BOSTON — The Red Sox acquired an electric, four-time All-Star closer in Craig Kimbrel on Friday night, sending four prospects to the San Diego Padres.
Dave Dombrowski’s first major acquisition since being hired by the Red Sox as president of baseball operations in August was a doozy, one that paves the way for a bullpen that could dominate in the late innings.
Koji Uehara, the club’s closer the last three seasons, will move to the eighth inning. Junichi Tazawa, one of the top setup men in the game the last couple of years, will be responsible for the seventh.
And Kimbrel, smack in the middle of his prime at 27 years old, will be there to finish. The Red Sox have Kimbrel under their contractual control for the next three seasons.
“When we look at Craig, we look at him as a premium closer, and there are various names out there, but [Kimbrel is] one of the best in the game of baseball,” said Dombrowski. “I think the key for us is we had identified some guys that stood above the rest, as far as the ability to close. We thought the ability to get one of those guys was extremely important.”
To acquire Kimbrel, Dombrowski parted with outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, infielder Carlos Asuaje and lefty Logan Allen.
Margot was ranked third among Red Sox prospects by MLB.com, and Guerra was rated sixth. Margot was signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic and is known for his athleticism. Guerra, signed out of Panama in 2012, could emerge into a star on defense at a key position. Allen was drafted by the Red Sox in the eighth round back in June.
“You don’t ever like to give up young talent,” Dombrowski said. “We think they’re very talented individuals. We do have some depth at those positions.”
Dombrowski liked the fact he didn’t have to give up any Major League talent.
Kimbrel, who was traded from the Braves to the Padres the day before the 2015 season started, is looking forward to the opportunity to get acclimated to his new team this time around.
“I’m excited,” said Kimbrel. “With the history and the fans in Boston, the atmosphere is always awesome every time I’ve been there. You can feel the history and everything behind it there. To be able to play in front of those fans is going to be a lot of fun.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell called Uehara before the trade was officially announced, and the righty once again exemplified the team-first attitude he’s been known for throughout his career. Uehara, who threw the final pitch of the 2013 World Series for the Red Sox, will be 41 at the start of next season.
“John made sure to reach out to Koji and spoke to him tonight already, and he said he was really good with the change of role and that all he wants to do is pitch in the World Series again,” said Dombrowski. “He basically said, ‘You don’t have to worry about me, I’ll pitch whenever you’re asked to.'”
Now that Kimbrel is in the fold, Dombrowski can look for depth in the bullpen from here on out, and try to sign an ace starter on the free-agent market.
“I think this is enough of a major move that we need to make,” said Dombrowski. “Because when you shift Koji into the eighth and Tazawa into the seventh, that’s significant. I can’t say we won’t do some tweaking as time goes on, I’m not really sure about that, but I think with the major moves, this is a big step for us and probably the major step we look to make at this point.”
Though no closer is automatic, Kimbrel often comes close. Since the start of his first full season in 2011, Kimbrel leads Major Leaguers in saves (224), ranks second in ERA (1.70), strikeouts (523), strikeouts-per-nine innings (14.37), and save percentage (90.7); is third in WHIP (0.91) and opponents’ batting average (.160); and is fourth in hits allowed per nine innings (5.05).
The righty has converted 225 of 248 save opportunities, good for a 90.7 percent conversion rate that ranks second all-time in MLB history among relievers with at least 200 save chacnces.
Back on June 8, Kimbrel recorded his 200th save in his 318th career game, becoming the fastest reliever in history to reach that plateau.
The Red Sox also had been looking into Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. However, Chapman is eligible for free agency at the end of ’16. The Red Sox will pay Kimbrel $11 million next season, $13 million in 2017, and they hold a club option worth $13 million in ’18.
Kimbrel was 4-2 with 39 saves and a 2.58 ERA in 61 appearances (59 1/3 innings) for the Padres in 2015. He notched 87 strikeouts for a 13.20 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, the third highest among all NL relievers (5th best in MLB), and the highest single-season mark in team history for a Padres reliever.
“Moving to the American League, I’m excited,” said Kimbrel. “It’s a league with big bats, and as a pitcher, you want that opportunity to be able to face those big bats. It’s a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
With a 1.70 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP since the start of 2011, Kimbrel is arguably the safest fantasy closer. The right-hander faltered slightly last season, but a down year for Kimbrel consisted of a 2.58 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. With the Red Sox, he should be a source of elite ratios and roughly 40 saves.
Kimbrel’s arrival squashes the fantasy value for deposed stopper Koji Uehara. The 40-year-old righty would have been a solid No. 2 closer in mixed leagues for 2016, but he will now stay on waivers in most formats. With a lifetime 2.42 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP, he can still be a strong source of ratios for deep-league owners.
In San Diego, Kevin Quackenbush and Brandon Maurer have the best chance among those on the current roster to earn 2016 save chances. But given the Padres’ active track record in the past 12 months, it seems likely that their bullpen could undergo additional changes in the coming weeks.