4:38 PM: Per Kimbrel’s agent David Meter, via The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the report that Kimbrel would consider sitting out the 2019 season is false: “The report is wholly inaccurate and Craig looks forward to signing a new contract in the near future. Any report pertaining to his not playing this season is utterly false.”
2:27 PM: Jim Bowden of The Athletic cites “multiple GMs” in a report stating that reliever Craig Kimbrel’s asking price has not dropped from its lofty mid-offseason perch. In the same tweet, Bowden notes that “sources close” to the 30-year-old believe he would “consider” sitting out the 2019 season if the offers continue to fall well short of his ask.
The seven-time all-star, who’s fanned at least 13.5 men per nine in each of his nine MLB seasons, entered the offseason primed to set a new record for both length and total value of a relief-pitching contract. His initial ask, as reported by The Athletic’s Jayson Stark and ESPN’s Buster Olney, was a 6-year deal for at least $100MM, a figure that, in this market, had little chance to be met. By Christmas, the price was hovering near Aroldis Chapman’s record-setting 5-year, $86MM deal, though it doesn’t appear to have fallen further in the weeks to come.
Though the demands seem reasonable, especially for Kimbrel’s former club, the deep-pocketed, reliever-starved Red Sox, a competitive market has thus far not emerged around the flame-thrower. Some of the tepid interest can surely be owed to the righty’s age (31 in May) and his declining peripherals (a career-worst 28.2% ground-ball rate, 1.01 HR/9, and 3.13 FIP/xFIP), but Kimbrel has bucked the volatile-reliever archetype as well as any in the history of the game, and his average fastball velocity, long a marker for imminent decline, still sits at a sizzling 97.5 MPH.
The rest, it seems, is centered in the avant-garde approach to player evaluation, where short-term, high-average-annual-value deals are all the rage, and even the richest clubs snub their noses at name-brands and track records. Certain suitors, like the free-spending Phils, are holding firmly to their internal valuations – as they did, recently, with Manny Machado – while others, like the division-rival Braves, are playing poor. Boston, of course, would be on the hook for nearly $30MM in 2019 if it were to sign him to a deal approaching his reputed ask, and can be reasonably excused for its reluctance.
The rest of the league, though – especially would-be contenders with back-end needs, like the Indians, Twins, Angels, and Cubs – seems to have little defense.