Updated Landing Spot Odds for MLB All-Stars Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel
Ace closer Craig Kimbrel and ace starter Dallas Keuchel remain unemployed even after a quarter of the 2019 Major League Baseball season has come and gone.
Yet they can't stay free agents forever. They still have nine All-Star selections and a Cy Young Award between them, after all, and teams are running out of excuses for not signing them.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the 30-year-old Kimbrel has cut his initial $100 million asking price about in half. Also according to Rosenthal, the 31-year-old Keuchel may be amenable to even a one-year deal. Plus, both pitchers' ties to draft-pick compensation are just weeks away from expiring.
We've speculated on the signing odds for 11 (five for Kimbrel and six for Keuchel) of their specific suitors, plus other possibilities in the field. These are based on reports linking interested teams to one or both players as well as on where they fit best practically.
We'll start with Kimbrel's suitors.
For Kimbrel: Minnesota Twins
Consider the Minnesota Twins a wild card in the hunt for Kimbrel.
Indeed, the Twins came into the 2019 season as something of a wild card in the AL Central race. Now they're leading it, largely on the strength of their powerful offense and well-balanced starting rotation.
Minnesota's bullpen, however, isn't as impressive. There's nothing too wrong with its 4.01 ERA, but left-hander Taylor Rogers is the only one with an eye-popping strikeout rate. Specifically, right-handed closer Blake Parker only has a 6.8 strikeouts-per-nine rate to go with his 1.23 ERA.
This is where Kimbrel would come in. Out of all his many impressive numbers, none is as impressive as his all-time great 14.7 strikeouts-per-nine rate.
The Twins aren't known for being big spenders, but it's notable that they're spending less this season than the $126 million they paid out in 2018. Perhaps there's enough in their pockets for one more big check.
Granted, what's missing in this case are solid reports linking the Twins to Kimbrel. They also may not see signing him as necessary to lock up the AL Central, wherein the Cleveland Indians are losing sway.
For Kimbrel: Tampa Bay Rays
Before the season even started, Tampa Bay Rays ace Blake Snell was lobbying for Kimbrel.
"I want Kimbrel," the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner said in March, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. "He's a veteran. He's established. He's the best. Who wouldn't want the best closer on their team?"
Well, Snell will be glad to hear that the Rays have been "keeping in touch" with Kimbrel, according to Topkin.
It's normally not in the Rays' character to make big free-agent splashes. They did make one by signing Charlie Morton for $30 million, however, and their payroll is still under the $66 million they spent in 2018.
In the meantime, the Rays have an early AL East lead to defend. Adding Kimbrel to a bullpen that already has a 3.34 ERA would help them do so.
From another perspective, signing Kimbrel would be a solution in need of a problem. And while the Rays can probably spend more on their 2019 payroll, there's a difference between doing that and giving Kimbrel the multiyear deal he's reportedly still seeking.
For Kimbrel: New York Mets
According to Rosenthal, the New York Mets were among the teams that were "still in touch" with Kimbrel as of April 20.
If they still are, then the Mets are clearly aware of the dumpster-fire status of their bullpen.
It has a 4.75 ERA even despite the strong work of right-handers Edwin Diaz, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, who've combined for a 2.74 ERA and 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Moreover, righty Jeurys Familia and left-handers Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan are on the injured list.
But as Rosenthal mentions, the Mets are only interested in Kimbrel if he's willing to play a supporting role as Diaz sticks in the closer's spot. That might be a bluff, yet Diaz's presence may nonetheless be a complication for Kimbrel himself, who's built his legacy on ninth-inning work.
New York's payroll situation is yet another complication. The Mets have already surpassed their 2018 spending, and their $197.9 million luxury tax payroll puts them up against the $206 million threshold.
For Kimbrel: Milwaukee Brewers
The Rosenthal report that recently linked the Mets to Kimbrel also linked the Milwaukee Brewers to him. And team owner Mark Attanasio hasn't dismissed the idea out of hand.
"I'm going to leave that to [president of baseball operations] David Stearns," Attanasio said in April, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Every team could use him. He's a terrific pitcher. We'll see what happens."
Kimbrel would effectively fill the shoes of Corey Knebel, who's been lost for the year with Tommy John surgery. And he'd be arguably more of a necessity than a luxury, as Milwaukee's pen has regressed from a 3.47 ERA in 2018 to a 4.16 ERA this season.
Yet there's the question of whether the Brewers would use Kimbrel strictly as a closer. Manager Craig Counsell may prefer to keep Josh Hader as his primary closer—or perhaps to subject Kimbrel to a more versatile part. Further, Milwaukee's payroll is already stretched more than $20 million above where it ended in 2018.
For Kimbrel: Atlanta Braves
A reunion between Kimbrel and the Atlanta Braves has made sense on paper for a while now. If anything, it's only making more sense as time passes.
The Braves have had all sorts of issues with their bullpen. It owns a pedestrian 4.57 ERA, and it's reeling from lefty A.J. Minter's demotion and righty Arodys Vizcaino's season-ending shoulder surgery.
"I think it goes without saying that we're going to do what we can [to improve the bullpen] both internally and externally," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said when the Vizcaino news came down, per Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
As Bowman mentioned, Kimbrel isn't already a Brave largely because the team has been reluctant to sign him to a long-term deal. Yet they apparently have $15 million to $20 million in unused spending money in their pocket. If they want to catch the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East, they'd be wise to spend it.
In light of their current restrictions on the international market, it's also possible that the Braves don't want to also compromise their standing in the draft by signing Kimbrel. But come June 2, that concern will be water under the bridge.
