Craig Kimbrel Rumors

Cafardo On Scherzer, Shields, Kimbrel, Chapman

Teams are aware that Max Scherzer and James Shields are excellent pitchers, but many teams don’t have enough money remaining in their budgets to sign them, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. The Red Sox like both pitchers and don’t have an obvious ace, but they’ve already spent heavily this offseason and have plenty of good starters, one of whom could emerge to lead them. A number of teams, meanwhile, are waiting for Shields’ price to come down. Where Scherzer and Shields land could depend on owners who are willing to step up and sign them, regardless of their teams’ budgets. (The Nationals and another team are reportedly currently involved in the bidding for Scherzer.) In other nuggets from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:

  • The Red Sox are committed to Christian Vazquez being their starting catcher; but, with the development of Blake Swihart, it may not be for long. The Phillies covet Swihart in a potential Cole Hamels trade, but one NL executive wonders whether they would take Vazquez instead.
  • Baseball executives tell Cafardo the Braves may be willing to deal closer Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline, if the club is struggling. The same goes for the Reds and Aroldis Chapman. Cafardo lists the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Tigers as the teams who would most benefit from adding either reliever.
  • The Orioles will not be able to obtain an MLB player as compensation if Dan Duquette joins the Blue Jays, but owner Peter Angelos will seek one or two very good prospects.
  • The Giants scored another quality signing when they came to terms with outfielder Nori Aoki. The Giants had inquired with the Red Sox about their surplus of outfielders, including Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, and Daniel Nava.

Braves Will Not Trade Craig Kimbrel

The Braves have made a flurry of trades that are clearly aimed at the future this winter, acquiring Shelby Miller, Tyrell Jenkins, Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson, Mallex Smith, Manny Banuelos, Michael Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman in exchange for Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Justin Upton, David Carpenter and Evan Gattis. However, despite the departure of so many key players from recent seasons, president of baseball operations John Hart says he plans to hang onto closer Craig Kimbrel, per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman.

“We have never entertained trading (Kimbrel) and have had zero conversations with any clubs about Craig,” Hart explains. “I want him finishing out a World Series win.” Hart adds that despite trading away Heyward, Upton, Gattis, Carpenter and Walden, he feels confident about the players that he’s added. Atlanta has inked Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli, A.J. Pierzynski and Jim Johnson as free agents this winter, and Miller, acquired in the Heyward/Walden deal, figures to be a key cog in their 2015 rotation.

The Braves may yet add another piece, as they currently project to have Zoilo Almonte starting in left field. Reports since last night have linked them to Nori Aoki, and David DeJesus‘ name has come up in a speculative fashion as well. (I’d also note that both Ichiro Suzuki and Colby Rasmus remain available on the free agent market.)

Still, it seems a long shot that the Braves would contend after shedding so much talent, particularly given the presence of a stacked Nationals team, a much-improved Marlins club and a presumably healthier Mets roster within their division. However, given the large amount of young talent that’s been stockpiled and the fact that the Braves did extend several core players — including Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran — last winter, Atlanta could be in for a quick turnaround.


East Notes: Yankees, Rays, Moore, DeJesus, Duquette, Desmond, Kimbrel, Braves

The Yankees may not have stowed away their checkbook, as MLB.com’s Barry Bloom reports. Owner Hal Steinbrenner told reporters yesterday that time remained for moves. “It’s not over until it’s over,” he said. “We still have a full month before Spring Training. … [W]e’re still the New York Yankees, all you guys know that. We know what the fans expect. We know what the town expects. We’re not going to be afraid to spend money.”

