Craig Kimbrel has a strong case as the most dominant relief pitcher of all-time. No qualified pitcher in the modern era owns a lower career ERA than Kimbrel’s 1.91, or a lower FIP than his 1.96. Only one such hurler has a higher strikeout rate than Kimbrel’s 14.67 K/9. Only three have a lower WHIP than his 0.92. According to Deserved Run Average, his cumulative production has been 53% better than the league-average pitcher (47 DRA-) during his nine years in the big leagues, with marks between 63 DRA- and 36 DRA- in each season. He has recorded 333 saves, been named to seven All-Star teams, finished in the top-10 in Cy Young voting five times, and won the Rookie of the Year.
And, on the eve of Opening Day (for the Mariners and Athletics in Japan, at least), the free agent hurler is still searching for a new team after winning a World Series ring with the Red Sox last season. In fact, there have hardly been any rumors about his market since the outset of this past offseason. Well, at least until this evening:
#Brewers in talks with free-agent reliever Craig Kimbrel, sources tell me and @Ken_Rosenthal.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) March 20, 2019
The Milwaukee Brewers have developed quite the reputation for been opportunistic shoppers under the David Stearns regime, with the most recent winter resulting in one-year deals (plus mutual options) with Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas after neither were satisfied with the multiyear offers they were receiving. Those signings moved their payroll into club-record territory at more than $120 million for 2019, but according to Robert Murray’s report, owner Mark Attanasio may be willing to push the envelope even further in an effort to bring a World Series to the Cream City.
All-Star reliever Jeremy Jeffress will not be ready for the beginning of the regular season, but the club expects him back by mid-to-late April. If he’s healthy, and Kimbrel is added to the mix, that would give Milwaukee a fearsome back end of the bullpen featuring those two plus Corey Knebel and Josh Hader, both recently All-Stars themselves. That would give added flexibility to manager Craig Counsell in how he deploys the quartet. Kimbrel would almost surely be installed as closer, of course, but could that free up someone like Knebel to become an every-other-day Opener? The possibilities are fun to dream about.
This past season, Kimbrel posted a 2.74 ERA across 62.1 innings with a 57 DRA- and an average fastball velocity of 97.5 MPH. He has reportedly been seeking as much as a six-year deal, though his asking price certainly may have dropped by this point. He declined a Qualifying Offer from the Red Sox and would therefore require draft pick compensation if he signs before June 6th.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus