February 22, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) during spring training against the Detroit Tigers at Disney Wide World of Sports complex, Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Braves Trade Craig Kimbrel?

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As Mark Bowman reported recently, and we reminded you in a recent Morning Chop, Craig Kimbrel was named this year’s MLB Delivery Man of the Year.  Craig is the first Atlanta Brave to win the honor that has been given out since 2005, an honor given out to the closer considered the best in Major League Baseball.  It’s a lofty honor indeed when you consider the caliber of closers found in baseball.

Kimbrel certainly has the best numbers, so the honor is well-deserved.  Craig has a whopping 138 saves since 2011, which is 28 more than Jim Johnson‘s 110 or Chris Perez‘s 100 over that span.  I don’t suppose I could sum up Kimbrel’s numbers any better than Mark Bowman did, so I’ll just quote him here….

Kimbrel converted 50 of 54 save opportunities and posted a 1.21 ERA in 68 appearances. The 25-year-old right-hander’s 50 saves matched Baltimore’s Jim Johnson for the most in the Majors and made him the youngest closer to record this total. Kimbrel began this past season in impressive fashion, converting nine of the 10 save opportunities he garnered in April. He proved human when he allowed a ninth-inning home run against David Wright on May 3 and back-to-back two-out home runs in a loss to the Reds four days later.  But after blowing a ninth-inning lead in both of those games, Kimbrel set a Braves franchise record by converting each of his next 37 save opportunities. In fact, he converted 40 of his final 41 opportunities on the way to becoming just the 11th pitcher to record a 50-save season.  During his final 54 appearances, Kimbrel posted a 0.54 ERA and limited opponents to a .151 batting average. Three of the four runs he surrendered in the 53 2/3 innings completed during this span were scored by the Nationals during the ninth inning of a Sept. 17 game in Washington.  Kimbrel stands as the only pitcher in Major League history to record 40 saves in each of his first three full seasons. Kimbrel leads the Majors with 138 saves during this span. Johnson ranks second with 110.

Impressive, to be sure!  With those numbers, it’s hard to imagine anyone recommending that the Atlanta Braves consider trading Kimbrel, but in fact there are those who believe Atlanta should do that very thing.  Dan Szymborski wrote an article for ESPN insider (subscriber content), and suggested as much.  Before you immediately dismiss such a notion, let me just share the major tenants of Dan’s argument, which actually makes perfect sense, at least to me.

Dan argues that the very reason the Braves should consider trading Kimbrel, is not because he’s not good, which he obviously is, but consideration for trading him would be based on the fact that he IS SO GOOD!    Dan points out that Craig will get more and more expensive as time goes by, and will quickly reach a price tag the Braves are probably not going to be willing to pay.  Small market teams who cannot afford to pay top dollar for a great closer are finding ways to compete without paying high prices, and the lesson there, Dan points out, is that sometimes we tend to overrate the value of a top notch closer.  He also points out issues of longevity (could Kimbrel suffer the need for the dreaded TJ surgery as so many have), and the need for the Braves to try and cash in on Kimbrel’s value while it is still as high as it is.  Dan says a good deal more, but you get the idea.  If you’re an ESPN insider, I recommend you read his article.

Would you side with trading Kimbrel?  Craig is already, arguably, worth a great deal more than the Braves are playing him.  His first year as a major league closer, Kimbrel made $419,000 in 2011.  The Braves paid him just $590,000 in 2012, and just $655,000 this past year.  It has been projected that Kimbrel could make as much as $7+ million soon!  A great article explaining that projection for Kimbrel was written by Matt Swartz for MLB Trade Rumors, and can be found here.

You might argue that a closer who only pitches a relative handful of innings on the year doesn’t deserve that much, and certainly in Atlanta where Fredi tends to use closers very specifically JUST to close (remember the fan rage at Kimbrel not being used in the playoffs in a critical game?), but I’ll guarantee you that Kimbrel could get as much and probably MORE elsewhere.  Because he is arbitration eligible in 2014, the Braves have to begin considering whether to trade him and benefit from his value, or pay him the whopping salaries he is projected to get.  While the Braves are not exactly a small market team, they certainly hold on to their money at times as if they are, so could the Braves benefit in other, more favorable ways with a Kimbrel trade?

With the Braves’ claim for the need of an ace starter (Can you say, David Price?), and a more reliable position player at 2B, would it be wise to consider trading Kimbrel now, to try and benefit from his value?  It may be true that fewer teams are paying outrageous dollars these days for closers, but I think there are still those who would be willing to pay top dollar for Kimbrel.  There are probably closers that are more affordable for the Braves, and who may well be able to do a good enough job of it until we develop a good closer from the minors.  As my friend Alan Carpenter pointed out, perhaps Shae Simmons?

I know most of you are already reading this with venom spewing toward me, as some have already spat toward Szymborski, but think about it before you dismiss it!  I’d love to know how you fans feel about such a trade, and if you favor it, what some of those moves might be?

 

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