It took some time, but one of the game’s greatest relief pitchers finally found a home with the Cubs after shedding the draft compensation that attached when he turned down a qualifying offer from the Red Sox. The Boston organization won’t get a draft pick for letting Craig Kimbrel walk, and the Chicago club won’t have to part with one. The Cubbies will, however, pay Kimbrel $10MM for his services down the stretch and $32MM for two more campaigns (along with a $1MM buyout or $16MM vesting/club option for another).
On the one hand, it’s notable that Kimbrel was still able to secure a significant, multi-year guarantee at this stage of the season. On the other … well, this still feels light. Entering the offseason, following some late-season stumbles from Kimbrel, we predicted $70MM over four years. That was stepped down from what might have been anticipated entering the 2019 campaign; after all, Kimbrel’s 2018 effort was among his most dominant. There were risks, sure, but that’s why we guessed a four instead of a five-year pact.
Kimbrel isn’t going to pitch for the Cubs for the entirety of this season, so there’s a reduction in price there. Even accounting for that, this contract still falls shy of the one the Rockies gave Wade Davis in the 2017-18 offseason. That three-year, $52MM pact (with a fourth-year vesting/club option) seemed like an obvious floor for Kimbrel. After all, Davis was an older pitcher who couldn’t match Kimbrel’s levels of dominance. And the Davis contract was signed even though it cost the Rox a second-round draft choice.
While it’s certainly hard to fault Kimbrel for preferring the best-available multi-year arrangement at this stage, he’s probably leaving some upside on the table by taking that route now rather than going for a pure rental agreement. It’s also still a significant commitment for a Cubs team that declared itself out of money over the winter but found some in the interim (in some part through an unusual situation with an expensive veteran). This isn’t a risk-free transaction; far from it, particularly given Kimbrel’s most recent on-field showing and the fact that he’ll be ramping up in the middle of an ongoing season.
How do you grade the signing from the team’s perspective?
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