  • If the Yankees are still the Yankees, then so too are the Rays still the Rays. As Andrew Astleford of FOX Sports Florida writes, trading away Ben Zobrist is just the latest reminder of the team’s continued strategies. “These trades are difficult, but they’re a necessary part of how we operate,” said president of baseball operations Matthew Silverman.
  • One other hallmark of the Rays method is early-career extensions, and one area of risk in such deals is injury, especially for pitchers. Lefty Matt Moore, who is controllable through 2019 under just such a contract, lost virtually all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. He is in a good physical and mental state, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, and hopes to return to the mound soon while building toward a return to the roster this coming June.
  • Topkin also wonders (via Twitter) whether the Braves and Rays could be a match on outfielder David DeJesus. The veteran is owed $5MM this year and a $1MM buyout on a 2016 option, which makes him a reasonably priced target but also does not leave him with a ton of trade value.
  • Though Orioles owner Peter Angelos threw cold water yesterday on the idea that momentum was building toward a deal that would result in executive VP Dan Duquette taking over the Blue Jays‘ front office, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says that the possibility still remains. If nothing else, Duquette wants the job in Toronto, per the report, which chalks up the Angelos statement to negotiating tactics.
  • The Mets should make a hard push to acquire shortstop Ian Desmond from the Nationals, Rosenthal argues in the same piece. The recently-acquired Yunel Escobar provides an alternative to Desmond in D.C., and Rosenthal suggests that including Daniel Murphy and adding prospect value could make the trade palatable for the Nats. While I would not write off the idea entirely, it would seem likely that the Nationals would demand a particularly significant return to move Desmond to a rising division rival.
  • Staying in the division, Rosenthal says that the Braves should deal away closer Craig Kimbrel. The righty is an expensive luxury for a non-contending team, says Rosenthal, who does note that the club might get better value for him at the trade deadline. That may well be, but it would be interesting to see what teams would give up now for one of the game’s most dominant arms; I’m guessing quite a bit. For its part, Atlanta is “optimistic about the coming season” and has no interest in dealing away Kimbrel, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets.
  • The ship has sailed at this point, of course, but Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution opines that the Braves may not have been in need of such a dramatic renovation. While the plan to re-build around young pitching obviously makes sense directionally, Bradley argues that the team now looks destined to be rather dreadful for the next season or two and wonders whether a less drastic plan could have been pursued.


NL Notes: Kimbrel, Kang, Cueto, Phillies, Dodgers

The signing of a former closer, Jason Grilli, led to some speculation from Braves fans, but a team official tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a trade of Craig Kimbrel hasn’t even been discussed (Twitter link). President of baseball operations John Hart said tonight that he hopes the club can build the bullpen around Kimbrel for the next 10 years, O’Brien tweets. The Braves have moved both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton this offseason, but each is a free agent following the season. Kimbrel is locked up for at least three more seasons at a total of $34MM, and the Braves hold a $13MM club option for the 2018 season as well.

Here are some more notes from the NL…

  • The Cardinals made a bid for Jung-ho Kang but lost out to the Pirates, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. GM John Mozeliak spoke with Hummel about the team’s desire to continue to develop a better understanding of Asian baseball and the talent in Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization.
  • Bryce Dixon, agent for Johnny Cueto, has already stated that his client will not listen to extension offers after the season begins, but he spoke at a bit more length with MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon about Cueto’s desire to remain with the Reds. Cueto “loves” Cincinnati, though Dixon did add the troubling caveat “if the numbers are right.” Dixon says he had preliminary contract talks with the Reds at the Winter Meetings and have exchanged a few text messages since, but there have been no further verbal discussions.
  • Jimmy Rollins had an exclusive interview with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com following his trade to the Dodgers, and CSN’s Enrico Campitelli breaks down one of the more interesting takeaways from the conversation. Rollins spoke about Phillies minority owner John Middleton, who is rumored to be pushing for majority ownership and reportedly has 48 percent ownership of the club right now. Rollins praised Middleton’s vision and desire to put a winning product on the field, adding that he thinks it’d be good for the Phillies if Middleton were given the reins. Rollins feels that Middleton would “be doing a lot of different things with the team.”
  • The Dodgers are still looking for bullpen help, president of baseball ops Andrew Friedman tells Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Friedman says the bullpen will almost always be an area of potential improvement at any point of any offseason. “It has to be my nature never to feel comfortable with a bullpen in the offseason,” Friedman tells Saxon.

Latest On The Braves’ Offseason Plans

After speaking with president of baseball operations John Hart, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that the team could be aiming for a brief rebuild with an eye on the 2017 campaign.

