There’s an exception to every rule. And you can consider Craig Kimbrel the exception to my philosophy that you don’t need to give up the farm or win a bidding war in order to acquire a relief pitcher.
Last weekend, the Boston Red Sox traded four prospects to the San Diego Padres, in exchange for Kimbrel, a four-time All-Star who turns 28 in May. Two of those prospects were considered “Top 10” in the Red Sox organization: center-fielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra. Another was considered a “Top 15” prospect in lefty pitcher Logan Allen. The fourth, second-baseman Carlos Asuaje, I can’t even find on the list.
Keep in mind that the only reason we’re talking about these players being “top prospects” is because the previous “top prospects” were called up to Boston in somewhat permanent roles on the big-league club last year. Those names include Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley Jr., etc.
So to even say that the Red Sox “gave up the farm” to acquire one of the best closers in baseball, is a little absurd. But based on my own personal philosophy on how to build a successful bullpen, the idea of trading someone like Margot can certainly be questioned.
I firmly believe that you don’t have to go out and acquire the biggest names in order to fix your bullpen issues. By now, we’ve all pointed out the fact that Koji Uehara was pretty much the third option in 2013, when it came to who would be named the Red Sox shutdown closer. When the Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey experiments didn’t work out, it was Uehara who came out of nowhere and helped the team to a World Series championship with his devastating splitter.
But like I said, there’s an exception to every rule. And in this case, the Red Sox didn’t just land a big name. They may have landed the best in the business.
Since the start of his first full major league season in 2011, Kimbrel leads all MLB relievers in saves with 224 in 248. He has a 90.7 percent conversion rate in his career, which ranks second all-time in MLB history among relievers with at least 200 save chances. And last June, he became the fastest player in MLB history to reach the 200-save plateau, in just 318 career games.
Add that to the fact that he’s under contract for the next three seasons, and you’ve got an absolute “steal” if you’re the Red Sox. Because not only do you now have one of the best closers in baseball, you also still have that handful of young roster players, leaving the door open for another blockbuster trade, for another dominant pitcher.
Someone like a Jose Fernandez, or a Chris Sale, or a Sonny Gray. Miami, Chicago, Oakland; all of them would ask for a few young roster players in return, something the Padres did not get from the Red Sox in the Kimbrel deal.
So there’s really nothing that makes me dislike the Kimbrel trade. In fact, I love it.
Sure, it’s not how I would have necessarily drawn it up. But it doesn’t take a baseball historian to know that Kimbrel is an exception.