blue jays hot stove

An Only-Slightly-Crazy Option For The Blue Jays’ 2022 Bullpen

A Crazy(?) Question for you: Might Craig Kimbrel be an option for the Toronto Blue Jays to investigate in 2022?


Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase


 


 

 

Most fans would agree that the Jays’ first priority for 2022 is starting pitching.  Robbie Ray and Steven Matz will both be free agents, with no guarantee that either could be re-signed.  But the bullpen is another area where upgrades will be possible – and possibly necessary, if the Jays are to be World Series contenders in 2022.

 

Some of these upgrades will come internally.  Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, both acquired in 2021, will remain under team control in 2022.  A healthy Julian Merryweather could be a powerful weapon.  And players like Rafael Dolis and Tyler Chatwood, who struggled badly, should not be back.  But the Jays could still use at least one more strong, veteran, back-of-the-bullpen arm.

 

It would, of course, be possible to pursue one of the free agent closers, like Raisel Iglesias or Kendall Graveman.  But they will not come cheap (one site projects Graveman to get a 4-year, $64-million deal) and top relievers are notoriously inconsistent.  As for example – the top three closers (by save total) in 2018 were Edwin Diaz, Wade Davis and Craig Kimbrel.  For the 2019-21 years, their ERAs were 4.00, 8.33, and 3.67, respectively – none of which were in the top 50 of relievers (100 IP+) in that period.

 

Many teams (including the Jays) therefore choose to use the “Semien-Ray Technique”, where they sign veteran players on limited term contracts and try to catch lightning in a bottle.  With relievers, sometimes it works (Seunghwan Oh in 2018) and sometimes it doesn’t (Kirby Yates in 2021).  But the short-term nature of the contracts means that if the experiment *does* fail, it does not hurt for long.

 

Which brings me to Craig Kimbrel.

 

Superman (CK – get it?) had a holy-cow-Batman start to 2021 with the Cubs.   Traded to the White Sox at the deadline, he faltered in the second half.  The Sox have a team option for 2022 at $16 million, and are speculated to be thinking of exercising it with a view to trading CK in the off-season, possibly for another high-priced veteran.

 

Why would the Jays consider it?  A bullpen led by first-half Kimbrel and Jordan Romano (whose 3.75 Win Probability Added in 2021 was fourth in baseball among ALL pitchers, starting and relieving) would be beyond intimidating.  And giving Jordan the opportunity to spend a year working with and learning from one of the top closers of the past decade could benefit him – and the Jays – beyond 2022, even if CK is no longer here.

 

But what about Craig’s second half meltdown?  Paying $16 million for a 5.09 ERA would be painful.  Is there reason for optimism that this is not the beginning of the end for a player who will pitch 2022 at 34 years old?

 

In a very well written article, Author Zachary Hayes makes the point that Kimbrel was heavily used by the Sox after the trade (not surprising, given the high price paid) and that there were real signs of overuse fatigue.  Not only did Kimbrel’s fastball velocity decline by almost 2 mph by the end of the season, but his performance on limited days’ rest was telling

 

It is likely that Kimbrel was tiring by the end of the season, in part due to this age (33 years old in 2021), in part due to the wear on his arm (CK’s 628 innings pitched since 2010 is the 8th highest among relievers), and in part due to the shortened 2020 season.  It is possible that, after a full season in 2021 and a more normal off-season, he could come back strong in 2022.  And even if he needs a bit more rest, and is limited in his ability to pitch on back-to-back days, the Jays have the luxury of a second near-elite closer in Romano.  Kimbrel could be similar to Hyun-Jin Ryu in 2022 in that he might be able to provide elite level of performance but need to have his workload managed.

 

So what would a trade look like?  In a recent article, Steve Adams of MLBTR suggested that

… the White Sox and Rays should absolutely swap Kimbrel for Kiermaier early in the offseason.

The Sox aren’t going to find a team that believes Kimbrel is undervalued to the point where he’d command a prominent prospect or big leaguer. If the plan is truly to pick up the option and shop Kimbrel, the best thing they can do is find a team with a similarly useful but perhaps overpriced or superfluous option on their roster.

 

The choice of Kiermayer was based on Adams’ view that Chicago badly needs an above-average defensive fielder who can hit at least a little.  If the Kiermayer deal were not a good fit, might the Sox consider Randall Grichuk?  Grichuk’s career +12 Outs Above Average/400 in right field is plus-plus, and he can still play a passable centre field as well.  Much like Kimbrel, Randall had a strong start to 2021 (with a 123 wRC+ in April and a 113 in May) – might the Sox be willing to gamble that they can help him to regain his 2018 mojo?

 

The bottom line

The Jays could use one more uber arm in their 2022 bullpen.  For the first half of 2021, Craig Kimbrel was perhaps the best relief arm in baseball.  Acquiring him would be a gamble, but the upside is enough to make it a gamble well worth taking.

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

*****
HEAD ON OVER TO THE JAYS FROM THE COUCH VS ALS STORE AND GET SOME GREAT SWAG THAT YOU WILL LOOK GREAT IN AND YOU CAN FEEL GREAT ABOUT.
YOU CAN ALSO HEAD TO OUR JAYS FROM THE COUCH VS ALS FUNDRAISING PAGE TO MAKE A TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION DIRECTLY TO ALS CANADA.
*****

THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER @JAYSFROMCOUCH AND LIKE US FACEBOOK. BE SURE TO CATCH THE LATEST FROM JAYS FROM THE COUCH RADIO

 

 

 

 

Jim Scott

A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.