The Field for Craig Kimbrel
Apart from the obvious suitors, there are also a few "mystery teams" who could swoop in for Kimbrel.
The Philadelphia Phillies, for example, are a deep-pocketed contender who need help at the back end of their bullpen. The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers also fit the bill—if they're willing to pay harsher luxury tax penalties.
The St. Louis Cardinals are also worth keeping an eye on. They arguably need a starter more than a reliever—more on that in a moment—but Kimbrel would take a great deal of pressure off Jordan Hicks, John Gant and John Brebbia.
The Washington Nationals, meanwhile, have an MLB-worst 6.34 bullpen ERA as incentive to sign Kimbrel. They just need to go on some sort of run first, as their 16-24 record doesn't behoove them to cross over into luxury tax territory.
For Keuchel: St. Louis Cardinals
What the Twins are to Kimbrel, the Cardinals are to Keuchel.
Although there's nothing solid linking the Cardinals to Keuchel, there's little doubt that the Cardinals could use the veteran left-hander in their starting rotation. It's produced a 4.35 ERA, and the best ERA among their primary starters is the good-not-great 3.83 mark belonging to Miles Mikolas.
However, the lack of rumors connecting the Cardinals to Keuchel may have to do with the state of their payroll. They've already surpassed the $162 million they spent in 2018.
For Keuchel: Milwaukee Brewers
As much as the Brewers need a relief pitcher, they arguably need a starting pitcher more.
Zach Davies has been outstanding, and the early returns on Gio Gonzalez are positive. Otherwise, calling Milwaukee's rotation a "mixed bag" would be kind. It's needed nine different starters to get to a 4.41 ERA.
Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic reported on March 31 that the Brewers had been keeping tabs on Keuchel. If they are indeed going to push their payroll higher, they may prefer to do it with a short deal for him rather than a longer deal for Kimbrel.
In light of their less-than-great infield defense, however, whether Keuchel and the Brewers are a good fit is a fair concern. Besides, Milwaukee's rotation has lately been fixing itself with a 2.67 ERA over the last 14 days. If that keeps up, its need for Keuchel will melt away.
For Keuchel: New York Mets
Per the previously mentioned Rosenthal/Lin report and another from Andy Martino of SNY.tv, the Mets were also doing due diligence on Keuchel earlier in the season.
Several weeks later, their starting rotation still doesn't inspire much confidence. The trio of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler has fallen short of expectations with a 4.16 combined ERA. Meanwhile, Steven Matz and Jason Vargas are on the injured list.
The Mets may still see Keuchel as a means to catching up in the NL East race. But doing so would certainly compromise their luxury tax standing, and the Mets don't have an infield capable of protecting their investment. Theirs has allowed an NL-high .295 average on ground balls.
For Keuchel: Atlanta Braves
Before their bullpen problems cropped up, the Braves rotation arose as a concern as multiple starters were felled by injuries in spring training.
In the middle of March, Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reported that the Braves were monitoring Keuchel. Supposedly, their hesitation to sign him had to do with his ties to draft-pick compensation.
As noted earlier, that problem is just weeks away from evaporating. Perhaps that will convince the Braves to get serious about Keuchel as a possible solution for a rotation that's used nine different starters en route to a 4.64 ERA.
Like the Mets, the Braves don't have an ideal infield defense for Keuchel to pitch to. But theirs is at least better, and the Braves have more financial flexibility to put toward taking the risk.
For Keuchel: Tampa Bay Rays
When the Rays lost Glasnow, they didn't just lose a pitcher with a 1.86 ERA. They also lost one of only three true starters in their rotation. It's now Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and whatever openers they have lying around.
Signing Keuchel would allow the Rays to safeguard against burning out their bullpen both before and after Glasnow's return. They're also another team that could support Keuchel with an outstanding infield defense.
Further, signing Keuchel wouldn't necessarily be the same as signing Kimbrel. Whereas the latter will likely require a multiyear pact, the Rays might exploit Keuchel's apparent willingness to accept a one-year deal.
Or, the Rays might prefer to do their usual thing of pinching pennies. Besides, Heyman claims that Keuchel himself would prefer to take his talents to a big market. Tampa Bay is the polar opposite of that.
For Keuchel: New York Yankees
A few months ago, the New York Yankees were set to have a starting five of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia.
Fate had other plans. Paxton found his way to the IL on May 5 with knee inflammation. Severino, meanwhile, has been on the IL all year with shoulder inflammation that figures to keep him out until after the All-Star break.
Keuchel looms as a cure for what ails the Yankees rotation, and Heyman claims that they will indeed be interested once he's free of draft-pick compensation in June. For Keuchel's part, New York would be the big market that he allegedly prefers.
One possible complication would be a logjam of starters following Severino's return. But if the Yankees get Keuchel on a one-year deal, they could avoid that by shifting Severino to a relief role for the rest of 2019.
The Field for Dallas Keuchel
Although Keuchel has more obvious suitors than Kimbrel, he might also be picked up by a "mystery team."
A return to the AL West is possible, as the Los Angeles Angels badly need an ace and the Houston Astros might want to clad the back end of their rotation in iron.
Or, perhaps a move to the NL West. The San Diego Padres have had interest in Keuchel in the past, and they may still see him as a fit for a rotation that leans young and inexperienced.
The Red Sox and Phillies, meanwhile, are probably longer shots for Keuchel than they are for Kimbrel. But the former could go for him if David Price and Nathan Eovaldi hit setbacks in their returns from elbow injuries. For their part, the Phillies might want to stabilize their rotation outside of Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.