Well, it looks like Dave Dombrowski wasn’t finished his Christmas shopping just yet. On the evening of December 23, the Phillies agreed to terms with reliever Craig Kimbrel on a one-year $10 million contract, according to Ken Rosenthal. It’s no secret Kimbrel is not the same dominant closer he once was with the Braves, Padres, and Red Sox––the latter of whom he won a World Series with in 2018. But Dombrowski, who acquired Kimbrel from the Padres in 2015, clearly thinks the righty’s arm has more left in the tank.
Last year, Kimbrel pitched to a 3.75 ERA with the Dodgers while amassing 72 strikeouts in 60 innings and saving 22 games. Since 2019, the eight time All-Star closer has been in the midst of some up-and-down years where he has seen his hard hit percentage increase substantially. Last year, on all balls put in play, 43.9% were hit at an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher––not ideal for a once lockdown closer. In addition, the 34-year-old’s strikeout rate plummeted nearly 15% from 2021. Based on his current age and career trajectory, this is likely the pitcher he will be until he retires.
Despite these alarming trends, Kimbrel’s raw numbers are still good. Evidently, they’re not what they once were during the prime of his career, but he’s still an effective major league reliever. He probably won’t be able to reach back and find triple digits, but mid-to-upper 90s with horizontal movement and a deceptive curveball? That’s more like it. With Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado blossoming into lockdown late inning relievers last year, that’s all Dombrowski and Rob Thomson can ask for.
It will be interesting to see how Thomson plans to use Kimbrel in 2023. The reported deal is the same as Corey Knebel’s was last year, who opened the year as the closer. Being the current active leader in career saves with 394, it would not be surprising to see Kimbrel begin the year as the closer with Dominguez and Alvarado pitching in high leverage spots during the seventh and eighth innings. However, if Kimbrel’s strikeout rate continues to fall, he may become more of a ground ball pitcher, which his pitch arsenal suggests is a likely occurrence. If this happens, the other option would be using one of the two aforementioned as the closer and have Kimbrel play a matchup role in the earlier innings. Regardless, the Phillies bullpen is deeper and more experienced than it was yesterday morning.
With Dombrowski’s latest stocking stuffer, the Phillies have replenished what they lost entering the offseason and have improved in those positions. They’ve added arguably the best shortstop in baseball in Trea Turner, a valuable number three in the starting rotation with Taijuan Walker, a solid, high-upside lefty in Matt Strahm, and now, a former lockdown closer in Craig Kimbrel. Pushing the second Luxury Tax threshold of $253 million, this could be it for the offseason albeit a couple more minor league moves. If it is, the 2023 Phillies as they currently stand are undoubtedly better than they were when they won the National League last year. Merry Craigsmas?
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