Dodgers are Right to Not Pursue All-Star Closer Craig Kimbrel

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 18: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros during Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 18, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 18: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros during Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 18, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

It’s March 10th and the most elite free agent closer, Craig Kimbrel, doesn’t have a job. He’s a 7-time All-Star, 2018 World Series Champion, and 2011 National League Rookie of the Year recipient. In recent days, much has been said about the Los Angeles Dodgers need to pursue him as a set-up man for Kenley Jansen.

As great as Kimbrel, or “the gargoyle” (as my wife has so endearingly dubbed him for his infamous pre-pitch pose), has been in his 8-year career, the Dodgers are right not to pursue him.  Perhaps best known for resembling a vulture warming his wings before flight, be it for pain relief or posturing, Craig Kimbrel backs it up with a 97-98 mph four-seam fastball and a power curveball that devastates hitters with wicked precision.

Kimbrel has only missed being named an All-Star once in the eight seasons and is coming off a year in which he recorded 42 saves while posting a 2.74 ERA, he should not still be a free agent.  However, the Dodgers should not feel the need to remove that title, because simply, there is no need.

Just because you have the money, doesn’t mean you need to spend it.  Signing Craig Kimbrel would be expensive. He is said to be looking for a contract in the ballpark of 6 years for $100 million. Breaking down to approximately $16.7 million a season, that’s a lot of money and a lot of commitment for a pitcher that’s 30 years old and would only pitch one inning per game.

Especially when the Dodgers signed their closer, Kenley Jansen, to a 5-year $80 million contract in 2017. Arguments can be made about Jansen losing some velocity and/or effectiveness, but he was battling health issues in 2018 and is already showing positive progress this Spring.

Having Jansen makes Kimbrel a “want”, not a “need”, and you don’t spend $16.7 million per season on a “want”.  “What about a setup man?”, you ask? The Dodgers seemingly filled that role with the off-season signing of Joe Kelly, further solidifying Kimbrel as a “want”.

Following the loss to the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series, the Dodgers wasted little time in signing former Red Sox reliever, Joe Kelly.  On December 21, 2018, Kelly inked a three-year contract for $25 million.  Equipped with 5 pitch repertoire that includes both four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a knuckle curve, changeup, and a very effective slider, Kelly was essentially brought on as a setup man to Kenley Jansen.

While Kimbrel has the more impressive regular season statistics, Joe Kelly boasts the better post-season resume.  Having pitched more than double the post-season innings, 47 vs. 20.2, Joe Kelly bests Kimbrel in ERA, 2.49 vs. 3.92, walks per inning 0.28 vs. 0.59, and fewer home runs per inning .04 vs. .01 With the Dodgers eyeing another post-season run, Kelly is the more proven post-season reliever, but should the Dodgers feel the need to bolster their bullpen, they do have options.

It’s true that while having the eighth and ninth inning duo in Joe Kelly and Kenley Jansen is good, adding a seventh-inning man for a great trio could be even better, but it’s not needed. Even, if they did choose to do so, it would be most valuable as they near the post-season run. Therefore, a better option than paying Kimbrel top dollar for multiple seasons, or an even more obscene amount for a shorter term, would be a trade deadline rental.

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Barring team options, the 2020 free agent class has the likes of Blake Treinen, Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Colome and Brandon Morrow poised to hit the open market.  The Dodgers certainly have the prospect depth to add one of these rentals at the trade deadline.  Additionally, and more likely, the Dodgers may just utilize some of their own roster to bridge the gap.

Pedro Baez, who seemed to arrive at his potential late last year while Yimi Garcia and Scott Alexander have been pretty lights out this spring. Even Julio Urias, who will be on a strict innings restriction in his first full season removed from shoulder surgery could seemingly take the seventh inning role. Either way, the Dodgers have solid options that shouldn’t equate to the high price tag of Kimbrel, should they decide to establish a dedicated 7th inning reliever.

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The Dodgers can certainly afford Craig Kimbrel this year and if they did, it would certainly shore up the bullpen more, but realistically, it would be more of a luxury acquisition. Kimbrel would be the impulse buy because you went shopping hungry, instead of saving your money and looking in your cupboards at home.  The Dodgers have plenty in the cupboards and worst-case, they can borrow from the neighbors if they decide they could use little more.