With the slumping Cubs fading fast in the NL Central (they’ve lost 13 of 15 since no-hitting the Dodgers on June 24th), Chicago will almost certainly be selling at the upcoming MLB trade deadline. Should the Cubs attempt to shed salary by facilitating a summer fire sale, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who has enjoyed a career resurgence this year (0.57 ERA, 15.35 K/9), would be among their top trade assets. A proven talent with 368 career saves—ninth in MLB history and most among active hurlers (Kenley Jansen is a distant second at 333)—the 33-year-old flamethrower is the rare bullpen arm capable of altering a pennant race.
The Red Sox, who have seen their lead in the AL East shrink to just 1.5 games (losing four of five to finish the first half will do that to a team), could be a team to watch for Kimbrel, according to Buster Olney of ESPN, particularly now that Boston has committed to Matt Barnes long-term. Barnes, a first-time All-Star who registered 19 saves in the first half (tied for second-most in the American League), agreed to a two-year, $18.75-million contract extension Sunday with an $8-million club option (or $2.25-million buyout) for 2024. Though closing would undoubtedly be Barnes’ preference, the prospect of losing his ninth-inning role to Kimbrel isn’t as large a concern now that his financial future is secure.
Kimbrel, of course, is no stranger to Fenway, having pitched for the Red Sox from 2016-18. Though erratic at times, Kimbrel was largely successful during his three-year run in Boston, logging a miniscule 2.44 ERA with 108 saves during that span. The former NL Rookie of the Year was an All-Star each of his three seasons in Boston, ultimately capturing a World Series ring in 2018. There are certainly risk factors to consider—further depleting Boston’s 24th-ranked farm system by dealing a top prospect for an aging rental in Kimbrel may not be in the Red Sox’s best interest. You could also argue the Red Sox have bigger needs to address, as Boston’s relief corps has been quietly superb throughout 2021 (eighth-lowest staff ERA).
Whether it’s to the Red Sox or another team, the eight-time All-Star stands a good chance of being moved at the deadline and should attract considerable interest from contenders in search of bullpen depth.