After a quiet offseason from the Braves that left many fans (including myself) wanting more, the team has silenced many of the doubters by getting off to a hot start, despite an opening series sweep at the hands of the Phillies. Still, Philadelphia exposed some glaring weaknesses within the current roster, weaknesses that are fixable via free agency (yes, in April).
Sign Craig Kimbrel
Surprisingly, the former Brave is still unsigned. There isn’t a comparison to what has gone on with Kimbrel in free agency that I can think of. With a lifetime 1.91 ERA and already 333 games under his belt, the veteran would be a help to any bullpen, regardless of who is already on the roster. Despite his well-known talent, he remains unsigned due to a reported all-time high asking price for a reliever.
Although the Braves like their closing duo of A.J. Minter and Arodys Vizcaino; Vizcaino’s ongoing shoulder issues that began last season are a significant concern. Even if Vizcaino can return from the Injured List and be highly productive, acquiring Kimbrel lengthens the bullpen, and means someone like Shane Carle would be sent down to the minors to make room for the All-Star closer.
However, signing Kimbrel is so attractive because of the possibility of having Minter, Viz, and Kimbrel shut the door on opponents. Already 31, Craig most likely would not be in Atlanta for more than a few years. Giving Minter more time to develop and learning from one of the all-time greats can only help him down the road. Besides, Minter has also dealt with a minor injury stemming from a car accident during Spring Training.
The interest of a reunion has to be there from both parties; however, the hold up comes from the length of the contract. The Braves seem hesitant to give the aging veteran more than a two-year deal, and Kimbrel and his agent have been looking for a 3-4 year deal. Eventually, Kimbrel will be on a major league roster; it is just a matter of whether he or a team caves first.
The Braves might need to move fast as teams hoping to contend, such as the Cubs and Nationals, have struggled early with their bullpens. I would offer Kimbrel 3 years in the $50 million range with a team option for a 4th year. Although it is a high AAV to spend on someone who will pitch around 60 innings a year, the Braves created lots of *financial flexibility* to be able to *shop on any aisle*, such as Craig’s.
Sign Dallas Kuechel
Another puzzling case of a veteran pitcher not being able to find a job is seen with Dallas Kuechel. Although a former AL Cy Young winner, Kuechel most likely would serve as a #3 guy in the rotation of a contending team.
The Braves did not trade any of their numerous pitching prospects, much to the dismay of fans. After all, you can’t have a starting rotation made out of 10 pitchers. Instead, they are hoping 3-4 of them develop into major league starters. Although this is a fair bet, it would be safer to get one or two veterans to lead the top of the rotation, especially while the 22-year-olds develop.
What would a possible rotation look like with Kuechel in the mix this year when everyone is healthy?
Compare that to what it looks like now:
I would much rather have Kuechel as the number 3 and let the prospects fight for #4 and #5 in the rotation. Even if Kuechel is only in Atlanta on a 1 or 2-year deal, it will allow for the young arms, who are not quite ready, to get starts every five games at the AAA level, instead of popping in and out of the bullpen at the MLB level (Wright/Touki).
Look, I love all of the prospects as much as the next guy, but signing Kuechel still gives players who appear ready to be starters in the MLB (Fried/Soroka) the opportunity to get regular starts while also adding a veteran presence to the middle of the rotation – a win-win.
The Braves’ Front Office has made it known that neither of these deals will happen unless the asking price comes down. Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that both of these moves only occur if the players agree to 1-2 year contracts, as the Braves don’t want to block any of their prospects with aging veterans. However, allowing guys such as Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson more time to polish their stuff will only help the team in the long run.
Both acquisitions, if at a reasonable price, make sense for the team, the Front Office, the prospects, and even the fans. What Braves’ fan wouldn’t get chills watching Craig Kimbrel run to the mound, Welcome to the Jungle blaring, to pitch to Brian McCann in the bottom of the 9th?