Craig Kimbrel is the best relief pitcher on the MLB free agent market, but right now, no team has met his lofty demands.
The Boston Red Sox closer reportedly is looking for a nine-figure contract. While he has every right to demand that sort of money as one of the best closers of his generation, there are a few factors working against him.
ESPN's Buster Olney pointed out a few of them in a recent column. Here's one that's particularly interesting.
1. As good as the player has been, there doesn't appear to be widespread interest. Some evaluators have noted the performance hiccups Kimbrel had last season in their assessments of the closer, from his 4.57 second-half ERA to the moments in the postseason when he struggled to find the strike zone.
Olney also considers the glut of relievers still unsigned.
3. The market in which Kimbrel sits is absolutely overrun with alternative options. Any team leery of a six-year or five-year or even a four-year offer to Kimbrel can focus on the many cheaper free-agent closer options like David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera, Cody Allen, etc.
The Red Sox have been linked to a few of these players in rumors over the last month or so. David Robertson and Adam Ottavino reportedly are high on the Red Sox's list of bullpen targets, and each of them likely would come cheaper than Kimbrel.
Our own Red Sox insider Evan Drellich explained during the Winter Meetings last week why the Red Sox were more likely to wait on Kimbrel than Nathan Eovaldi, and how the quality of other options available on the market weighed into that decision.
If the market proves as competitive as Kimbrel hopes, maybe they’ll just move on. But like J.D. Martinez last offseason, if the Sox sense there is the chance to wait out a top player, we know they have a willingness to do so. Nate Eovaldi was a hotter ticket than Kimbrel has been thus far, with fewer strong alternatives.
Drellich, as did Olney, also argued the Red Sox still are a viable option for Kimbrel.
Kimbrel tallied 42 saves with a 0.92 WHIP and a 2.74 ERA over 63 appearances out of the Boston bullpen in 2018. He had a shaky postseason, though, and his career playoff ERA (3.92) is two runs higher than his career regular season ERA (1.91). Still, Kimbrel is relatively young at 30 years old. and has avoided major injury throughout his career.
He figures to be handsomely paid this offseason, but the Red Sox would be wise to play a bit of hard ball as long as other above-average relief pitchers remain unsigned on the market. They need to do something, though, because losing Kimbrel after Joe Kelly already left to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers would create two sizable holes in Boston's bullpen.
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