Kimbrel Passes on Qualifying Offer
By Jason Mastrodonato
It’s officially time for the Red Sox to start thinking about a new closer.
On Monday, Craig Kimbrel rejected the qualifying offer for a one-year contract worth $17.9 million to stay with the Sox and will instead test the free agent market.
“We anticipated he would reject it,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in an email.
The Sox will now receive a compensatory pick if Kimbrel signs elsewhere, but because they were over the luxury tax threshold in 2018, that pick won’t come until after the fourth round of the draft next June.
It was long assumed that Kimbrel would go this route, given the 30-year-old has just entered free agency for the first time in his career and may not get another chance to cash in for a big payday. He has a chance to push Aroldis Chapman’s record contract for a reliever of five-years, $86 million.
Some of Kimbrel’s numbers trended down in 2018, but he still held hitters to a lower contact percentage (62.7) than any pitcher in the majors while finishing the year with a 2.74 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 96 strikeouts in 62.2 innings.
Kimbrel was less effective in the postseason, when he had a 5.81 ERA with just 10 strikeouts to eight walks in 10.1 innings, though he did convert every save opportunity.
Dombrowski said at the GM Meetings last week that the Sox wouldn’t consider any other moves on the relief market until they knew what Kimbrel was going to do.
Now that they know he’ll test the market, they can consider making Kimbrel a better offer or looking elsewhere.
“I don’t think we’ll go in with that idea of closer by committee,” Dombrowski said last week. “I can’t tell you what’s an established closer - I mean Ryan Brasier has closed games for some established big-league clubs. Is Matt Barnes? But I don’t think we’d feel uncomfortable with either one of them. Could there be other alternatives? Sure.”
Jeurys Familia, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera and Joe Kelly are among the other top relievers available in free agency this winter.
The Red Sox payroll is already expected to be over $215 million as currently constructed, according to Cots Baseball Contracts, with at least seven players making eight-figure salaries.
But they’ll need to find a way to address the bullpen needs, where Kimbrel and Kelly are free agents and only Brasier and Barnes remain among proven set-up guys. Dombrowski said soon after the World Series ended that the bullpen would be the Red Sox’ priority this offseason.
Also this week, the Red Sox will have their eyes on the awards announcements.
The Manager of the Year will be announced today and Alex Cora is a finalist. Cy Young announcements are Wednesday and on Thursday, Mookie Betts could be crowned the American League MVP.
Betts is entering his second year of arbitration and is expected to earn $18.7 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections. He’ll be eligible for arbitration a third and final time after the 2019 season before he’s eligible for free agency after 2020.