11:15pm: The Cubs have called Kimbrel up to the MLB roster for tomorrow’s game and optioned Tony Barnette to Triple-A Iowa, Maddon announced post-game (Twitter link via Gonzales).
4:50pm: Manager Joe Maddon announced to reporters that Kimbrel is on his way to meet the Cubs right now (Twitter link via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune). There won’t be a formal announcement or an official corresponding roster move until at least tomorrow, it seems.
3:54pm: Kimbrel is “no longer with” the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate, reports Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. Birch calls Kimbrel’s debut with the Cubs “imminent.” Like Wittenmyer, Birch suggests that Kimbrel is expected to be officially called up this week.
10:20am: Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel appears on the cusp of making his long-awaited 2019 debut. The Cubs could activate the seven-time All-Star as early as Thursday or Friday, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Kimbrel is already on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.
Kimbrel, who has been pitching with Triple-A Iowa since June 16, threw a perfect, two-strikeout inning Tuesday in what could go down as his last tuneup performance. The 31-year-old right-hander has made four appearances with Iowa, including back-to-back outings over the weekend, and given up two hits, a walk and a run against four strikeouts. Kimbrel’s fastball has sat in the 95 mph range along the way. That’s down from Kimbrel’s ~98 mph career average, though there’s understandably no concern on the Cubs’ part.
“It’s not about results or velocity, it is getting in game shape and building that foundation,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week (via Bruce Levine of 670 The Score).
If the Epstein-led Cubs get the version of Kimbrel they’re expecting, the potential Hall of Famer could make a substantial impact on the National League playoff race. Chicago has managed a 43-36 record and a one-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central as the season approaches the halfway point, though the Cubs’ success has come despite an unspectacular bullpen. Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Kyle Ryan have recorded solid numbers, but most of the Cubs’ other relievers have been shaky this year. It hasn’t helped the Cubs have gone without the injured Brandon Morrow, a 2018 force who went down last July and still hasn’t returned. Morrow piled up more saves than any other Cub a year ago, and his absence has left Cishek and Pedro Strop to rack up the majority of game-ending opportunities to mixed results. Strop has endured an uncharacteristically subpar season and will try to right himself in a return to a setup role when Kimbrel enters the mix.
While Kimbrel’s an all-time great with 333 saves and a 91 percent success rate for his career, his performance fell back a bit last year as he concluded his Red Sox stint. Kimbrel still posted a 2.74 ERA/3.13 FIP with 13.86 K/9 and 4.48 BB/9 over 62 1/3 innings, which is production every team would sign up for late in games. But clubs had their limits in free agency with Kimbrel, who reportedly had designs on becoming the first-ever $100MM reliever early in the offseason. Clubs scoffed at that asking price and Kimbrel’s subsequent requests, which left him without an employer for seven months.
The Kimbrel saga came to a merciful end when he agreed June 5 to join the Cubs on a three-year, $43MM deal. The draft had passed by then, meaning the Cubs didn’t have to surrender compensation other than money for the qualifying offer recipient. Chicago’s about to begin finding out whether the Kimbrel signing will go down as a wise investment.