Free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, whose 333 career saves are more than any active relief pitcher and who helped the Boston Red Sox to the 2018 World Series championship, remains unsigned nearly three weeks into the 2019 Major League Baseball season. Kimbrel started out in free agency asking for what would have been the largest contract ever given to a reliever. But as he continues to wait for a contract offer, Kimbrel has finally lowered his asking price, according to veteran baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal, via Twitter.
In fact, according to Rosenthal’s report, Kimbrel is now ready to accept less than he would have made in 2019 to stay with the Red Sox. Boston extended a qualifying offer of $17.9 million for one season to Kimbrel back in November, but according to MLB.com, Kimbrel spurned the team for which he’d pitched for three seasons — making the postseason all three years and recording 108 saves in 119 opportunities — to chase a big-money, multi-year deal on the free agent market.
But that deal never came, and now, according to Rosenthal, Kimbrel is willing to take as little as $13 million per year over three years, which would be equivalent to the contract given to reliever Zach Britton by the New York Yankees. According to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, Kimbrel’s original contract demand of about $120 million over six years was simply too much for any team to pay for a relief pitcher.
By dropping his price, Kimbrel immediately becomes more attractive to several teams whose bullpens have struggled in the early going this season. The Washington Nationals, for example, were expected to contend for the National League East title this season, but they find themselves at 7-6, with the team’s bullpen yet to record a save. In fact, Nationals relievers have blown all four save opportunities they have been given so far, per ESPN stats.
In addition, Kimbrel’s reportedly deflated asking price would make his signing more comfortable for the 23 teams that, according to CBS Sports, that still sit at least $17 million short of the “luxury tax” threshold, meaning that those teams could now sign Kimbrel without paying the surcharge required by going over the $206 million total payroll limit.
Kimbrel, however, may be willing to continue sitting on the sidelines until after the 2019 MLB draft, held from June 3 to June 5, according to MLB.com. By waiting until after the draft, Kimbrel would no longer cost the team that signs him a compensatory draft pick, which would be stripped from the signing team and given to the Red Sox.
The five-year, $86 million contract handed to closer Aroldis Chapman by the Yankees in 2016 remains the largest contract ever signed by a closer, according to MLB.com.