It's hard to top the first time Craig Kimbrel was traded for intrigue and timing — that six-player blockbuster sending the closer from Atlanta to San Diego the day before the 2015 season opened.
After the Padres’ winter-long aggressiveness didn’t work out that season, Kimbrel was traded to the Red Sox seven months later.
So nobody should handle the next three weeks of Cubs rumors and imminent change better and more relaxed than the Cubs player most certain to be traded by the July 30 trade deadline.
“I don’t think it’s ever easy, but it’s definitely part of this game, and I’ve just got to be ready for it,” said Kimbrel during the final series before he heads out Sunday night for Denver and his eighth All-Star game.
“We’ll see where we go,” he said. “But you show up every day and get ready to pitch. If something happens, get ready for it and go.”
Kimbrel (0.57 ERA) has been perhaps the best closer in the game this year for a bullpen that was the best in the majors for much of the first half.
And if a trade between now and his sell-by date isn’t easy for the guy who’s gone through it twice and should get a shot at the playoffs this time around, try wrapping your mind around it from the manager’s standpoint.
When right-hander Ryan Tepera was activated from the injured list on Friday, it put him back in the late-inning mix for the Cubs just in time to get showcased, alongside Kimbrel and lefty Andrew Chafin — putting the entire back end of the Cubs’ bullpen on the clearance rack for what might be the quickest pieces of the roster sold off this month.
“I think every time we’ve had a guy go down, down there, it’s kind of hit me over the head how fast your [bullpen] can get thin,” said manager David Ross, whose chances to win this season already were cursed by a thin rotation entering the season.
The difference alone it will make managing the bullpen when Kimbrel’s gone?
Ross laughed at the absurdity of the question from the Chicago media’s version of Captain Obvious.
“Sure, if we trade Craig Kimbrel, it’s going to be hard to lock down wins,” Ross said. “I think everybody can agree with that statement.”
Too soon for another dumb question?
Who would his closer be then?
“I’ll let [the media] do that,” Ross said. “You guys can have a whole article based on who should be next if we trade Craig.”
You can eliminate Chafin and probably Tepera since they’re the likeliest next pitchers out the door.
And after that, the question becomes moot quickly.
The better question becomes: Without help for the rotation beyond prospects such as Justin Steele and with a gutted bullpen, how fast will the final two months of the Cubs season tailspin?
Fast and furious enough for tanking-quality draft pick next year?
“It’s been a quick turnaround,” said Kimbrel of the two weeks it took for the Cubs to go from first place and talk of playoff help at the deadline to talk of selloffs and draft position.
“It’s funny how we kind of went form one feel to the other really fast, in less than two weeks,” he said. “As part of this team, you want to hope that we can turn that run around and change some minds. But until then, all we can do is worry about playing the game and trying to win ballgames.”