The Braves’ top priority is to add a couple of starting pitchers that could step into the rotation. However, they’re better positioned, financially, to do that on the trade market, which would likely require dealing some established players, as the team doesn’t have a particularly deep farm system in the way of MLB-ready talent. O’Brien writes that one plan could be to trade both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, with Evan Gattis sliding into left field and Christian Bethancourt handling everyday catching duties. Hart’s preference is to retain Gattis due to the four years of team control he has remaining.

O’Brien also adds that the Braves appear willing to listen to offers for any reliever with the exception of Craig Kimbrel, specifically listing Jordan Walden and David Carpenter as potential candidates. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted earlier tonight that the Braves might have interest in moving a relief arm for a back-of-the-rotation starter. That would provide them with some much-needed innings next season, as the team is currently thin beyond Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Mike Minor. Swingman David Hale could move into the rotation again, and the Braves have Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy as options with little certainty.


How Much Would Kimbrel Have Earned In Arbitration?

Back in October, MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz explained that Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has been so good in his first three seasons, he broke our arbitration projection model.  We eventually decided to create a special rule because of Kimbrel, which limits a player's raise to $1MM beyond the previous record for his player type.  Since Jonathan Papelbon had set a $6.25MM first-time arbitration record for closers in 2009, we capped Kimbrel's 2014 projection at $7.25MM.

Without the rule, our system had assigned a $10.2MM projection to Kimbrel, so we lopped off about $3MM more for which he at least had a statistical argument, if not a precedent.  With such a wide spread of possibilities, it was no surprise when Kimbrel and the Braves ended up exchanging arbitration figures.  Kimbrel and his agent David Meter submitted a $9MM figure, a number reflective of the attitude, "We don't just deserve to beat Papelbon's record, we should crush it."  The Braves went with $6.55MM, which would have thrown Kimbrel just $300K beyond Papelbon's record despite this potential hearing coming five years later and Kimbrel's far superior statistical record.

With a midpoint of $7.775MM, Meter would only have had to convince an arbitration panel his client deserved a dollar more than that, meaning that Kimbrel should get $1,525,001 more than Papelbon did.  You always hear that arbitration hearings are a crapshoot, but if I were a betting man, I would have bet on Kimbrel's side.  It's not just Meter putting together the argument; they would have had the knowledge of a motivated players' union behind them. 

Once the two sides reached the point of exchanging figures, a one-year deal went off the board because of the Braves' file-to-go stance.  But the two sides still discussed a multiyear deal and were able to get it done.  Kimbrel signed a four-year, $42MM deal with a club option for 2018.  The deal bought out all three of Kimbrel's arbitration years and one free agent year, with the option for a second free agent year.

For Meter and the Braves, one key question that had to be explored before agreeing to this deal was how much Kimbrel stood to earn in arbitration going year-to-year.  I asked Matt Swartz to show me a few scenarios.  Initially, Matt used what I considered to be fairly conservative stat projections for 2014 and 2015.  He used Steamer's 65 innings, 28 saves, and 1.88 ERA for Kimbrel's 2014 season, and then regressed to the mean a bit on 2015 with 55 innings, 22 saves, and a 2.20 ERA.

Using these stats and assuming Kimbrel lost this month's arbitration hearing, he'd have salaries of $6.55MM, $9.9MM, and $12.9MM for a total of $29.35MM over his three arbitration years.  In his actual multiyear deal, Kimbrel will earn $28MM over his three arbitration years.  In this scenario, Kimbrel left just $1.35MM in arbitration money on the table.  In his multiyear deal he still conceded up to two free agent years, and of course the younger a free agent is, the better he does.

Using the same stats and assuming Kimbrel won this month's arbitration hearing, he'd have salaries of $9MM, $12MM, and $14.7MM for a total of $35.7MM.  It's interesting to note that there was a lot more at stake in the 2014 hearing than the $2.45MM spread — losing this one hearing would have lost Kimbrel a projected $6.35MM in total arbitration earnings.  Comparing the $35.7MM projection to the $28MM his contract pays, Kimbrel gave a discount of more than 21% for his arbitration years.   

