The Atlanta Braves downplayed their interest in free agent closer Crai Kimbrel, strengthening the case that he’ll return to the Boston Red Sox.
The Boston Red Sox continue to insist that they can’t afford Craig Kimbrel. Apparently, neither can anyway else, as other suitors haven’t exactly been knocking down the door for the top free agent reliever.
The Atlanta Braves are the latest team to downplay their interest in Kimbrel. While praising the undeniable talent of the flame-throwing right-hander, GM Alex Anthopoulos admitted on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM that the financial commitment it would take to sign Kimbrel doesn’t fit their budget.
"“He makes everybody a lot better,” said Anthopoulos of Kimbrel. “He’s one of the best closers of all time. I did come out early in the offseason and, not speaking specifically about him, but [said] our payroll, our model, I don’t know that us spending big, elite dollars on a reliever — length, the term and all that — I don’t know that that model works for us.”"
Payroll concerns aside, Kimbrel would be a perfect fit in Atlanta. They have a young contending team built to last for several years. The Braves have a solid bullpen but have never really seemed sold on Arodys Vizcaino as a permanent solution at the closer position. They’ve toyed with him in that role for years yet he’s never locked up the gig for a full season and has dealt with injuries limiting him to fewer than 40 innings in three of his four years with the Braves.
Anthopoulos mentioned that he was “hopeful” A.J. Minter would take another step but that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. They certainly like his talent but will probably stick with Vizcaino until Minter grabs the torch.
Kimbrel would provide a much more reliable option while they wait for Minter to emerge. He would presumably find comfort back in Atlanta, where he spent the first five years of his career. Kimbrel posted a ridiculous 1.43 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 14.8 K/9 during his tenure with the Braves, earning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing top-9 on the Cy Young ballot four times.
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Anthopoulos’s comments have a similar ring to what we’ve been hearing from Dave Dombrowski. Love the player, not the price tag. The Red Sox are rumored to be waiting out the market for Kimbrel, expecting the price to drop. Could Anthopoulos be playing the same game? Maybe, although Atlanta doesn’t have the financial freedom that Boston has. They also have other holes to address, while the Red Sox are set essentially everywhere except the closer role.
If the Braves are indeed out on Kimbrel then where else could he end up? The Philadelphia Phillies are eager to spend but their focus has been on the big fish – Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. They’re unlikely to make a move for Kimbrel until they see what happens with those superstar hitters.
There are a few other potential suitors for Kimbrel but most are longshots or clubs that have shown only lukewarm interest. The Phillies and Braves are Boston’s primary competition in a race where no team seems eager to cross the finish line and at least one of those suitors may have dropped out.
Boston’s payroll concerns won’t go away but they’re going to be well over the luxury tax line regardless of if they sign Kimbrel or not. That, along with the shrinking pool of suitors, is why we still can’t count out the chances of the top closer on the market re-signing with the Red Sox.