The time is now: Why the Twins need to make a move for Craig Kimbrel

With injuries in the bullpen, Kimbrel to the Twins makes a ton of sense.
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The Twins have wrapped up Grapefruit League play without any major injuries to their everyday lineup and starting rotation, but the bullpen hasn't shaped up the way most people assumed it would. 

Two pitchers will likely open the season on the injured list– Addison Reed and Matt Magill – and hard-throwing right-hander Fernando Romero pitched his way out of a job and will open the season at Triple-A Rochester. 

With uncertainty in the bullpen, now is the best time to strike on free-agent reliever Craig Kimbrel, who as one of the best relievers in baseball remains unsigned with the season set to begin this week. 

MLB Network's Jim Bowden said the Twins were in touch with Kimbrel's agent in February, but more recently, LaVelle E. Neal of the Star Tribune reported that Minnesota will not be a landing spot for Kimbrel.

"It would take a major change of events for the Twins to sign either pitcher," wrote Neal in his March 4 blog. 

Well, with camp about to break and three players who were originally part of Minnesota's plan no longer in the immediately fold, there's your change of events.

Let's say Kimbrel needed a week of two of spring training to prepare for the regular season. Even then he would be a massive upgrade to what the Twins plan to roll out out the 'pen. 

The analytics project Kimbrel to be worth 2.1 Wins Above Replacement, which would bump the Twins up from an 83-win team to an 85-win team, according to Beyond the Box Score.

With the Cleveland Indians having done nothing this offseason, combined with injuries to core players like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, 85 wins might enough to win the AL Central Divisino.

Also, because the Twins have two relievers about to hit the injured list, it's very likely they'll break camp with just 11 pitchers. 

That opens things up for position players like Tyler Austin, Jake Cave and Willians Astudillo to make the roster, but the Twins are going to need more pitching.

According to Fangraphs ZIPS projections, Kimbrel is still expected to have a solid season as he enters his age 31 season.

  • 2019 projection: 2.68 ERA, 57 innings, 89 strikeouts, 26 walks.

Here's what Kimbrel did in 2018 compared to what average relievers did in 2018.

  • Kimbrel: 3.13 ERA, 38.9 strikeout percentage, .145 opponents batting average.
  • League average: 4.19 ERA, 22.3 strikeout percentage, .245 opponents batting average.

So there's no question Kimbrel's still got it, but what is he asking money-wise? 

When the offseason began in November, Kimbrel was originally seeking a contract worth more than $100 million, according to reports. But with the regular season approaching and Kimbrel still without a job, he should be coming down on those demands.

Minnesota has already dipped into free agency with contracts for Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and Martin Perez, but the cherry on top would be getting Kimbrel to solidify playoff hopes. 

It wasn't long ago that I suggested that it didn't make a ton of sense to overpay and give lucrative contracts to free agents just for the hell of it, but with a void in the bullpen and Kimbrel looking for work, the Twins should at least consider engaging the All-Star closer in a conversation.

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