February 3, 2023


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Phillies to sign Craig Kimbrill, according to reports

Just when it looked like the heavy lifting for the Phillies was done in the off-season, they made another big deal right before Christmas.

They’ve reached a one-year, $10 million contract with loyal free agent Craig Kimbrill, according to ESPN. The deal was first reported by The Athletic. It’s the same contract the Phillies signed with Corey Nebel until the last season.

Kimbrel was the remaining upper arm in a light class of free agent relievers. He had an up and down season with the Dodgers in which he saved 22 games with a 3.75 ERA but lost his job late in the year and lost fewer at-bats with a lower strikeout average than he had ever had in his big league career.

Kimbrel has basically alternated dominant seasons with below average seasons every year since 2018. The common denominator in his lower years was a lack of control. His four worst years — 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2022 — were the four seasons he struggled with the most limited walks.

But when he does play, he has proven to be one of baseball’s best and most powerful catchers. He is a potential future Hall of Famer with 394 career saves, a 2.31 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and 410 more strikeouts innings pitched. He also appeared in 23 playoff games with four different teams – Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, and White Sox. He won a ring with the 2018 Red Sox and saved six games during their playoff run.

This is the second time Dave Dombrowski has landed Kimbrill. He was the Red Sox president of baseball operations when they traded four prospects including Manuel Margot to San Diego for Kimbrel in November 2015, just three months after he was hired. Dombrowski, of course, was in charge when Boston won it all in 2018 before being let go next September.

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The Phillies needed another high leverage arm and they got one with Kimbrell. Now, they’re hoping to get a good Kimbrel. He joins Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado at the back end of the bullpen. Matt Straham, Conor Brogdon, and Andrew Pilati are also in the high-powered business class.

Other Opening Day candidates include Sam Conrod, Nick Nelson and potential prospects Andrew Baker and Francisco Morales. The Phillies could also end up carrying Billy Walther and/or Christopher Sanchez as captain.

The big question will be who will close for the Phillies. Dominguez has done well in that role in 2022, but Kimbrill may end up getting the first opportunity because he’s spent 11 of his last 12 seasons as a closer, and half of the season he’s spent preparing with the White Sox has been abysmal. There’s a lot to learn in the months leading up to Rob Thomson having to make his first set of late bullpen decisions in a regular season game.

The Phils signed left-back Strahm earlier this season to a two-year, $15 million contract. They signed Trea Turner to play shortstop, Taijuan Walker to be a center fielder, and Strahm and Kimbrel to pick up important points late in the games. There is no stark hole left on this roster but teams could always use more depth of field and we could see the Phils making some fewer moves in the new year.

From a luxury tax perspective, Kimbrel’s deal would put the Phillies at around $251 million, the largest payroll in team history. The first luxury tax minimum in 2023 is $233 million, and the Phils will pay a 30% tax on every dollar spent in excess of $233 million, though tax penalties are not calculated for teams until the end of the season.

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Only the Mets ($392 million) and Yankees ($291 million) have higher estimated salaries than the Phillies heading into the holidays.

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