Kimbrel: Rays came in 2nd...

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T15D23
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Kimbrel: Rays came in 2nd...

Postby T15D23 » Thu Jun 06, 2019 1:31 pm

The Rays came in second in the Kimbrel bidding, but still figure to reinforce their roster
Ken Rosenthal

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The Cubs were not the only team that valued free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel enough to make him a three-year offer.

The Rays, the team with the lowest payroll in the majors, were the runner-up for Kimbrel, giving him a choice of two proposals, according to major-league sources. One of their offers was for two years, $31 million with a club option, while the other was for three years, $39 million, sources said.

The Cubs topped the latter mark, reaching agreement with Kimbrel on a three-year, $43 million contract Wednesday night with an option for a fourth year, pending a physical. But the Rays’ strong pursuit of Kimbrel provided two meaningful revelations:

First, Kimbrel’s regression during the 2018 regular season and shaky performance in the postseason did not deter Tampa Bay, which is widely regarded as one of the game’s most forward-thinking clubs.

The Rays, while unwilling to lose the 40th overall selection for signing Kimbrel while he was subject to draft-pick compensation, dramatically increased their interest once he became an unrestricted free agent, valuing him as one of the top closers in the game.

And second, unlike in recent seasons —when the Rays occasionally upset their clubhouse by trading prominent veterans —club officials saw the value of reinforcing their roster and honoring the team’s early-season performance. The signing of Kimbrel would have sent a strong message to the Rays’ players, coaches and manager Kevin Cash at a time when team trails the Yankees by just 1 1/2 games in the AL East.

The Rays’ bid for Kimbrel fell short in part because the Cubs gained unexpected financial flexibility when infielder Ben Zobrist went on the restricted list May 8 while dealing with a divorce from his wife, Julianna. Players on the restricted list generally are not paid, and if Zobrist misses the entire season, the Cubs are expected to save more than $9 million — close to the $10 million they will end up paying Kimbrel in 2019.

The loss of Kimbrel, however, does not mean the Rays will pivot and pursue left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who also is an unrestricted free agent. The Rays lead the majors with a 2.71 rotation ERA, and their average rises to only 2.87 when subtracting the performances of their openers, who have appeared 18 times.

Reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are among the top starters in the AL, and so was Tyler Glasnow before he went on the injured list May 11 with a right forearm strain. Glasnow is on track to return after the All-Star break, and the Rays remain confident in Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks and Ryan Yarbrough, who can either start or provide bulk innings behind an opener.

The team’s bullpen, ranking third in the majors in ERA and fourth in opponents’ OPS, also does not appear to need much help. But club officials viewed Kimbrel as a better fit than Keuchel because their relievers are largely inexperienced and untested in late-season pressure.

The loss of Kimbrel to the Cubs does not figure to end the Rays’ attempts to upgrade their bullpen and address other needs. Trade activity is expected to increase now that the draft is over, and prior to the season Baseball America ranked the Rays’ farm system second only to the Padres’.

The Blue Jays’ Ken Giles, Tigers’ Shane Greene, Giants’ Will Smith and White Sox’s Alex Colomé (a former Ray) all will be in play before the July 31 trade deadline. The Indians’ Brad Hand is another late-inning specialist who might become available.
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