As I mentioned above, I felt that Matt's statistical projections for Kimbrel were pretty conservative.  The 50 saves Matt projected for 2014-15 is equal to his 2013 total.  In three years as a closer, he's averaged 46 saves per year.  Still, great closers fall short of the 40 save plateau all the time.  I asked Matt to plug in 35 saves for each of the 2014 and '15 seasons and run the numbers.  With the pair of 35-save seasons, Kimbrel projected to earn $33.65MM for 2014-16 if he lost his 2014 arbitration hearing and $40.1MM if he won it.

It's clear that the Braves feel Kimbrel has a good chance to reel off quality 35 save seasons in his next two years, with a reasonable chance of more than 70 overall.  Let's say, then, that the team might estimate his arbitration earnings in the $34-42MM range.  Compared to the actual contract, they might consider their arbitration savings anywhere from 18 to 33%.  In the scenario where Kimbrel wins his 2014 arbitration hearing and then reels off a pair of 35 save seasons, which I find quite plausible, the Braves essentially secured his first free agent year for free, plus an option on a second.

Keeping with the 35 save scenario, Kimbrel's 2016 salary projected at $16.1MM if he won lost his 2014 hearing and $17.9MM if he won it.  Since more than 35 saves a year is certainly possible, I'd widen that range and just say Kimbrel could have earned $16-20MM in 2016 alone.  Whatever the exact number, even the free agent market is not paying that much for elite relievers.  The Braves were likely picturing not being able to keep Kimbrel on the team in 2016, a point at which he'd have reduced trade value with an arbitration salary outstripping his potential free market salary.  Furthermore, if you take a more aggressive 40 save projection for Kimbrel for 2014 and assume he would have won the upcoming hearing, a $14MM salary for 2015 appeared possible.  Even that might have been untenable for Atlanta, reducing their Kimbrel window to one more year.

Since Kimbrel could have potentially earned all $42MM through arbitration and then gone to free agency as a 28-year-old, you might ask why he signed this multiyear deal.  As with most multiyear deals, Kimbrel chose to leave some potential earnings on the table for guaranteed money now.  Eric Gagne is a cautionary tale.  The former Dodgers closer was invincible from 2002-04 and then pitched 15 1/3 innings from 2005-06 due to elbow issues.  If something like that happens to Kimbrel, he's still got all $42MM coming to him, which is not the case if he had decided to go year-to-year through arbitration.

The arbitration pay scale for closers is just wacky, even more so in a time where teams are backing away from huge contracts for relievers.  With this deal, the Braves subverted the arbitration system and found a way to keep an elite reliever for more than one or two additional years.  If Kimbrel stays healthy and reasonably effective, they'll save significant money compared to arbitration, too.  Kimbrel can rest easy, having secured his family for generations three years prior to when he would have reached free agency.  


Rosenthal On Kimbrel, Braves, Red Sox, Burnett

Here's the latest from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

  • Rival executives aren't all enthusiastic about Craig Kimbrel's new deal with the Braves, citing the downside risk in long-term deals for closers. Rosenthal notes, however, that Kimbrel's new contract could reduce the Braves' payouts in what would have been his arbitration years.
  • The Braves' new ballpark galvanized the team's recent extension spree, GM Frank Wren says.
  • The Red Sox have enough depth that they don't need to worry about replacing Ryan Dempster in their rotation. The $13.25MM they would have paid Dempster also might not have a huge impact on whether or not they sign Stephen Drew. Signing Drew would cost the Red Sox the compensation pick they would receive if he were to sign elsewhere, and it would have implications for youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks as well.
  • A.J. Burnett says the two years he spent with the Pirates marked a new phase of his career. "I found who I was again, I guess," says Burnett. "I will never put myself in the same category as a (Roy) Halladay, ever. But as far as mentor-wise and player relations-wise, I became that guy over there. … It showed me who I was, who I could have been for a long time that I wasn't." After the Yankees traded him to Pittsburgh, Burnett emerged as a leader to younger pitchers like Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton.

