When the Brewers were linked to Craig Kimbrel earlier this week, the initial reaction was a potential move that would be an embarrassment of riches — adding an elite arm to an already elite unit.
That might not be the case any more, however. Adding Kimbrel might be something more of a necessity for the Brewers.
Brewers closer Corey Knebel was shut down recently due to what was called a tired arm, The Athletic's Robert Murray wrote. But it just came out Thursday afternoon that he is getting his elbow checked out by the team physician and "there is reason for concern," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said.
Corey Knebel has an elbow issue, Counsell said. “There’s reason for concern,” he added. Will see Dr. William Raasch today.— Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) March 21, 2019
That would be a huge blow to a Brewers bullpen that entered the season as maybe the best unit in the National League.
Milwaukee is already operating without Jeremy Jeffress for the first few weeks of the season with a shoulder issue, eliminating one of their top late-inning arms.
Now Knebel's ominous status lingers like a dark cloud over the Brewers, leaving Josh Hader as the lone high-leverage arm set for Opening Day.
Knebel, 27, endured an up-and-down 2018 season (he missed most of April with a hamstring injury and was actually sent down to the minors for a stretch at the end of August), but still wound up leading the Brewers with 16 saves (in 19 chances) while posting a 3.58 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 88 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.
He was lights-out in the postseason, allowing only a run on 2 hits in 10 innings while striking out 14 Rockies and Dodgers. In 2017, Knebel led the NL in appearances (76) with a 1.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 39 saves and 14.9 K/9.
Jeffress led the Brewers bullpen last year with a 1.29 ERA in 73 appearances (76.2 innings) with 15 saves, 89 strikeouts and 18 holds.
The Brewers also lost another potential bullpen arm in Bobby Wahl when he tore his ACL a few weeks ago. They acquired him from the Mets in January in exchange for Keon Broxton.
Kimbrel would obviously be a nice addition for the Brewers if they were able to pull something off. He ranks as arguably the top closer in baseball and is still unsigned with Opening Day a week away.
The Brewers caught the Cubs from behind in the division last September and came one win away from only their second-ever World Series appearance. Their bullpen was a huge part of the team's success and they already let a bunch of lower-profile names walks this winter via free agency — Xavier Cedeno (who signed with the Cubs, but is currently battling a wrist injury), Joakim Soria, Dan Jennings, Jordan Lyles.
Milwaukee also moved young arms Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burns to the starting rotation, further depleting the bullpen.