After sitting out the entire 2019 Major League Baseball season to date, the two biggest free agents remarkably still on the market is starter Dallas Keuchel and closer Craig Kimbrel. After the seven month free agency of one of baseball’s best bullpen arms, Craig Kimbrel has finally found a home with a Major League club.
The Chicago Cubs signed former free agent closer Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43 Million deal. The new deal will remunerate Kimbrel $10 million for the remainder of this season and $16 million per year in 2020 and 2021. There is a $1 million buyout on a club/vesting option for the fourth year.
The 31-year-old star closer finished the 2018 regular season with a whopping 42 saves with a 2.74 ERA over the course of 62 1/3 innings pitched. In his illustrious career, Kimbrel has compiles 333 saves while posting a 1.91 ERA, the lowest in history by a reliever with at least 300 career innings pitched. Kimbrel’s 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings is also the best among major league pitchers with at least 500 career innings pitched.
“There’s usually not quality free agents rolling around at this time of year. Any guy that’s out there, we’ll certainly do our due diligence and see if that makes sense,” Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein said following the deal.
“There are always unknowns that come up during the season that can impact your financial picture,” Epstein said. “This year, in particular, there have been some unexpected variables that could possibly give us a little more flexibility than we would have imagined.”
The Chicago Cubs’ 4.02 team ERA entering Wednesday’s action ranked eighth among all major league teams. Now that the Cubs have a top closer in the back of their bullpen, Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek will step back and work behind Kimbrel once Kimbrel is ready to resume baseball operations.
Kimbrel’s future teammates expressed their satisfaction and excitement for the organization following the deal.
“It’s huge for us,” Cubs’ ace Jon Lester said. “For [owner] Tom [Ricketts] and Theo [Epstein, the team’s president] to get this deal done, it’s a huge shot in the arm for us…It’s like getting a gift on Christmas morning and having to wait to open it for a week or so before he’s here.”
“He’s awesome. You’re bringing in — if he’s not the best, he’s one of the best closers in the game,” Strop said. “Hopefully he’s in good shape so he can help us win another World Series. … He’s one of my favorites.”
“This is big,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s a credit to [the front office] for believing in us.”
The Chicago Cubs currently hold a one-game lead over the National League Central division with a 34-26 record, good enough for a .567 winning percentage. They are trailed by the Milwaukee Brewers who hold a 34-28 record. Then comes the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds who are 3.5, 5.0, and 6.0 games behind the first place Cubs respectively.
The Cubs hope that the acquisition of Kimbrel will help them further separate themselves from the pack and help them once again reign supreme in the National League Central in 2019 and the next few years to come.