Kimbrel and his reps at SportsMeter are obviously shooting for a record-breaking pact, at least as a starting point. It had previously been reported that the 30-year-old hurler was looking for six years, which has never before been secured by a reliever on the open market.
To this point, the largest and longest relief pitching contract is the five-year, $86MM Aroldis Chapman deal with the Yankees. That level of pay is obviously reserved for the truly elite relief arms — those few who, like Kimbrel, have been utterly dominant for extended stretches of time.
When the 2017 season came to a close, a nine-figure promise seemed well within reach for Kimbrel, who for the fourth time threw at least sixty innings of sub-2.00 ERA ball — and did so with an insane combination of 126 strikeouts against just 14 walks. He induced swinging strikes on just under one in five of the pitches he threw while maintaining a career-high 98.7 mph average fastball velocity.
Unfortunately, the final year of Kimbrel’s contract — an extension long ago inked with the Braves, then traded to the Padres and on to the Red Sox — was not to that standard. Kimbrel ended the 2018 campaign with a 2.74 ERA in 62 1/3 innings, with an excellent but hardly otherworldly mix of 13.9 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9. He still pumped 97.5 with the heater, though that was the first time he had dipped below a 98 mph mean heater since 2013.
Most worrying of all was Kimbrel’s uncomfortable postseason effort. It’d be silly to make too much of some brief struggles, and it all worked out in the end, but we’re talking about marketing a player as an unmatchable finishing piece for a team that wants to win it all.
There’s little doubt that Kimbrel’s October scuffles dented his armor a bit, though he also shouldn’t be counted out for a return to glory. Two of Kimbrel’s least-effective seasons have come among the past three, but he’s still unquestionably among the game’s very best relief pitchers. And his durability has been exemplary as well.
Entering the winter, MLBTR predicted that Kimbrel would set a new record, but only for average annual value for a reliever contract rather than total guarantee. It remains to be seen how things develop, but it’s notable that he’s aiming quite high to open the market.