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?

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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  • Sealift67

    You come upon a Kimbrel once in a decade. A pitcher like this
    causes the opposing manager to shorten his strategy to 8 innings.
    Shae could well develop into a closer, perhaps Buchter. I would
    prefer to see the development come first.

    • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

      For every team that has an expensive closer like a Kimbrel (and there aren’t many), there are more teams that have “successful” seasons w/o paying so much,and often teams that do have these high priced closers don’t fare any better because of it. The A’s are a good example. They are a small market team. They don’t win series, but they get close. Same w/ Atlanta, at a much higher price tag. The simple question is whether the price is really worth the seasonal result, especially when Fredi refuses to use Kimbrel other than to merely “close”. I respect those that want to Keep Craig, and I love what he can bring to a game Atlanta is winning, but I think I’d rather have a player at his price that helps us get to a winning score rather than maintain it. It’s an interesting argument no matter the side you fall on as a fan.

      • Sealift67

        Don’t really disagree yet in my experience a great closer
        is easy to take for granted and may only be a concern
        when team doesn’t have one. Fredi may have learned
        a lesson last season. Win a crucial game any way you
        can and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      I’m in this camp (waiting for development first): 1 more year to get (Shae) Simmons ready, and then dangle Kimbrel. I will grant that your return won’t be as good next year since he’ll probably top $10m at arbitration by then, but unless something crazy happens (like, say, Chris Sale is offered in exchange), then we’ve gotta hold him for another year.

  • Jeff Schafer

    If someone was ready to fill the role I’d may consider it but at this time I would say no to trading Kimbrel….good argument though since his return on investment could be substantial

  • Elonbrave

    Bottom line: the Braves are in a great position with the option to trade Kimbrel. Wren can sit back and give that old line “we have no interest in trading Craig at this time.”

    It’s a fortified position that he’s in, so he doesn’t have to do anything. If another team wants to blow the Braves away with a top prospect and a good veteran starting pitcher, then maybe they consider it, but they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to.

    The only way a trade makes sense is if the player they’d get in return would have a more positive impact on the team than Kimbrel, and that’d be a pretty solid player.

    • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

      Yeah that’s true, but they won’t get any bites if they don’t put him on the hook, shop him and see. Braves will be fine, obviously, if they don’t, but Kimbrel could be shopped and who knows – the Braves might find a player who could make an offensive difference. Interesting decision to have to make, and I doubt the Braves’ are even mulling that over.

  • Elonbrave

    Overall I’m just antsy. I want Wren to make a move. Damned Struggla has gotta go. I don’t know if the Braves, wanting to be an elite team, can stand to have the worst offensive player in baseball in the starting lineup.

  • Crickett Lynne Turrentine


  • cothjrr24

    Kimbrel will likely make 30 million dollars over the next 3 seasons. At the current rate, 30 million on the free agent market is 6 WAR (2 WAR/season). Kimbrel is likely to exceed 6 WAR over the course of the next 3 years, but not by much.

    On the contrary, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are likely to far surpass 6 WAR over the next 3 seasons. The money Kimbrel makes this year, and will make the 2 years after, will hinder any long-term conversations with our young offensive stars. Extensions for Heyward, Freeman, and Simmons should be of absolute top priority for the Braves and if Kimbrel’s money hinders that, and you can get a serious return for him, the Braves should absolutely go for it.

    Pitching is the strength of the organization. There are numerous SP and RP in the pipeline, but rare are the impact position players in the Braves minor league system. A Kimbrel trade could probably land a prospect package equal to what David Price will command and getting top-notch, soon-to-be ready position prospects would be a great way to stay competitive for many years to come.

    The Rangers would still be my first place to shop.

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  • Michael Hannigan

    “…small market team…?”… Atlanta? You gotta be kidding. 8th largest TV audience. It’s not the small market that’s the problem, it’s the cheap ass owners.

