After missing the first two months of the regular season, free agent closer Craig Kimbrel has signed a three-year, $43 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.
Kimbrel will receive $10 million for the remainder of the 2019 season, then $16 million for each of the next two years.
Cubs Grab Kimbrel Immediately After Draft
The signing of Kimbrel was widely expected to happen this week. The seven-time All-Star had failed to reach terms with any team in an offseason that saw veteran players struggle to get as much money as they were looking for, but it was unlikely that no team would want to pick up the former Boston Red Sox closer.
Once the MLB Draft began, the prospects of Kimbrel finding a team improved drastically, as teams would no longer be required to give the Red Sox a compensatory draft pick after he had rejected the team’s qualifying offer in the offseason. Rumors that the Cubs were interested emerged almost immediately, and on Wednesday, several media outlets reported that a deal had been reached.
Kimbrel has been pitching regularly while waiting to find a team, though he will probably need some warmup work before the Cubs are ready to see him face major league competition. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that sources believe Kimbrel will be ready for the big league team by June 20.
News of the signing was welcomed by Chicago ace Jon Lester, though he bemoaned the wait for Kimbrel to join the team.
“It’s like getting a gift on Christmas morning and having to wait to open it for a week or so before he’s here,” Lester told ESPN.
Kimbrel was rated as one of the top free agents available on the market this offseason. The 31-year-old closer has 333 saves and a 1.91 ERA over the course of his nine-year major league career, which began with the Atlanta Braves in 2010.
Late-Season Struggles Dampened Interest
However, his struggles late last year may have scared off some potential suitors. While he made the All-Star team yet again, Kimbrel had an ERA of 4.57 in the second half of the year. His struggles continued in the playoffs, as he compiled an ERA of 4.01 in the Red Sox championship run, though he did also record six saves.
But if Kimbrel can be anywhere near his old self again, he’ll provide some welcome relief for the Cubs. Chicago has blown 11 saves already this year, and has struggled to settle on a full-time closer since Brandon Morrow suffered an elbow injury last season.
Despite their bullpen woes, the Cubs have still been relatively successful so far in 2019. Chicago currently sits at 34-26, one game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers at the top of the NL Central. However, the entire division is tightly packed, with even the last-place Cincinnati Reds sitting just six games out of first.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Brewers (+150) are the slight favorites to win the NL Central over the Cubs (+160). The Cubs are also seen as a second-tier contender to win the World Series, with FanDuel giving Chicago +1900 odds of winning a title this year.