The Cubs are “pushing hard” to sign free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (via Twitter). He’d obviously be a much-needed upgrade for a Cubs ’pen that has been without closer Brandon Morrow all season and has endured numerous other injuries so far in 2019.
If a deal does indeed come to fruition, it’d represent a change of course for the Cubs, who spent the offseason making a series of small-scale additions due to ownership’s claim that the team simply didn’t have the resources to add to the team’s payroll. Kimbrel has been reported to be seeking a three-year pact, so it’s possible that the Cubs could backload a multi-year offer to ease up on the financial burden for the current season, but they’d still pay a 32 percent luxury tax on the average annual value of Kimbrel’s contract. The Cubs’ payroll already tops $213MM, and their luxury-tax payroll (calculated by the combined average annual values of all the contracts on the roster) checks in north of $227MM, per Roster Resources’ Jason Martinez.
Chicago recently welcomed Pedro Strop back from the injured list, and adding Kimbrel would be a second boon to the relief corps in a short period of time. Kimbrel won’t be ready to step directly into a game setting, of course, but he’s assuredly been throwing in preparation to join a team as soon as possible. In all likelihood, he’d build up over a relatively brief minor league stint and join his new team within a matter of weeks.
As soon as the calendar flipped from Sunday to Monday this week, Kimbrel and fellow free agent holdout Dallas Keuchel were freed from the burden of draft-pick compensation, so signing him would only cost the Cubs money at this point. He’s also been somewhat prominently connected to the Twins, although it’s quite arguable that the Cubs’ need is greater. Minnesota is enjoying a 10.5-game lead in the American League Central, whereas all four teams in the NL Central are within 5.5 games of the Cubs; the Brewers, in particular, are only a half game back of the Cubs in the standings.
The most common other suitors listed for Kimbrel have been in the NL East: the division-leading Phillies and Kimbrel’s original organization, the Braves. Philadelphia has reportedly only been interested in Kimbrel on a short-term deal, however (presumably, a one-year pact). As for the Braves, their interest in Kimbrel has clearly never aligned with the fanbase’s at times ravenous desire to see Kimbrel once again take the mound in Braves gear. The Atlanta faithful have gone so far as to audibly chant, “We want Kimbrel” during Braves games at SunTrust Park, but the front office has maintained a more measured approach to whatever interest it holds in bringing Kimbrel back to Georgia.