On Wednesday, June 5, the Chicago Cubs reached a three year, nearly $45 million deal with Craig Kimbrel.
The all-star caliber reliever, who’s high asking price left him unsigned until the first week into June, will assume the Cubs’ closing responsibilities once ready.
The Dodgers were reported to have had discussions with Kimbrel but were ultimately unable to overcome his request to serve as the team’s closer.
A Hot Start to the Season
The Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball right now.
They hold the best record in the MLB at 43-20, their starting pitching is rolling through opponents, and they have on their roster the early favorites for the NL Cy Young and MVP awards in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Cody Bellinger.
Yet, despite such a hot start to the season, there’s still one glaring flaw that, if not addressed, might lead the boys in blue to a third straight loss in the World Series: a lackluster bullpen.
Every time the dodgers bullpen comes in… pic.twitter.com/u2uZqJT5Q4
— Kellan Grant (@kellangrant) May 29, 2019
Just to name a few, Joe Kelly, who the Dodgers signed to a three-year, $25 million contract this past offseason, has been a disaster so far. Caleb Ferguson was sent to OKC to hopefully figure some things out. Pedro Baez has had his moments but has not been immune to frustrating fans late in games. Yimi Garcia is sitting on a 4.56 ERA. Kenley Jansen has been better as of late but has yet to return to his pre-2018 form. And Scott Alexander has been, well, Scott Alexander—really, why do the Dodgers still have any confidence in this man?
With such late-inning struggles from the non-starters on the team, it made sense for the Dodgers to go after Kimbrel.
What wouldn’t have made sense was if they would’ve given the closer spot to the former Red Sox. That spot belongs to Kenley Jansen, and Andrew Friedman and the rest of the front office were right not to give it up to Kimbrel.
The truth of the matter is that the Dodgers likely don’t need to do anything to win the NL West.
They currently sit 10 games ahead of second place in their division and their high-powered offense and starting pitching has shown no signs of slowing down.
Kimbrel a Smart Postseason Move?
Kimbrel would’ve been a move for the playoffs. The team, and especially fans, would’ve put a lot of stock in him to help them get over the hump and win their first world championship since 1988.
Like most other fans, I was all for the Dodgers signing Kimbrel, and I think he would’ve no doubt helped the team.
However, his postseason numbers from last year alone are enough to caution the front office from upsetting Jansen, and possibly causing the Dodgers closer to lose confidence, by giving Kimbrel Jansen’s long-tenured role.
Craig Kimbrel's last clean postseason outing in a game his team was winning when he entered was 8 years ago!
Game 2 of the 2010 NLDS. Yeah, really.
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 15, 2018
As shown by this tweet, until a few decent outings in the 2018 World Series, which were ultimately stained when he allowed 2 runs in game 4, Kimbrel hadn’t had a clean outing in the playoffs since 2010.
Also, while many will point to the fact that Kimbrel converted each of his save opportunities in the 2018 postseason, that’s somewhat misleading.
He entered every one of those games with at least a two-run lead and still often managed to make each game close.
He finished last year’s postseason with an atrocious 5.91 ERA, allowing 7 runs in 10.2 innings pitched.
In October 2017, en route to a series loss to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros, Kimbrel only pitched two innings but allowed one run in an elimination game 4 which the Red Sox would only lose by one run. He finished that postseason with a 4.50 ERA.
Kimbrel holds an impressive 1.92 career ERA, but as shown above, that number hasn’t exactly held past the regular season. It doesn’t matter who it is, those postseason numbers are anything but reliable.
Jansen by Comparison
It’s been easy to criticize Jansen as of late, and he’s definitely deserved that criticism as a result of an apparent drop in performance. However, Jansen’s 2018 postseason wasn’t bad.
He pitched the same number of innings as Kimbrel in last year’s playoffs but posted a 1.62 ERA instead. That’s 2 runs over 10.2 innings.
Those runs did, however, come at costly times. The first came in game 3 of the World Series which tied a 1-0 game that the Dodgers would eventually win in the 18th inning, and the second came in game four in the eighth inning as the Red Sox completed a 4-run comeback and eventually went on to win that game 9-6.
Yet, in an overall sense, Jansen was better in the 2018 postseason than Kimbrel was.
If the primary motivation for signing Kimbrel was to put the Dodgers over the top this year in the playoffs, the reliever’s numbers the past two Octobers don’t exactly ensure he’d be a lock to help the team in that way.
Plus, after sitting out the first two months of this season, and not participating in spring training, there’s no real indication that Kimbrel will be the same 1.92 career ERA pitcher that has devastated opposing offenses in the past.
His numbers from the second half of last year’s regular season aren’t exactly reassuring either.
For those who want Craig Kimbrel back…
Kimbrel had a 5.01 ERA in 31 outings during 2nd half and postseason in 18.
Averaged 4.5 BB/9.
Some felt lack of command had to do w/ his shortened spring last year.
That said, he had no ST this year and hasn't pitched in a game since Oct.
— Christopher Smith (@SmittyOnMLB) May 29, 2019
For Jansen, while he’s certainly yet to return to his pre-2018 form, he has been improving upon a slow start to the 2019 season.
Since allowing a walk-off grand slam against the San Diego Padres on May 5, Jansen has allowed zero runs over 8.2 innings pitched. He’s recorded 6 saves over that span of time.
Where Do the Dodgers Go From Here?
I’m not saying the Dodgers bullpen doesn’t need help, and I’m also not saying that Jansen doesn’t need to keep proving himself.
What I am saying, however, is that the Dodgers made the right decision not to back the brinks truck up for Kimbrel while simultaneously giving him Jansen’s responsibilities.
Kimbrel would’ve been a great seventh or eighth inning bullpen addition for the Dodgers. But the ninth? The truth is, they simply already have an arguably better pitcher for that spot.
Friedman and co. should now look towards the trade market to improve this team’s late-inning pitching, and ultimately improve their World Series chances. It’s their duty to the team, and the fans, to do so.
The way I see it, the Dodgers didn’t miss on Kimbrel. Kimbrel missed on the Dodgers.
He may regret that come October.