Free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel reportedly signed with the Cubs on Wednesday evening, and the Braves weren’t among the finalists vying for his services.
The Braves, while holding some level of interest in their former All-Star reliever, were on the peripherals of the Kimbrel derby for months. It was long unlikely that Kimbrel’s requested terms would reach a point the Braves were comfortable, and with the righty no longer tied to draft-pick compensation, his market took shape.
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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported Wednesday that the Cubs were pushing to add Kimbrel to their bullpen. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi added that the Braves were not among those in the bidding.
Ultimately, the Cubs were willing to go the extra year on his contract. Kimbrel reportedly received a three-year, $43 million deal that includes a $16 million vesting option for the fourth year.
The Braves were never going to reach that point. And so they see Kimbrel join another National League team competing for a postseason spot.
Linking the Braves and Kimbrel always made sense. He’s from Alabama, was a beloved Brave and would have upgraded an aspiring contender’s greatest weakness. But the Braves had their reservations, including Kimbrel’s declining velocity and strikeout rate, and his contract demands, both in years and dollars, didn’t fit the organization’s plan.
That will be met with eye-rolls and sighs. The Braves had a conservative winter that attracted criticism, understandable given expectations of a hefty payroll increase and the possibility of external additions bumping the Braves from feel-good story to true contender status.
Instead they made a few tweaks – the $23 million Josh Donaldson signing among them – and banked on internal growth. Despite fan disappointment, that’s mostly worked for them thus far. The Braves sat a half-game behind the Phillies entering play Wednesday.
Still, most will agree Kimbrel would’ve improved the Braves’ bullpen. To some, that’s a black-and-white premise – a player is available who makes the team better? Sign him. The Braves are considering other factors at hand, and they decided against the investment.
Kimbrel pitched for the Braves from 2010-14, posting a 1.43 ERA and 186 saves. He was a workhorse, a four-time All-Star and built his reputation as the best closer in baseball during those seasons.
The Braves traded him to San Diego as part of their rebuilding process. He’s since been with Boston, where he saved 108 games in three seasons and won his first championship in 2018.