Free agent closer Craig Kimbrel hasn’t found the market he expected but the Philadelphia Phillies could be lurking as competition for the Boston Red Sox.
It seems clear by now that Craig Kimbrel won’t be receiving the six-year, $100 million deal he was expecting in free agency. The Boston Red Sox are content to sit back and wait for the price to drop in a market where suitors haven’t been lining up for the top available closer when a number of suitable alternatives remain available.
Kimbrel may ultimately find his way back to Boston on the club’s terms when other viable options dry up. It makes no sense for a team to pay big money for a closer unless they expect to contend. Most of the potential contenders – Yankees, Astros, Indians, Brewers, Dodgers, A’s, Cubs – already seem set at the position.
Sure, one of those teams could surprise us by signing Kimbrel to give them a two-headed monster to close out the end of games. Would a pitcher currently on pace to challenge Mariano Rivera‘s all-time saves record even consider a team that doesn’t guarantee him the closer role? If not, we’re looking at a very limited market of teams willing to pay up for his services.
That could change if the Philadelphia Phillies decide to get involved. ESPN’s Jeff Passan explains why Kimbrel would make sense for the Phillies after ruling out the White Sox, Angels, Twins, Rays, and Braves as landing spots for various reasons.
"“The Phillies aren’t going to be hamstrung by the draft pick attached to Kimbrel,” writes Passan. “They are in clear win-now mode. So long as the Red Sox are sitting back on Kimbrel and waiting it out, as they’ve done thus far and show no signs of abandoning, there is room for Philadelphia to round out a bullpen that already includes Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Edubray Ramos, Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter. If the Phillies really are inclined to be “a little stupid” with their money, as owner John Middleton suggested to USA Today early in the winter.”"
The Phillies haven’t been shy about their desire to spend money this winter to supplant their young core and turn themselves into contenders. While they’ve been linked to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, striking out on those top targets could leave them with a need to spend on someone. It won’t necessarily be a wise decision, yet the Phillies strike me as a team willing to overpay for the sake of making a splash simply because they can.
Going into the season with Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier as the top options to close games is not an advisable plan. The Red Sox are hoping Kimbrel falls in their laps while the few teams with a backend bullpen need focus on cheaper alternatives. The Phillies could spoil that plan by backing up the Brinks truck for Kimbrel.
Boston can certainly afford him but they will be cautious about how much they commit long-term with other priorities hitting free agency in upcoming years. If a team like Philadelphia is willing to overpay, Boston may be forced to let him go and pivot to one of the second-tier options on the market. Assuming any are still available at that point.