When the rumor was first reported that Craig Kimbrel and the Braves were looking at a possible one-year pact, fans started to have hope. Hope that they would get one of the game’s best closers back in a Braves’ uniform.
While it would look good on paper, the Braves should not bring Kimbrel into the fold unless he’s willing to significantly decrease his asking price, which according to Jim Bowden, Kimbrel has not done.
According to multiple GMs Craig Kimbrel asking price has still not come down and sources close to Kimbrel think he will consider sitting out the year if he doesn’t get close to his perceived value.
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) February 23, 2019
The Braves are better off without Kimbrel at the monetary rate he’s looking for.
Someone might ask why having one of the game’s best closers on the roster would be a bad thing for the Braves. In 2017, Kimbrel finished with a 1.43 ERA and 35 saves. He followed that up with a 2018 season that saw him finish with a 2.74 ERA and 42 saves. Yes, those numbers do look good.
What Another Is Saying
Now, I could give you all of the statistical reasons as to why Kimbrel doesn’t make sense for the Braves, but Dayn Perry of CBS Sports does a much better job:
To be sure, those bestowals are the envy of many a reliever, but that’s not Maximum Kimbrel. In 62 1/3 innings, Kimbrel walked 31 batters, none of them intentional. He also allowed home runs and extra-base hits at career-worst rates. Much of Kimbrel’s difficulties flowed from declining fastball velocity.
…Last season, Kimbrel authored an FIP of 3.13. While that’s not bad in a vacuum, it’s the worst mark of Kimbrel’s career. Also, compare it to Kimbrel’s pre-2018 career FIP of 1.80. That’s indicative of a skills decline.
In a game where velocity is ever important for a closer, one has to wonder how much of a decline Kimbrel will have again this year.
Closers In House
For many fans, this isn’t enough to convince them that the Braves shouldn’t go after Kimbrel, especially if it’s a one-year pact.
But in a year after the Braves won the NL East, they can afford to go into the season with Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter sharing the closing duties. Last year the pair combined to go 31 of 35 in save opportunities. They also had 37 walks, 109 strikeouts, a 2.81 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. All of those numbers are at or near Kimbrel’s 2018.
This year, you get all of that for just a shade over $5 million. So, why spend an extra $10 million or more when you have two people in-house who get near those same numbers? Is it really worth that extra cash for .06 points lower of an ERA from the closer spot? Or, for six fewer walks?
Financially, it’s understandable why the Braves’ brass is hesitant to spend that kind of money on Kimbrel. Plus, you’re not paying Kimbrel for his past. You’re paying him for what he can do for your team now. And for some people, they’re so focused on what a player did in the past that they overspend for players on the decline (see Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon).
Other Relievers In House
While it’s not the sexy move, the Braves should stand pat for now. Last year’s acquisition from the Orioles Darren O’Day will surprise many as long as he can stay healthy. He’s a good seventh-inning guy to set up Minter and Vizcaino for the eighth and ninth.
The Braves also have Chad Sobotka and Jonny Venters in the bullpen who were both exceptional down the stretch last year. Then, there is all of that young pitching talent in the Braves’ farm system. While players like Max Fried, Bryse Wilson, Luiz Gohara and others are all starters by nature, the Braves haven’t shown a willingness to move the depth of young starters to help other needs. So they’re still stuck between Atlanta and Gwinnett. At some point, keeping them in Gwinnett will be a waste, so why not use them in the bullpen?
The pieces are in place for the Braves, but they’re not sexy. Ultimately, that’s what fans want. They want the big splash that gets everyone excited and sells tickets.
Kimbrel is going to cost you more and give you close to the same numbers as two pitchers already in house. So, what’s the point of the big splash if that’s the case?