Expect the competition to sign former Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel to heat up now that he’s no longer tied to draft pick compensation.
Former Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel remains unemployed but don’t expect that to last much longer.
The steep contract demands attached to Kimbrel were met with an eye roll across the board last winter. Teams are hesitant to hand a 31-year old reliever a contract that sniffs record-breaking territory in terms of the total or average annual value. Interest dwindled even further when Kimbrel declined the qualifying offer that the Red Sox extended to him, meaning any other team that signed him in free agency would lose a draft pick.
The latter concern is no longer an issue with the MLB amateur draft underway. As of 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Kimbrel’s free agency is no longer tied to draft pick compensation. Now, all it takes is money to add the fire-breathing closer to your bullpen.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman mentions the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, and Tampa Bay Rays as potential suitors in a suddenly active market for Kimbrel.
Kimbrel was originally seeking a 5+ year deal worth in the vicinity of $100 million. He obviously knows by now that he’ll never get that type of contract. He was later rumored to have dropped his asking price to a three-year deal in the $45-51 million range, although that may still be a stretch. Despite his Hall of Fame-worthy track record, teams simply aren’t interested in investing that much into the volatile closer role.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be interest. Waiting until mid-season means Kimbrel will only be paid a prorated portion of the contract’s first year, allowing more teams to squeeze him into their 2019 budget and worry about carving out space for any additional years after the season.
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It’s also possible he signs only for the rest of this season and tests the market again in the winter. Kimbrel may stubbornly resist taking that route but he may not have a choice. It would certainly open up more possibilities, ensuring he lands with a contender of his choosing rather than settling for the best of a few middling offers. More importantly, a team that signs him for only this partial season won’t be able to extend a qualifying offer. Kimbrel has found a frigid market but he may have more luck without the draft pick compensation weighing him down.
The Red Sox are one team that should have interest if Kimbrel is open to this short-term deal. They may have preferred to recoup the draft pick for losing him in free agency but now that this compensation is out the window, Boston’s brass may be more open to a reunion.
It’s clear by this point in the season that the Red Sox bullpen is floundering without a proven closer to anchor them. A prorated deal based on when he’s ready to join the big league club could come at a cost reduced just enough to fit him in under the threshold of the top-tier of luxury tax penalties.
It will be difficult for a Red Sox team working on a tight budget to lure Kimbrel back with this many suitors competing for his services. However, Boston does offer familiarity and a franchise that he won a World Series with last year. Those are factors that could potentially make a difference if Kimbrel is willing to consider the pro-rated one-year deal route.