Work can be hard to find for All-Stars these days. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel can attest to that.
The pair of free-agent pitchers have not yet found a home two weeks into the regular season because teams haven’t been willing to meet their asking prices. However, that may change soon as the pair reportedly are willing to accept smaller deals.
On Saturday night, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that Kimbrel is now seeking a three-year deal at a lower annual average value than he originally demanded. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported on Sunday that Keuchel could be open to a one-year deal.
How much longer these players’ absences will continue is a tough questions. Some teams may prefer to wait until June when the draft pick penalty no longer applies. But something needed to change, and apparently that may be the players’ asking prices.
How did Craig Kimbrel get here?
Considering how much every team needs bullpen help — even the loaded New York Yankees — it’s wild that Kimbrel is sitting at home.
The simple explanation, though, is that he’s been asking for far too much money. Going into the offseason, Kimbrel’s agent was reportedly demanding $120 million over six years — $34 million and an extra year more than any other reliever. That number eventually came down to $100 million over five years, but no team has bitten yet.
Teams have been scared off by big money closer contracts because of the fickle nature of relievers. Few relievers beyond Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera stay elite for four seasons in a row —let alone six — which is why a three-year request seems more reasonable.
Looking at similar deals for All-Stars such as $51 million for Colorado Rockies closer Wade Davis and $39 million for Yankees lefty Zack Britton could make sense. However, a one-year deal doesn’t seem likely because teams probably won’t be anymore willing to give him $20 million annually when he’s another year older.
How did Dallas Keuchel get here?
Keuchel entered the winter with hopes of being the highest-paid free agent pitcher, but he stands no chance of matching Patrick Corbin’s $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals at this point.
The 2015 Cy Young Award winner seems headed for a short-term deal to re-establish his value. It’s easy to imagine him landing a big deal next winter if his ERA is closer to the his 2.90 mark in 2017 than the 3.74 mark from 2018, especially with no qualifying offer attached to him.
With that being said, Keuchel still (understandably) wants a high salary for the one season, likely above the $17.9 million qualifying offer he rejected in December. As much as he may be worth that money, not a ton of teams have that much left in their budget during the season.
What teams might be a good fit?
While they haven’t had luck yet, there is no shortage of teams that could use extra pitching. The only inhibition seems to be the lack of teams actually willing to spend. Teams are using the luxury tax as a hard cap, and 18 teams are more than $60 million below the threshold.
Still, here is just a brief rundown of teams that should (and still could) have interest in the two.
Last in the league with a 7.71 bullpen ERA, the Nationals have just two relievers with ERAs below 5. In a suddenly competitive NL East, they could use an extra arm for Sean Doolittle’s inevitable injury list stint.
Boston Red Sox
Boston hasn’t replaced Kimbrel (or Joe Kelly for that matter) in the back of their pen, so they’re lacking in experience. It’s odd that a team whose championship window is now isn’t doing more to supplement its bullpen, especially considering its lack of trade chips.
Oft-injured closer Brandon Morrow is expected to re-join the team within weeks, but the Cubs could definitely use another arm. They are 25th in baseball with a 6.00 ERA this season and last with 6.71 walks per nine innings.
San Diego Padres
San Diego shocked the baseball world by signing Manny Machado to a $300 million deal. They’re still short on pitching, though, and look like a contending team at 11-6. Petco Park could be a great venue for Keuchel to re-establish his value.
Owner John Middleton said he was ready to spend “stupid money” this offseason, so maybe there’s money left to spend since Mike Trout and Machado won’t be coming to town. Keuchel would be a big upgrade over their back-end starters.
Milwaukee has been surprisingly active over the last two winters, but most of their moves have been focused on the offense. Keuchel would bring much-needed stability to their rotation, which lacks experience.
With the Cleveland Indians trying their best to not spend money, the Twins could take this chance to push for a division title. They’re already 1.5 games up on the rest of the division and have a spacious ballpark for Keuchel.
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