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:


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.


  • 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.


  • 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’.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


Next Braves Game View full schedule »
Wednesday, Sep 33 Sep12:10Philadelphia PhilliesBuy Tickets

Tags: Atlanta Braves Craig Kimbrel

  • fireboss

    Glad to see you agree with me :) I kind of lean towards a trade with Boston, that Owens guy has to be good doesn’t he? He is an Owens after all.
    On a serious note the Red Sox are definitely the best fit. However, they refused to pay their home boy Papelbon and the newer frugal R Sox might not be happy with a 14M closer. The Rangers Have Neftali Feliz waiting in the wings who wants his closers job back and was pretty good at it. They aren’t likely to jump at an expensive closer either.
    The Tigers are interesting and if Nathan stumbles this season might be willing to jump in if they could shuffle Nathan off somewhere but as you say, they and the Yankees farm systems are thin as tissue paper. The other real possibility is the Angels. I know they like Friere but he’s not Kimbrel and the Angels are tired of losing. They too are fairly thin but C.J. Cron and Kole Calhoun might be worth a Kimbrel.
    Just hard to see who will spend that on a closer who isn’t a free agent making the Yankees a possibility.

    • carpengui

      Yeah, I left the Angels out strictly based on their already-nutty payroll (with Trout soon to bust that further), but if they wanted to wade in deeper, then they would suddenly become relevant again.

      IIRC, Papelbon was as much about scaring everybody in addition to $$$. But I do think they’d go after Craig once he becomes available.

      Texas still has money available… though yes, the numbers will matter. If Craig wins at arb, then the field narrows.

      • Sealift67

        I reluctantly agree as I view the projected numbers. Trade specifics
        too speculative, yet I wouldn’t mind a solid toolsy OF who could, if needed
        replace Heyward and leave money on the table for the other young talent.
        I’ll be watching Buchter. ATL has done a nice job of developing closers.

        • carpengui

          Agree – we’re a long way out (hopefully) from an actual trade, but I was actually seeking to pacify myself a bit in considering a possible return. There _should_ be a top prospect involved of some ilk… and that would certainly help for the succeeding 5 years or so.

  • David Funk

    Always good to know that there are some who see the writing on the wall. I was open to this idea the first time I saw it mentioned, and now after his agents arbitration request, it should be a very large neon sign that trading Kimbrel is the ONLY reasonable result, now. After 2014, the Braves will hopefully dangle baseballs best closer. As long as he remains his normal dominant self, there should be more than enough interested contenders.

  • Matthew Jones

    2 things: first, I think that the Braves may shock some people and trade Kimbrel halfway through this coming season. Part of it is that I think we would get a quality reliever back (although we should be fine without), plus all the peripherals mentioned above. Second, even though I don’t think it’d happen, wouldn’t it just be great if Texieira’d Texas with Kimbrel? :D

    • carpengui

      If the Braves were to bomb out of contention in 2014, then yes, I could definitely see that. But unless the pitching falls apart, I really can’t see that scenario. The Marlins and Mets will tease for a while, but it’s gonna be the Nats and Braves, which should keep us from being ‘sellers’. I hope.

  • Lee Trocinski

    I think you’re overestimating his trade value. Let’s say he continues as a 3-WAR pitcher, which is the high end of projections for someone throwing less than 75 IP a year. Those wins over the two years would be worth about $40M of free agent money. He’s going to make either ~23M or ~30M, so he’ll have either $10M or $17M of surplus value, plus maybe a little bit more of “premium” value, which is debatable if it exists.

    Let’s say they got someone like Cecchini or Odor. We would get their first 3 years for a total of $1.5M. Let’s say they’re good, but not great, and they make another $19M in arbitration total. That’s only $20.5M over 6 years. For the cost of 3 WAR, they would get an average player, who accounting for injuries in their playing time, would likely produce at least 9 WAR in that time. That’s $35-40M of surplus value for just the one prospect. This is why most teams are so much more reluctant to give up prospects.

    • carpengui

      Well, the one caveat here is that WAR honestly sucks for measuring relievers, since ‘innings pitched’ is such a key component. In fact, fangraphs shows Kimbrel at 5th in baseball for 2013 with only a 2.2 WAR. Meanwhile, Koji – with just 21 saves – has a 3.3 WAR. That’s just silly.

      Makes me wanna work up a new metric of my own… except then I look at all the metrics already out there and then I just wanna break my pencil in half.

      • Lee Trocinski

        First, I use B-R WAR for pitchers, since FanGraphs uses FIP instead of runs allowed. Kimbrel had the higher FIP, due to the increased walks and Uehara actually having the same K% as Kimbrel. The two were nearly equal last year in B-R WAR, since neither one allowed any runs in similar leverage situations. Just because some of Uehara’s work was in the 8th inning doesn’t mean it’s not important.

        As far as total value for relievers, playing time is needed to accumulate value. A replacement-level reliever allows about a run every other inning, so if someone throwing 70 IP doesn’t allow a single run, that’s about 35 runs, or 3.5 wins, above replacement. Kimbrel allowed 10 runs, so that’s about 2.5 raw WAR.

        Leverage is included in the WAR calculation, so Kimbrel gets more value for the same rate of performance. Also, about half of a closer’s appearances involve holding a 2+ run lead, which already gives the team a 92+% chance of winning. B-R had his average leverage at 1.7, so his WAR adjustment is 1.35, due to chaining. 2.5 * 1.35 = 3.3 WAR.

        Maybe you could argue that the leverage adjustment isn’t enough, but unless you start giving double value for a closer’s innings, they’re not going to be anywhere near an elite starter.