Craig Kimbrel still hasn’t signed with a team despite being one of the best closers in Major League Baseball history. It’s unclear whether that’ll change anytime soon.
But what if Kimbrel does sign somewhere in the coming days? When’s the earliest the hard-throwing right-hander would be available to pitch in big league games?
Kimbrel presumably has been working out and throwing regularly during his prolonged free agency, but he won’t have the benefit of spring training while ramping up for the season. USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale noted this Monday and tweeted that several teams that have checked in with Kimbrel (and fellow free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel) don’t believe he’ll be ready for at least a month.
Kimbrel, who turns 31 in May, entered the offseason as one of the top free agents available, but his market never materialized, even as other relievers came off the board. This could be due to a number of factors, including Kimbrel’s initial contract demands and the draft pick compensation a team must surrender to sign the seven-time All-Star in light of him rejecting the Boston Red Sox’s qualifying offer.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported Sunday the Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays are among the teams keeping tabs Kimbrel, so maybe we’re nearing the end of a rather strange saga. If so, it’s fair to assume Kimbrel would need a few minor league tune-ups before toeing a major league rubber for the first time in 2019.
For comparison, Greg Holland, a three-time All-Star closer, signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on March 29 last season after a similarly lengthy free agency process. He made his debut with St. Louis 11 days later on April 9, but the immediate results left much to be desired. Holland posted a 7.92 ERA over 32 appearances with the Cardinals before getting released and signing with the Washington Nationals, at which point he enjoyed better results.
It’s obviously difficult to compare two pitchers in terms of preparation time, but Holland’s early 2018 struggles should at least be considered when determining a possible timetable for Kimbrel if/when he signs this season. A one-month build-up might not be ideal, but neither is rushing Kimbrel, only to watch him fall flat on his face after finally finding a new home.
Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images