St. Louis Cardinals Rumors: Should the Cardinals pursue Craig Kimbrel?

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 23: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox reacts during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park on October 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 23: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox reacts during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park on October 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals are in search for a closer and Craig Kimbrel is arguably the best available free agent closer. Should the Cards pursue the 30-year old right hander?

The St. Louis Cardinals need a closer for the 2019 season. Bud Norris is a free agent, unlikely to be brought back, and forget about Luke Gregerson. Closer-designate-of-the-future Jordan Hicks, is deemed not ready by the front office. Internally, none of the other remaining young arms are being discussed by the Cards as a likely candidate for the position. So where does that leave the Redbirds?

It would appear that the answers lie in the trade or free agent market. There are candidates available and according to SI’s Jon Taylor, the Cardinals should pursue free agent Craig Kimbrel.

The 30-year-old right hander, who has spent the last three seasons with the Red Sox, could be considered the best closer available on the free agent market. The best or not, should the St. Louis Cardinals pursue Craig Kimbrel and bring his unusual pitching stance to St. Louis?

Consistency: Kimbrel’s appeal

A case can be made for pursuing the seven time All Star. In his nine-year career he has impressive stats that include 333 saves, a 1.91 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.92. The 2011 Rookie of the Year, has played in Atlanta, San Diego, and Boston, and has finished a season with no less than 31 saves since his rookie season. In 2018, he saved 42 games, had a ERA of 2.74 and a WHIP under 1.00.

Compared to Bud Norris, this would be a significant improvement.  Norris had a respectable 28 saves and a 3.59 ERA in 2018. However, by September, Norris seemed to be running out of steam, much like the rest of the bullpen. In his last 15 appearances, Norris’ ERA was 6.97, with 12 hits, 12 walks, and only 6 saves.

Adding Kimbrel to a Cardinal bullpen who compiled an unappealing 4.38 ERA last season, would seem to be a good start in addressing an off-season priority. After all, Kimbrel is a veteran closer who would not need to be groomed to the role, unlike the other internal options the Cardinals have on the current roster.

Remember Greg Holland?

I certainly do. I remember how on March 31, 2018, most St. Louis Cardinals fans were ecstatic when Greg Holland signed that one year contract. He was a proven veteran closer with 189 career saves in eight seasons and a 2.83 ERA.  In 2017, he had 41 saves, a 3.61 ERA, with 79 strikeouts and 26 walks in 61 games.

Nevertheless, his 2018 stint with the Cardinals turned into a debacle. The 33-year old Holland, had a 7.92 ERA, a 2.24 WHIP in 25 innings, and didn’t record a single save. Holland was designated for assignment on July 27 and released on August 1. In just four months, the one year, $14 million contract the St. Louis Cardinals signed with Holland turned from a bargain into…well…hot garbage.

Most closers seem to have a limited self life. Cardinal fans can look back at Ryan Franklin, Trevor Rosenthal, or Seung-hwan Oh as recent examples of talented bullpen arms who reached a hard ceiling in the closer’s role.

History says no on Kimbrel

The continued pressure of being put in high leverage situations eventually wear most, but not all down. Kimbrel is a 30-year old nine-year veteran who hasn’t shown any sign of breaking down in the closer role. But if history means anything, time isn’t on his side. The next team to sign Kimbrel could find that out, like the Cardinals did with Greg Holland last year.

Craig Kimbrel is likely to come at a high price and a multi-year contract. The St. Louis Cardinals just need time to allow a young arm, such as Jordan HIcks, to eventually assume the role. The Cardinals likely have the young arms in their system that can be the next closer.  What is needed a bridge until that player is ready to take over.

I don’t have a specific candidate in mind for the closer role for 2019. However, the Cardinals have been able to find competent, if not outstanding, candidates in recent years via trade and free agency. Whether they were signed to be a closer like Holland, or if they were like Norris and Oh, who both arrived via free agency and were thrust into the closer role despite not being signed for it, these deals have not gone the Cardinals’ way.

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The Cardinals have work to do on their bullpen. Bringing in help on the left-handed side of the pen and finding a closer are both priorities, but spending money on multi-year contracts for the pen has not been the answer. While he may seem like an attractive option on paper, the St. Louis Cardinals should honestly stay away from Craig Kimbrel.