NL East: Kimbrel, Burnett, Simmons, Dice-K

It has been a newsworthy Sunday in the NL East with the Braves extending closer Craig Kimbrel and the Phillies announcing the signing of A.J. Burnett. Here's the latest on those two deals and the rest of the division:

  • Kimbrel's agent David Meter called Braves GM Frank Wren one week ago and the extension was finalized Friday night, according to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • ESPN's Buster Olney tweets the Kimbrel extension is a win-win for both sides.
  • The Kimbrel extension sets a good precedent for baseball because it will tamp down arbitration salaries for closers and it signals no closer will ever receive more than a four-year contract, writes Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio (Insider subscription required).
  • Burnett told reporters, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel, he chose Philadelphia because of its proximity (a 90-minute drive) to his home in Monkton, MD. "This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn't about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me."
  • Burnett says he didn't receive much interest from the Nationals and Orioles, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today
  • Phillies Assistant GM Scott Proefrock, who lives a mile away from Burnett, told FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal the behind-the-scenes story of how the signing came about. 
  • Shortstop Andrelton Simmons could be next in line to receive an extension from the Braves, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets the two sides have a difference of opinion on the 24-year-old's future offensive value.
  • O'Brien tweets it's safe to say the Braves will extend Simmons either this year or next.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka has a May 30 opt-out in his minor league deal with the Mets, tweets Sherman.

Braves, Craig Kimbrel Agree To Extension

9:39am: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter) has the full breakdown of Kimbrel's deal.  The closer will earn a $1MM signing bonus, $7MM in 2014, $9MM in 2015, $11MM in 2016, and $13MM in 2017 with a $13MM option for 2018.  If the option is not exercised, Kimbrel gets a $1MM buyout.

8:58am: The deal gives Kimbrel a guaranteed $42MM over four years plus the $13MM option in 2015, tweets Mark Bowman of MLB.com.  Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter) adds that a potential $3.5MM in performance bonuses bring the total max value of the deal to $58.5MM.

8:36am: The Braves announced that they have agreed to terms with Craig Kimbrel on a four-year contract to avoid arbitration.  The contract runs through the 2017 season and includes an option for the 2018 campaign but financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the team. Kimbrel

There was a sizable gap for the two sides to bridge as they headed towards a hearing.  The closer submitted a $9MM figure while the Braves countered at $6.55MM.  As MLBTR's Matt Swartz wrote back in October, there's truly no precedent for a closer doing what Kimbrel has at this point of his career.  In fact, Kimbrel's numbers to date have been so impressive that they actually proved to be an exception to Swartz's carefully crafted model.  Other notable closers going through arbitration for the first time such as Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, John Axford, and Brian Wilson, had their stats eclipsed by Kimbrel.

We are very excited to agree to terms with Craig, who we feel is the best closer in Major League Baseball,” Braves Executive Vice President and General Manager Frank Wren said in the press release. “He is one of the key pieces of our pitching staff and we are happy to keep him in a Braves uniform for at least four more years.”

It has been a busy offseason for Wren, as shown in the MLBTR Extension Tracker.  Some might have thought that Atlanta was done after signing Freddie Freeman to a massive eight-year, $135MM extension and carving out a two-year, $12.3MM deal with Jason Heyward, but they found a way to also lock up their superstar closer.

In 68 relief appearances last season, Kimbrel turned in a 1.21 ERA with 13.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.  In total, the 25-year-old owns a 1.39 ERA with 15.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 over the course of four big league seasons in Atlanta.  For arbitration purposes, his career 139 saves (50 in 2013) helped his case in a major way.

Kimbrel is represented by David Meter of SportsMeter, according to the MLBTR Agency Database.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Braves, Kimbrel Could Be Nearing Extension

The Braves and Craig Kimbrel could be on the verge of avoiding arbitration by agreeing to an extension, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com (on Twitter).  The Braves closer submitted a $9MM figure while the Braves countered at $6.55MM.

As MLBTR’s Matt Swartz wrote back in October, there’s truly no precedent for a closer doing what Kimbrel has at this point of his career.  In fact, Kimbrel’s numbers to date have been so impressive that they actually proved to be an exception to Swartz’s carefully crafted model.  Other notable closers going through arbitration for the first time such as Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, John Axford, and Brian Wilson, had their stats eclipsed by Kimbrel.

Kimbrel is represented by David Meter of SportsMeter, according to the MLBTR Agency Database.