Nice pose. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Trading Craig Kimbrel

 

2012 off-season.  Michael Bourn is tendered a Qualifying Offer contract.  Declines.  Signs with Cleveland.  Braves are awarded an extra draft pick for 2013 (Jason Hursh).

2013 off-season.  Tim Hudson is not offered a Qualifying Offer contract.  The Braves, misreading the market, offer him less than he made in 2010-13 and he departs for San Francisco – without compensation.

2013 off-season.  Brian McCann is tendered a Qualifying Offer contract.  Declines.  Signs with Yankees.  Braves will collect an extra draft pick in June as compensation for the loss.

All of the above players were free agents, having completed either their ‘team control’ period or a multi-year contract.  None of them could really be considered for trades:  Bourn and McCann since the team needed them for performance reasons; Hudson due to injury – but had he been healthy, then ‘performance reasons’ would have been mentioned for him as well.

Craig Kimbrel represents an entirely different case.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the desperate need that the Braves have to win their arbitration case with Craig Kimbrel.  There’s multiple reasons for that, but since then, I’ve continued to come to a singular conclusion when thinking about his situation:

Regardless of the outcome, I believe Kimbrel is done in Atlanta after 2014.  Let’s see why:

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Scenario #1:  the Braves win the hearing.

Kimbrel is paid $6.55 million, which though being a record price for a closer during his first arbitration year, “feels” somewhat cheap.  That price will establish his ‘base’ price for future arbitration, and undoubtedly make him cheaper overall.  His agent may continue to try and push the envelope, but is forced to push from $6.55m; not the lofty $9m plateau.

That puts him close to $10 million for 2015; $13 million for 2016.

 

Scenario #2:  the Braves lose the hearing.

Kimbrel is paid $9 million, which kills the prior record price for a closer during his first arbitration year.  That price establishes his ‘base’ price for future years, and makes him really expensive.  His agent will become emboldened, and will then push the envelope further.

Now we’re looking at something like $14-15m for 2015, $18-20m for 2016.  Yow.

 

Scenario #3:  the contract extension.

By 2015, would the Braves be inclined to go that high in either scenario - even for the best closer there is?   Not a chance. We already said goodbye to the players above, plus the best lefty reliever in baseball:  Eric O’Flaherty.

Would Kimbrel be willing to accept a hometown discount price contract extensionHe had a chance to do so and opted out.  Additionally, this very arbitration case indicates that he’s not inclined to do so, given the vast difference in numbersThat’s his right, of course, but such a stance almost demands a response from the Braves – and I submit that this response will be an attempt to trade him within the next calendar year.

When you add these salary considerations to the fact that there are internal alternatives that will be available (Shae Simmons, et al), the stars are aligning for the Braves to move Kimbrel.

 

Evaluating Trade Value

  • Kimbrel has 2 more full seasons of team control available to an employer after 2014.  Next off-season would be the perfect time to move him for maximum value.
  • He is the best at his position in all of baseball.
  • Thus far, he has been injury-free.
  • His velocity, strikeout rates, and walk rates are at levels that should make him relatively immune to to tendency of closers ‘flaming out’ over time.  At least for the next 2-4 seasons.  Also, he’s still just 25 until May.
  • If the arbitration case is won by Atlanta, it would certainly help a bit on affordability.

 

Who Would Want Him?

  • Boston.  They have a 39-year-old closer in Koji Uehara.  Boston also has money.
  • Yankees.  They are using David Robertson to close.  He has 8 career saves and his nickname is “Houdini.”
  • Detroit.  They are using Joe Nathan.  Yes, he’s under contract for 2014-15, but he’s also 39.
  • Texas.  Maybe.  They are using Joakim Soria, who is affordable through 2015 and has 160 career saves.  If he wobbles, then they could easily be a player.
  • SeattleDanny Farquhar will be interesting to watch for them this year.  16 saves in 2013, but with a high ERA (4.20).

That’s a pretty stout group of would-be-interested parties.  And that’s probably not the whole list, though affordability will be a key question, especially depending on this arbitration case.  Regardless, with these players involved, the Braves should be able to garner a strong return for Kimbrel’s services.

 

Examining Trade Return

Trading closers is not something that happens very often.  Trading elite closers almost never happens.  So once again, Craig Kimbrel is set to be a precedent-setter… whether he had this kind of precedent in mind or not.

We just saw this off-season that the bidding for available higher-end free agents can get nutty:  witness Brian McCann’s $85-to-$100million deal, Masahiro Tanaka‘s $155 million deal, and even Tim Hudson’s $23 million pact just for a few examples.

The chance to obtain the (relatively) cost-controlled best closer in the game should have several GM’s poring over their prospect lists to see what they can offer.

At last word, Tampa Bay’s admission ticket for David Price was said to be “three top prospects.”  Kimbrel is not a starter; certainly not an ace starter.  Nonetheless, I would estimate that given all of the above, a trade for him in December 2014 should be worth roughly at least two Top 10 prospects from any organization… with one of those being in their top 1 or 2.

 

So exactly who are we talking about?

I’ll hit on the more likely top prospects only:

Boston – best fit

  • Garin Cecchini. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Garin Cecchini (3B).  Likely will be at AAA Pawtucket this year.  He’s a hitter and gets on base a ton.  Defensively there are some issues, but the bat will play.

  • Henry Owens (LHP).  Control an issue, but not strikeouts and results.  AA-AAA in 2014.
  • Sure, we’d love to have Xander Bogaerts, but that won’t happen.

Yankees

  • Gary Sanchez (C).  Should be in AA this year.  Their #1.  As I recall, they have now blocked him for a while.
  • Not much else, honestly.  Sanchez or hang up the phone.

Detroit

  • Not as good a farm as you’d want for this type of deal.
  • Since they have Nathan and Rondon, prying someone like Nick Castellanos will be difficult, if not impossible.  They might rather offer a bunch of lesser prospects in the hopes of overwhelming Atlanta with ‘dice rolls’.

Texas

  • Luke Jackson (RHP).  AA for 2014, possibly higher.  Looking reasonably good if he can get walks under 4 per game.
  • Rougned Odor (2B).  AA for 2014.  Turns 20 next week.  Slugged .530 in 30 AA games and hit .306.  Think La Stella with steals.

Seattle

  • They continue to throw money to lure talent, so why not be involved here?
  • Strong farm, though many are now breaking into the majors.  Top prospects were held back in their attempts to land David Price, so doubtless that philosophy would prevail for Kimbrel.  Still have too many names to mention here as viable options.

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Unfortunately, I think we need to start preparing ourselves, fans:  I believe 2014 is Craig Kimbrel’s last season in Atlanta.  #JustStayHealthy

 

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