Milwaukee Brewers: The Pros And Cons Of Signing Craig Kimbrel

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27: Closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox pumps his fist after the last out of the ninth inning to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-6 in Game Four of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 27, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27: Closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox pumps his fist after the last out of the ninth inning to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-6 in Game Four of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 27, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Milwaukee Brewers fans have been pushing for almost two weeks now for the team to sign free agent closer Craig Kimbrel. Yet he still is unsigned.

Depending on who you ask, the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen situation varies from “just fine” to “this is awful”. The ones in the “this is awful” camp are pushing for the team to sign veteran closer Craig Kimbrel.

Now that the season has started and we now know that incumbent closer Corey Knebel will miss the entire 2019 season with Tommy John surgery, the drumbeat for signing Kimbrel has been getting louder.

Known History Of Negotiations

Reports first surfaced from The Athletic about the Brewers and Kimbrel on March 19th. All we knew at that point was that the two sides were talking.

The next day,on March 20th, Jon Heyman reported that talks were “serious”.

Ever since that report from Heyman, it’s been crickets in the media about rumors between the Brewers and Kimbrel. It’s plenty of fodder for MLB Network and ESPN, but there hasn’t been any recent news on Kimbrel.

It’s now March 30th, it’s been 10 days without any new information on talks between the Brewers and Kimbrel. That could mean a couple of things.

What Does This Mean?

The long period of time between reports could mean that talks have stalled and the two sides are too far apart on either years or dollars to come to an agreement. Or it could mean that David Stearns has gone deeper into negotiations and has just plugged all the holes where media leaks could come from. Keep in mind, with most of Stearns’ moves in free agency, we’re left in the dark with no news coming out until the signing is made.

Stearns loves operating in secrecy when it comes to free agency. So depending on which side of the bullpen argument you lean towards, the past ten days with no news could either be a good thing or a bad thing.

There seems to be a split between some Milwaukee Brewers fans about going after Craig Kimbrel. So what are the pros and what are the cons of bringing Kimbrel into the fold?

Pros Of Signing Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game of baseball over the past nine years. He’s entering his age-31 season, which is ten years younger than the last future Hall Of Fame closer the Brewers brought in, Trevor Hoffman. Kimbrel is still at the tail-end of his prime and his 333 career saves prove he’s a dominant closer.

HIs 1.91 career ERA also isn’t too shabby and his 1.96 FIP proves that his numbers are legit. For his career, Kimbrel has never had a season with a K/9 rate of less than 13.2.

Kimbrel has a career 211 ERA+, meaning he’s been 111% better than the league-average pitcher over the past nine years. There is no arguing how dominant Kimbrel has been.

By adding him to the Brewers bullpen, they can effectively replace Knebel with an upgrade at the position, and by pairing Kimbrel with Josh Hader, the Brewers will possess the most feared bullpen duo in the league.

Last year, the Milwaukee Brewers thrived on the strength of their bullpen. This year, the bullpen has been weakened by early injuries. Adding Kimbrel would bolster that group so they can thrive again.

Josh Hader needs a few days of rest in between his outings, and having another dominant late inning arm would relieve a lot of pressure from Hader.

Cons Of Signing Kimbrel

He’s going to cost a lot of money, to be sure. The payroll is stretched already, to be sure, and owner Mark Attanasio has stated that he’d be willing to stretch it further in order to do what’s necessary to win that World Series title. The argument can easily be made that Kimbrel improves the Crew’s chances to do that.

However, Kimbrel also doesn’t have a strong track record in the postseason, posting a 3.92 ERA in 20.2 innings of work during October baseball, including an abysmal 6.18 ERA in the 2018 postseason. The whole point of signing Kimbrel would be for him to help this team win in the postseason, and he couldn’t be that trusted guy last year.

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One explanation for his struggles in the postseason last year was that he was tipping his pitches. That’s a whole different concern. Maybe it’s not the big moment that’s getting to him, (it shouldn’t because he’s a closer and pitches in high pressure situations all the time) but he was tipping his pitches, which can derail an outing now matter how filthy your stuff is.

Perhaps he’s fixed his pitch tipping issues over the offseason, but there’s no way to truly tell since teams haven’t gotten a chance to work with him on it, because he’s been unsigned.

Also, Kimbrel would not just be able to jump into the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen the day they sign him to a contract. He’s missed all of spring training and would need at least a month in Arizona or the minor leagues to get ready for the big leagues. That doesn’t help any immediate concerns.

And besides the high price in dollars for signing an elite reliever, Kimbrel rejected a Qualifying Offer this past winter which means the Brewers would have to forfeit a draft pick to sign him. The Brewers have already forfeited their third round pick to sign Yasmani Grandal, and they already sent their Competitive Balance pick to Texas for Alex Claudio.

Would the Brewers really give up a third draft pick in the 2019 Draft? On one hand, those draft picks would not contribute to the big league club in time for the current championship window anyways, so it doesn’t matter. But on the other hand, Stearns is trying to keep this team competitive regularly and not go through another rebuilding period. Those draft picks, especially early ones, would be crucial to that plan.

Stearns has to simultaneously balance winning now and staying competitive for the future. Kimbrel at full strength would help out a lot for the current window. But how soon will he be at full strength, and how much will he cost?

Signing Kimbrel could prevent the Milwaukee Brewers from making other necessary additions at the July Trade Deadline. The funds can only be stretched so far. A Kimbrel signing could hamstring the team later in the summer.

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The Brewers have quite the decision to make with Kimbrel and if they’d be willing to pay the high price to acquire him. It could be worth it, but it could also backfire.