Red Sox Rumors: Bullpen moves waiting on Craig Kimbrel

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 09: Craig Kimbrel
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 09: Craig Kimbrel /

The Boston Red Sox are reportedly waiting for Craig Kimbrel to make a decision before making any other bullpen additions, signaling the closer could return.

Craig Kimbrel is asking for more than the Boston Red Sox are willing to pay and the club has dared him to find another team that will meet his demands. If the free agent closer finds the market isn’t as warm as he anticipated, the reigning champions may welcome him back.’s Mark Feinsand reports that the Red Sox are waiting to see what happens with Kimbrel before making any moves to bolster their bullpen.

This suggests that re-signing Kimbrel remains an option if the asking price drops to a more reasonable level. That’s a pivot from what we were led to believe when president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski hinted the team’s budget wouldn’t allow for a big expenditure to fill the vacated closer role.

The expectation was that Boston would replace Kimbrel with a cheaper alternative once reports surfaced that the right-hander was seeking a record-breaking six-year deal worth $100+ million. There’s been no indication that any team is interested in shelling out that much for a closer, so while Kimbrel certainly won’t be found in the bargain bin, he may be forced to settle for a deal that makes him a reasonable value.

Boston will undoubtedly pay deep into the tax again in 2019, therefore the short-term finances aren’t much of a concern. They are cautious of how many years they are willing to commit to Kimbrel though. Not only because long-term investments in relievers are inherently risky, but the Red Sox also have other priorities they will need to lock up in the near future. Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts will be free agents next year and Mookie Betts hits the market after the 2020 season.

Signing a stopgap solution for a year or two until Durbin Feltman or Travis Lakins would be ready to challenge for the role would seem ideal, both for their payroll and for the flexibility of keeping a path clear for one of their enticing prospects. Kimbrel is going to get more than two years but finding common ground at four years could still fit into Boston’s timeline.

Let’s say the Red Sox were able to sign Kimbrel to a four-year, $68 million deal. It doesn’t set the bar for closers as Kimbrel hoped he would but it still makes him among the highest paid at his position. Other teams aren’t exactly knocking down the door to overwhelm him with better offers so this may be the best he can get in this market.

Boston would be secure with an elite option to lock down the ninth inning as they set out to defend their title. If the Red Sox need to cut payroll down the line or their prospects are ready to emerge, they can always consider trading Kimbrel midway through his deal. His contract would be far more appealing with only a year or two left as opposed to four years. He wouldn’t be a rental yet also wouldn’t be a long-term financial burden. That should make his contract easily movable, especially if the market isn’t as loaded with relievers as it is now.

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There is risk in playing the waiting game with Kimbrel. While the free agent market was littered with viable alternatives to fill the closer role, several of those backup plans have been snatched up already. Joe Kelly signed with the Angels, Andrew Miller is heading to St. Louis, and the A’s are closing in on Joakim Soria. There’s a valid concern that the Red Sox will be forced to overpay Kimbrel when they run out of options because they waited too long to act.

I see it from a different perspective. The pool of available closer options may be drying up but so are the number of teams with a need at that position. Boston isn’t going to be forced into spending outside of their comfort zone so much as Kimbrel is going to have to settle for less when he runs out of suitors.

It’s a similar scenario to how Dombrowski treated negotiations with J.D. Martinez last winter. The Red Sox had an obvious need for a power hitter and they knew Martinez was the best available option. They also knew that no other team had both the need and financial resources to challenge their offer and they weren’t willing to bid against themselves.

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While it once seemed that Kimbrel was already out the door, we’re now left to wonder where else he could go. The Red Sox could certainly use him at the back of their bullpen and they undoubtedly have a contract in mind they’d be comfortable with. For now, they are content to sit back and see if anyone else is willing to top what they can offer. We’ll see if this patience pays off or if Dombrowski is left empty handed.