DOTS: Impact of Craig Kimbrel signing with Orioles

December 6, 2023

[DOTS is an FSS Plus series that connects two or more points between a particular transaction and how it may impact future transactions, rosters & depth charts, and current markets. The result is the following analysis.]

Ah, yes it is early December and the hot stove is burning. We have our first major reliever off the board — Craig Kimbrel has signed a one-year, $13 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. The 35-year-old veteran is expected to be the closer behind Yennier Cano in the back end of a bullpen that will be missing 2023 American League reliever of the year Félix Bautista, who had UCL surgery late in the summer.

Baltimore finished No. 1 in baseball in bullpen FIP in 2023 (3.56) and No. 5 in bullpen ERA (3.55). With Kimbrel, the Orioles hope to remain in the top echelon in both categories in 202 and repeat seasons from relievers Jacob Webb, Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez would boost the likely hood those hopes come to fruition — along with the addition of Kimbrel.

Here’s what the Orioles’ bullpen could look like on Opening Day:

PLAYERTHROWS2023 WPA2023 K%
Craig KimbrelR1.6033.8
Yennier CanoR2.6323.0
Cionel PerezL-0.4517.8
Danny CoulombeL0.8327.6
DL HallL0.4428.4
Bryan BakerR-0.2227.4
Tyler WellsR0.5925.0
Jacob WebbR3.7724.6

What’s next for Baltimore?

Orioles General Manager Brandon Hyde likely turns his attention to a rotation that lacks high impact at the top of the rotation. Despite ranking No. 13 in MLB in rotation FIP, this is a team that failed to hold the World Series champion Texas Rangers to less than seven runs in two out of three games in the 2023 ALDS.

In game two, righty starter Grayson Rodriguez lasted just 1.2 innings after giving up five earned runs on six hits and four walks and in game three righty Dean Kremer yielded six earned runs on seven hits and a walk in 1.2 innings.

Left-hander John Means hopes to return to full health for the 2024 season after missing the majority of 2023 with injury including being left off the postseason roster due to elbow soreness.

While that could mean propelling themselves into a free agent market that consists of top arms such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Blake Snell, the O’s also appear well set-up to use their top-5 farm system to pry their way into trade market conversations for names like Dylan Cease or Corbin Burnes.

What does this mean for the remaining reliever market?

Kimbrel, despite being in his mid-30s and struggling in the postseason for the Philadelphia Phillies, still throws hard, averaging nearly 96 mph with his four-seamer in 2023. His power curveball continues to miss bats (38.2% whiff), too. The long ball nagged him a lot — his HR/9 rate more than doubled from 2022 — but overall he was again very good shutting down games late.

Kimbrel’s $12 million AAV here isn’t surprising, suggesting the top reliever on the market Josh Hader is set up for one of the biggest paydays a reliever has ever received.

It’s cloudy how Kimbrel’s deal might impact Hader, other than it takes a high-leverage arm off the market, but it could help clubs find middle ground with arms such as Will Smith, David Robertson, Hector Neris, and Aroldis Chapman, all pitchers well into their thirties. Chapman’s market may be most directly impated by the deal Kimbrel received from the Orioles.

After Hader, the best relievers also include right-handers Robert Stephenson and Jordan Hicks, and lefty Andrew Chafin. Reynaldo Lopez‘s three-year, $30 million deal with Atlanta appeared to be the market setter, but then we learned the Braves are going to start with Lopez in their rotation. Still, it appears the 31-year-old Stephenson can get at least that from a contender, perhaps a fourth year or up to Kimbrel’s AAV.

On the trade front, top-level, high-leverage types don’t get moved often, but it may behoov the Milwaukee Brewers to see what Devin Williams can fetch them this winter, and the same goes for the Pittsburgh Pirates and David Bednar.

The Cleveland Guardians have fielded calls for Emmanuel Clase, and the Washington Nationals have a pair of veteran right-handers in Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan that should be of interest to contending clubs.

Keep an eye on Miami Marlins southpaw A.J. Puk and Tanner Scott, too. Scott is set to make nearly $6 million via arbitration, and Puk is coming off a good year and might help the Fish fill a bigger need on their roster.

Casey Bellon

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