. He’s on a Hall of Fame path and showing no signs of slowing down.

Despite that, a six-year deal for a pitcher his age is bound to make any team think twice. Smart franchises know enough to pay players for what they expect to get from them over the duration of the deal, not what they’ve done in the past. Can we really expect Kimbrel to pitch at this level for six more years?

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Velocity is a significant factor in Kimbrel’s success. The ability to blow a 100 mph fastball by a hitter is as intimidating as it is effective. History tells us that pitchers tend to lose a bit of velocity as they age, leaving us to wonder what happens to Kimbrel when he can’t rely on that heat. Can he reinvent himself as a pitcher that lives in the mid-90’s with his fastball, perhaps with better control, while relying on his filthy slider as an out pitch? That’s certainly possible but how much are the Red Sox willing to bet on it?

There are some in the organization who believe 2018 third-round pick Durbin Feltman is the closer of the future. He has yet to pitch above A-ball in his young career but has the skill set to fly through the system, perhaps arriving in the majors as early as next season. That projection may be a bit ambitious but if this kid is as good as they say, it won’t be long before he’s a staple of the Red Sox bullpen. With an arm like Feltman in the pipeline, Boston should be hesitant to commit six years to Kimbrel. Having the pair of them forming a two-headed bullpen monster is enticing but Feltman should be ready to ascend to the closer role long before Kimbrel’s deal would run out.

Keep in mind though that this is only Kimbrel’s initial demand. He can ask for whatever he wants, it doesn’t mean he’ll get it. We saw Dave Dombrowski’s savvy negotiating tactics last year when dealing with Scott Boras. He wanted his client to get a 7+ year deal but the Red Sox managed to land J.D. Martinez for a more palatable five years with some options built in. Patience paid off and it may again with Kimbrel if no other teams jump at the chance to hand him six years.

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The Red Sox will continue to keep Kimbrel on their radar. If the asking price comes down to a more reasonable level then they would certainly want him back. If he does get six-year offers from other teams, Dombrowski seems likely to pivot in another direction.