Craig Kimbrel doesn’t have a job.
The Chicago Cubs don’t have a closer.
In a perfect world, this would be a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, this is anything but a perfect world, as this offseason has shown several times over. While seemingly felicitous for both parties, this pairing is just something that’s not gonna happen right now. Kimbrel doesn’t have a job because he probably wants a lot of money and no one has given him the commitment he wants, either in years or dollars. And the Cubs are tapped out, per Tom Ricketts.
Sure, the Cubs definitely have a need for bullpen help with Brandon Morrow on the DL to start the season and Pedro Strop’s status up in the air after a recent hammy strain. What they don’t have, though, is enough money to push the needle on a guy like Kimbrel, even if the bottom has dropped out of his market in the second year of the Great Free Agent Swoon. You may be asking yourself why this matters and why we’re even having this discussion at all if the Cubs won’t open up their checkbooks for the guy.
It matters because every day Kimbrel remains unsigned brings him closer and closer to availability for the Cubs. Unless he wants to sit out the entire 2019 season to prove a point, it’s safe to assume the guy wants to get paid for his services at some point. If he doesn’t get an offer he particularly likes, it’s possible he might be willing to lend his services to a team on a short-term contract. Like, one year. Or, maybe a little over half a year, to be more exact. Work for 4 months and hope for a deal next offseason.
If Kimbrel is willing to wait until June or July to sign, his asking price would no longer sit at that $15-20 million price point that elite closers have commanded. It would be slashed at least in half, making it akin to a mid-season deadline trade but without having to give up Gleyber Torres. The money, while too rich for ownership’s blood at a full year’s price, might actually be palatable for the Cubs at $7-10 million.
Now, here’s the rub with this plan: No only would the Cubs get a rested, healthy, hard-throwing, elite closer in Kimbrel, they would also get to couple him with a (fingers crossed, knock wood) healthy Morrow and Strop. That would allow Joe Maddon to be a bit more judicious with both of those guys, while also allowing Kimbrel some days off. Throw in Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, and Mike Montgomery and you’ve got yourself a bona fide major league bullpen.
It may be pie in the sky at this point, but no one thought Kimbrel would still be a free agent on March 14. Then again, no one thought the Cubs would have a cash flow problem with a new network on the way and money coming in from every venture they touch. It’s not that this is highly likely to happen, but the way free agency has spurned pitchers on the back side of 30, nothing is too far-fetched at this point.
As Tom Petty once crooned, “The waiting is the hardest part.” And while it’s hard to be a fan and watch your team do a whole lot of nothing in an offseason directly following a Wild Card loss, maybe it’s not about the waiting being hard at all. In the case of the Cubs and a possible marriage with Kimbrel, maybe the waiting is the easiest part. In this case, it could actually play right into the Cubs’ hands.