In the past 13 years or so, the Yankees have signed multiple key, World Series-winning Red Sox when they’ve hit free agency. On one hand, there was the Johnny Damon signing. He gave the Yankees four solid seasons of lead-off hitting, culminating in the 2009 season, which ended in a championship.
The other side of the coin is Jacoby Ellsbury. After a good first season, he’s fallen off a cliff, mainly due to injuries. It’s been over a year since he’s last played a game, and for all we know he may have lost an arm. That’s how long he’s been off the radar.
There’s also Kevin Youkilis, who was so mediocre as a Yankee that you may have forgotten that he played for them. He was on the team in 2013, so that’s understandable to group him in with the rest of the menagerie of infielders that played for the Yankees that year.
We now go into another season post-Boston World Series win, and yet again one of their key pieces is available. With a couple of the Yankees’ bullpen arms also hitting free agency this winter, does it make sense for the Yankees to go after Craig Kimbrel?
Despite his struggles in the last couple weeks of the season, 2018 on the whole was another great year for Kimbrel, finishing with a a 2.74 ERA (160 ERA+) in 62.1 innings. Even as he struggled in the playoffs, he kept managing to get enough outs to close out wins for Boston. He finished the playoffs with six saves, which does say something about relying on that stat too much, but that’s another story.
The 2018 season marked nine years of major league baseball for Kimbrel. All nine range from good to great, with legitimately no average years, never mind bad. His worst was arguably 2016, and even then he put up a 132 ERA+, 2.92 FIP, and struck out 14.1 batters per nine innings. Nine straight years as an excellent reliever is about as good as it gets for relievers not named Mariano Rivera.
Based on pure résumé alone, Kimbrel’s probably the best reliever available. He’s got a career FIP of 1.96, a SO/BB ratio of 4.23, and a WHIP of 0.920. He’s been an All-Star seven times, and gotten Cy Young votes in five different seasons, finishing as high as fourth. I clowned on saves a couple paragraphs up, but he is the current career leader in the stat. Sure the thinking and usage around relievers has changed somewhat in recent years, but the fact that he’s been trusted to be the closer to get to 333 saves shows that he’s pretty good.
Of course, this decision wouldn’t be made purely on résumé alone. He’s racked up all those great stats and honors, but that’s also something that could be working against him. There’s a reason nine years is a long time for a reliever to be good in this era.
He’s only 30, turning 31 in May, but he’s basically been tasked with throwing nearly 60 high-leverage innings a year for almost a decade now. That poor stretch at the end of the season and playoffs may have been just that, and he’ll be great for whoever picks him up. Maybe it’s also the beginning of his decline. He’s more likely that not to be good in 2019, but his contract will probably be for much longer than that. MLB Trade Rumors predicted him to get 4 years/$70 million.
There are also several other good relievers available. A certain other Pinstripe Alley writer would probably like me to point out that David Robertson had a better FIP that Kimbrel last year. There’s also Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino available. The Yankees don’t lack options if they want to add to the bullpen.
There’s probably a reason that Kimbrel hasn’t been as connected to the Yankees as much as some other names out there. His contract probably may end up around that $70 million mark. The Yankees already have someone making big money for a reliever in Aroldis Chapman. They could very well find good production for some of the other names out there for way less. Considering what happened with the Patrick Corbin situation, they’re probably looking to do just that.