The Dodgers are on the prowl for starting pitching reinforcements, but they also could bolster their bullpen before the trade deadline. Today we’ll look at the highest profile trade target among relief arms in Craig Kimbrel of the Chicago Cubs.
- Max Scherzer (July 17)
- Jose Berrios (July 19)
- Hansel Robles, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson (July 20)
- Kyle Gibson (July 21)
Andrew Friedman will certainly be looking to bolster his starting pitching staff. The Dodgers have had to dip into their minor league stash of arms in order to weather the storm after losing Dustin May for the season to Tommy John surgery as well as Clayton Kershaw (left forearm inflammation) and Trevor Bauer (sexual assault allegations) for a length of time. The Dodgers could add a reliever to shore up the pen behind Kenley Jansen, so why not a potential future Hall of Famer in Kimbrel?
The Cubs’ closer has increased his value over last season with a solid comeback in 2021.
Kimbrel, 33, has a higher WHIP (0.63) than ERA (0.52). His 15.58 K/9 is second in the majors behind New York’s Aroldis Chapman (15.70 K/9). His 2.0 WAR, per FanGraphs, is the best among qualified relievers. The right-hander’s 47.2% strikeout rate is higher than his career average (41.4%), and he’s cut his walk rate by half (8.7%) from last season (17.4%). He has the ninth-most saves (370) of all time. Kenley Jansen is 15th on the all-time saves list with 333 respectively.
Jansen was open to the idea of the Dodgers acquiring Kimbrel in 2019, albeit he was somewhat defensive about his closing role. A deal for Kimbrel shouldn’t be out of the question even though the Dodgers have Jansen. After all, they nearly acquired Chapman in 2015.
The Dodgers’ pen has blown 19 saves, second most in baseball. Jansen has looked mostly better of late, although he served up a ninth-inning home run to Wilmer Flores to lose the game to the Giants on Wednesday night. The significant losses to their pitching staff and Jansen’s inconsistency could spur Friedman to make a deal for one of the best relief arms in the game to replenish their depth.
The Dodgers bullpen has been hit hard by the injury bug this year. Jimmy Nelson, Scott Alexander and Caleb Ferguson are shelved. While Victor Gonzalez is back, and Brusdar Graterol and Corey Knebel are expected to return, the Dodgers could use help to fortify their middle and late-inning relief corps. Chicago has one of the top relief pitchers in the game in Kimbrel, and the Dodgers should be in the mix for Dirty Craig.
After a surprisingly hot start for the Chicago Cubs, things got rough after the combined no-hitter against the Dodgers in June. They lost 11 straight games thereafter and now sit 8 games out of first place with a 47-48 record. The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds have surpassed Chicago in the standings. Playoff hopes are diminishing as they also trail the Padres, Reds and Nationals in the Wild Card race. The Cubs should be sellers before the trade deadline.
Entering play today, the Cubs’ odds of making the playoffs were down to 4.9%. A playoff berth seems unlikely, and Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer seems intent to sell at the trade deadline. The sell-off began when old friend Joc Pederson was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for first base prospect Bryce Ball July 15.
“Eleven days ago, we were certainly fully on the buying side … and obviously (teams) are now calling to see which players are available,” Hoyer said. “So it’s a very different scenario than we’d expected. Life comes at you fast.”
Friedman told Bill Plunkett that he is open to adding to the rotation and the bullpen.
“I think augmenting our pitching is something that is definitely front of mind for us. If it’s a starter, that’s ideal. But we can’t just manufacture a starter that’s available and fits. So if it’s strengthening the ’pen that’s something we’ll look at as well. That’s primarily where our focus will lie in the next two weeks.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention perennial Future Dodger Kris Bryant. He’s been part of swirling trade talks for years, but he doesn’t have an open spot on the Dodgers this season at first glance. The former MVP has an OPS of .834 with 16 home runs in 86 games this season. Bryant’s versatility, a favorite trait of Friedman, gives him the ability to play both third base and outfield. AJ Pollock is having a great year, but perhaps the Dodgers could find room for Bryant in order to safeguard themselves should Cody Bellinger not turn things around offensively or Mookie Betts doesn’t get healthy. But we might explore that in another post.
Speaking of protection, the Padres and Giants both have strong bullpens that the Dodgers will have to battle down the stretch. Adding Kimbrel to the L.A. bullpen would also block their divisional rivals from further strengthening their relief squad with Kimbrel.
Kimbrel wouldn’t be a summer rental. He’s owed about $5.3 million after this year’s trade deadline and has a vesting option for $16 million next year. He won’t come cheap, but the investment could be worthwhile for the Dodgers who are one of the few large market teams who could swing that. It’s a fair price if they get the pitcher Kimbrel has been most of his career. Plus his $1 million buyout for the 2022 season makes the proposition of trading for him more palatable.
Chicago also has several upcoming free agents on their active roster including Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kimbrel. They could still retool and compete this season should they move Kimbrel. Ryan Tepera could step up to close the last couple months of the season. Chicago fans may not have been too happy about moving Yu Darvish to the Padres, but they were able to add four prospects including Reggie Preciado and Owen Caissie.
Using the Darvish trade as a barometer and seeing all the free agents the Cubs have coming up this winter, they might target some lower-level prospects rather than guys who are set to debut in 2022. However, Pepiot is not that guy. He would be the main prize in this package for a team that could use starting pitching help as early as next season. Outman is still in High-A, but he’s a legitimate power/speed prospect, while Vivas gives them a lower-level bat with some upside. Alexander is more of a throw-in for roster space reasons. The Dodgers getting Chafin in addition to Kimbrel would only strengthen the bullpen further. And left-handed relievers have been a bit of a weakness for LA’s bullpen so far this season.
Kimbrel’s the best reliever — by far — available at this trade deadline. A closing couplet composed of Kimbrel and Jansen would be one of the most formidable 1-2 pitching punches in the game. Wrigleyville has unraveled, and it won’t be shocking if most of the members of their 2016 World Championship team are wearing new uniforms by July 30.