Though Atlanta fans have been vocal about their desire to see Craig Kimbrel suit up for the Braves once again, that appears decreasingly likely. The Braves have been loosely connected to Kimbrel throughout the year, but now that he’s free of draft compensation and expected to sign in the near future, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports (via Twitter) that the Braves aren’t among the “finalists” to sign the seven-time All-Star.
That comes on the heels of a morning report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal which indicates that the Cubs are “pushing hard” to sign the right-hander. Kimbrel has also been recently connected to the Twins and Phillies.
The Braves’ bullpen need is rather acute, so it would appear that the team has simply decided that even without draft-pick forfeiture, Kimbrel’s asking price is too steep. He’s reportedly been seeking a three-year contract, and while the salary in the first year of such an arrangement would be prorated now that we’re a third of the way through the season, Kimbrel is surely seeking a hefty annual rate of pay all the same.
If Kimbrel ultimately lands in Chicago or elsewhere, the Cubs will quite likely look to the trade market to bolster what has been an injury-plagued and generally disappointing relief unit. Luke Jackson, thrice outrighted off the Braves’ 40-man roster last season, has been the club’s most consistent reliever for most of the season. Touki Toussaint is among the game’s most highly regarded starting pitching prospects but has thrived since moving into a relief role (albeit with a somewhat elevated walk rate). Sean Newcomb also looks sharp in a relief capacity, while Anthony Swarzak has been solid since his acquisition. Josh Tomlin, signed to a minor league deal in Spring Training, has been a durable source of multi-inning stints.
But while the Atlanta bullpen’s 4.31 ERA is 15th in the big leagues, the Braves’ 4.93 FIP ranks 26th and their 4.69 xFIP ranks 20th. Braves relievers have walked 11.7 percent of the hitters they’ve faced — the third-highest mark in the Majors. They’re also averaging 1.55 home runs per nine innings pitched, which ties them with the Nationals for the fourth-highest rate in the Majors. The Braves have been fortunate than more than half of the home runs allowed by their bullpen have come with the bases empty, but the combination of one of MLB’s highest walk rates and highest home-run rates isn’t a recipe for long-term success. With several clubs likely to sell off pieces this summer — the Giants, Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals and Tigers will have arms available — there’ll be plenty of options for Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos to explore.