Report: Craig Kimbrel agrees to multi-year deal with Chicago Cubs

Craig Kimbrel, for nearly a decade among baseball’s elite closers, reportedly agreed to terms with the Chicago Cubs on a three-year, $43 million deal, concluding his seven-month free agency.

The deal was first reported by The Athletic.

A year removed from having the lowest bullpen ERA in the NL, Chicago’s bullpen has faced a combination of injuries (Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop) and ineffectiveness (Carl Edwards Jr.) this season. With Ben Zobrist and his $12 million contract on the restricted list, the Cubs appear to have the financial flexibility to cement their rocky closer situation.

A victim of the slow market, the chill of a qualifying offer and, perhaps, the more recent sight of him struggling in the postseason, Kimbrel seemed intent on challenging the market to come to him. He made $13 million last season, his third for the Boston Red Sox, then sat on the market into June. The largest free agent contract for a reliever this winter was $39 million over three seasons for Zack Britton, by the New York Yankees. Others free agent relievers — among them Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, Jeurys Familia and David Robertson — drew average annual salaries between $9 million-$12.5 million.

With the season a third gone, more than a handful of teams contending or hoping to contend had clear holes at or near the back ends of their bullpens. The Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, among others, had reason to sign Kimbrel, whose preference, according to sources, was to close rather than serve as a setup man.

33 PHOTOS
MLB players who have switched teams over the 2018-19 offseason
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MLB players who have switched teams over the 2018-19 offseason

INF Manny Machado

Left the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency to sign with the San Diego Padres

(Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

OF Bryce Harper

Left the Washington Nationals in free agency to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

OF Yasiel Puig

Traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds

(Photo by Keith Birmingham/Digital First Media/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

2B DJ LeMahieu

Left the Colorado Rockies in free agency to sign with the New York Yankees

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

OF Matt Kemp

Traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

RHP Joe Kelly

Left the Boston Red Sox in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

C Yasmani Grandal

Left the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

2B Robinson Cano

Traded to the New York Mets from the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

RHP Edwin Diaz

Traded to the New York Mets from the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

RHP Jeurys Familia

Left the Oakland Athletics in free agency to sign with the New York Mets

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

RF Andrew McCutchen

Left the New York Yankees in free agency to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

INF Jed Lowrie

Left the Oakland A's in free agency to sign with the New York Mets

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

RHP Ivan Nova

Traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Chicago White Sox

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

LHP Patrick Corbin

Left the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency to sign with the Washington Nationals

(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

1B Paul Goldschmidt

Traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the St. Louis Cardinals

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

SS Jean Segura

Traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion

Traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

1B Justin Bour

Left the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Angels

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

1B Yonder Alonso

Traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago White Sox

(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

OF Michael Brantley

Left the Cleveland Indians in free agency to sign with the Houston Astros

(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

RHP Matt Harvey

Left the Cincinnati Reds in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Angels

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

RHP Anibal Sanchez

Left the Atlanta Braves in free agency to sign with the Washington Nationals

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

DH Nelson Cruz

Left the Seattle Mariners in free agency to sign with the Minnesota Twins

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

RHP Kendall Graveman

Left the Oakland A's in free agency to sign with the Chicago Cubs

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

RHP Charlie Morton

Left the Houston Astros in free agency to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

Outfielder Domingo Santana

Traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Seattle Mariners

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Infielder Daniel Murphy

Left the Chicago Cubs in free agency to sign with the Colorado Rockies

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

RHP Joakim Soria

Left the Milwaukee Brewers in free agency to sign with the Oakland A's

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

RHP Andrew Miller

Left the Cleveland Indians in free agency to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

2B Jurickson Profar

Traded by the Texas Rangers to the Oakland A's

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

RHP Trevor Cahill

Left the Oakland A's in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Angels

(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

2B Brian Dozier

Left the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency to sign with the Washington Nationals

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

RHP Shelby Miller

Left the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency to sign with the Texas Rangers

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Kimbrel, 31, saved 42 games last season for the Red Sox, his third in Boston. He blew five opportunities. He wobbled some in the postseason, when in 10 2/3 innings over nine games he allowed nine hits, eight walks and seven runs. He also hit two batters. The resulting 5.91 ERA was three times his career ERA.

The prevailing theory was that Kimbrel was tipping his pitches — he throws two, a 98-mph fastball and a curveball, an observation passed along by former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne just prior to the World Series. Kimbrel made four appearances against the Los Angeles Dodgers in that series and allowed runs in one of them. He saved six games in October.

In eight full seasons, Kimbrel led his league in saves four times and finished in the top four seven times. His 333 saves lead active pitchers. He is 14th all time, eight behind Rollie Fingers for 13th. On the career list, he is alone in the top 32 to have pitched fewer than 10 seasons. He is the fastest ever to 300 saves. Remarkably consistent, Kimbrel made at least 47 appearances in each of those eight seasons and only once had an ERA above 3.00. His career ERA is 1.91.

Kimbrel was not as effective across 2018 as in previous seasons. He missed a portion of spring training to be with his infant daughter, Lydia, who was born with a heart defect and required numerous surgeries. She turned 1 in early November. On the field following the Red Sox’s Game 5 win over the Dodgers, Kimbrel held Lydia in his arms and said, “It’s been a long year, but, wow, it’s definitely made it worth it. She’s made it worth it. So much emotion. So happy right now. Couldn’t get much better than this moment right now.”

He leaned over and kissed the top of Lydia’s head.

Then he added, “This is the best Red Sox team that’s ever been. … I can’t be more proud to say I was a part of it.”

While the game seems to be wavering in its reliance on single closers, the best teams generally have them, and rely on them particularly in October.

The largest contract for a closer belongs to Aroldis Chapman, who after the 2016 season signed with the New York Yankees for $86 million over five years. A month later, Kenley Jansen signed with the Dodgers for $80 million over five.

Drafted by the Braves in 2008, Kimbrel was traded to the San Diego Padres at the start of the 2015 season. When it became clear their rebuild would require more time and a better plan, the Padres traded Kimbrel to Boston seven months later.

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