Latest On Craig Kimbrel

With the excitement of a new season, it’s easy to forget that one of the game’s most accomplished relief pitchers is still sitting on the sideline after failing to find a contract over the offseason. Star closer Craig Kimbrel remains available — and that fact that is due largely to his own unrealistic asking prices, Jim Bowden argues at The Athletic (subscription link).

According to Bowden, agent Dave Meter not only set out in search of a six-year, $120MM for Kimbrel, but has continued to demand a record-seeking deal this spring. Bowden claims that, “even as late as March,” the Kimbrel camp “was still seeking a five-year pact in the $100 million range.”

If indeed that’s the case, it would be hard to escape the conclusion that Kimbrel and/or Meter have simply failed to recognize the reality of Kimbrel’s market standing. Despite his historic excellence, there were some well-documented issues with his free-agent case. That’s why MLBTR predicted a four-year, $70MM contract rather than a record-setting, nine-figure pact.

While a nine-figure bonanza was never likely achievable, it’s certainly possible that mistaken market posturing cost Kimbrel a chance at a deal of the sort we expected. It’s also all but impossible to say that with any real confidence without knowing quite a bit more than is publicly available.

Even if Bowden is correct regarding the Kimbrel side’s expressed beliefs regarding his value, it’s not clear at all that Kimbrel ever fielded and rejected any truly significant contract offers. (Bowden does say that “specific, and significant, offers, or at least ranges of potential contract proposals” were made, though details aren’t available.) Perhaps the player-side negotiating position prevented that from happening, but that’s not something that can be assessed with certitude.

Whatever the case, it’s a tough spot now for Kimbrel and his rep. (Somewhat ironically, Meter is also under fire for rather different reasons after another client inked an eyebrow-raising recent extension.) Their present bargaining position isn’t really known, but it’s certainly becoming harder and harder to imagine a multi-year arrangement coming together — let alone one that compensates Kimbrel commensurate with his still-lofty present ability levels.

While some teams have evidently been interested in discussing longer-term proposals, their own willingness may not be the same at this point of the year. Bowden says that  most of those clubs now simply want to score a “bargain basement deal” with Kimbrel, though perhaps it’s still possible that one or more will do more if they truly believe it’s necessary to convince Kimbrel to get back in action and see enough of a team need. (Certainly, there’s no shortage of teams with bullpen needs.)

It’s not an altogether different situation for veteran starter Dallas Keuchel. Bowden also chides him and agent Scott Boras for taking an unreasonable starting position and failing to adapt, though in that case it’s said that specific demands weren’t made in early talks.

Where and when these two hurlers might sign remains anyone’s guess. In a recent poll, MLBTR readers predicted that deals wouldn’t come until after the June draft, at which time draft compensation will no longer be required to add either player. If you’re interested in reading more about possible landing spots, the situation isn’t all that different than it was when MLBTR recently analyzed Kimbrel’s and Keuchels’s market standing team by team.

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