    • fireboss

      Market size aside the Braves payroll has been plenty big enough to win had it been used effectively. Liberty is fronting $282M for the new stadium and guaranteeing any cost overruns. That isn’t cheap. The big spenders in the crowd haven’t won a lot lately have they? Spending money is not the answer, spending money wisely to fill gaps is. Liberty wants the Braves to be a self supporting business entity. If they need money for something or someone they ask and if it’s justified they can get it but Liberty can’t interfere in day to day baseball operations, that was a condition of purpose. McGurik sits in the place of the owner on baseball decisions not Liberty. I would like a person or entity that is active in baseball too but there are benefits in this system, like the new ballpark complex. While others went to the public for virtually all of the funding Most of these funds are Braves related with the county kicking in funds to improve access and other amenities. A single owner may borrow the money but mostly they don’t and the taxpayers pay for it forever. This setup also prevents stupid contracts like10 years for Pujols or A-Rod, even Illich had to dump Fielder to keep Scherzer and get some payroll space.

      Liberty’s investment in the complex guarantees they aren’t selling anytime soon.

  • Denny Whitehurst

    This is REDICULOUS!! I understand, and agree with the logic behind the decisions that led to the exits of Brian McCann and Tim Hudson. That being said, Liberty Media needs to make a decision as to whether they want to compete in the markets of BASEBALL, and if NOT, they need to SELL THE TEAM. Go ALL IN or GET THE HELL OUT!! Atlanta was able to compete when Ted Turner was willing to deal with the economy of Major League Baseball, but now after selling to Time Warner (who could not run their own business very well), who paid a debt by sending the Braves to Liberty Media, all we hear is how the Braves are a “small market” team. BullShit!! Compete in the market, and compete on the field OR DON’T!! Please don’t DESTROY a competitive YOUNG team!!

    • fireboss

      Liberty Media aren’t going to sell, they have no reason to.. As you said they took the Braves and part payment for a $471M debt to avoid a big tax payment. The clubs is now worth roughly $750M, paying for itself and from a business point of view successful. A business point of view is theonly way they can actually look at it. A condition of the sale agreement was that they could have no say in the day to day baseball operations; they can’t hire or fire a manager or sign a free agent. Terry McGuirk was made President to act in the capacity of owner. When JS resigned as GM McGuirk convinced him to become president and became chairman. In other words a self supporting entity like the other companies it owns. If cash is needed and there is a sound plan they invest. The first $282M for the new ballpark complex in Cobb Country and the agreement to pay for any over runs is a sign of tow things: 1) have no intention of selling the club 2) they want to invest in the future of the club.
      If your position is that a rich owner like Mark Cuban or Donald Trump would open his checkbook and pay Kimbrel. First and foremost Kimbrel isn’t the only one to get paid. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen are all due for raises too. Justin Upton gets a $5M bump next year and BJ’s salary goes up a million too. Without extending them that adds about $29M to the payroll in 2014 including $7.5M for Kimbrel. Assuming they all have good years there will be another bump next year around the $30M mark as well without considering Simmons raise. The only contract expiring that I can think of right now is Laird which isn’t a significant amount in terms of these numbers.Just to keep the guys we have adds about $60 over the next two years. At some point choices have to be made or you run square into the luxury tax.

      I’m not saying we should trade Kimbrel or that Liberty Media is perfect; no owner. Look how badly Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto screwed up the Angels. They have no money to sign pitching and their big money bats are declining. The Phillies spent money on top of money and now they have no money to spend and an old team.

      Deep pockets are nice but better spending what you have is a better answer. If you do that and have the need to add someone mid year Liberty is likely to to say yes

  • WillSoprano

    The recent Jim Johnson trade is EXACTLY why you don’t trade Kimbrel. Closers are over valued only in dollars. Not in trades. The thinking in baseball people is the closer isn’t equal to even a number 3 starter. we won’t get shit for trading kimbrel

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