This Chicago Cubs will be selling at the MLB trade deadline. Yes, after 12 losses in 13 games, it was reported on Friday that the team's management had decided to start selling off pieces in order to retool/rebuild and get back into contention over the next few years.
While Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo are all attractive pieces, potentially the biggest target at the deadline will be Craig Kimbrel. The best closer of his era, Kimbrel has found the magic again this season after struggling for the past two years. Entering Friday he was 1-2 with a 0.57 ERA, a 0.66 WHIP and 20 saves in 22 chances. He also wouldn't be a rental, as the team acquiring him would hold a $16 million option for next season.
Kimbrel will be a hot commodity who could transform any bullpen. Here's a look at five teams who could use him as the trade deadline approaches.
Craig Kimbrel Trade Destinations
San Diego Padres
The Padres currently sit in third place in the National League West and have heavily taxed their bullpen this year. Due to injuries and overuse, they likely need to add two relief arms before the deadline. Keone Kela and Dan Altavilla both had Tommy John surgery recently, while Michel Baez, Jose Castillo and Adrian Morejon all underwent the procedure earlier in the year.
Kimbrel will be the best bullpen arm available and the Padres still have a top 10 farm system to deal from. Closer Mark Melancon leads the majors in saves with 26 in 30 chances, but Kimbrel is better. Moving Melancon to a setup role would maximize his value if the Friars could get their former closer back. Kimbrel seemed to enjoy his one season in San Diego in 2015, so a reunion makes sense.
Boston Red Sox
This would be another reunion for Kimbrel as he'd return to Boston where he played three seasons and helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series. The Sox currently boast the sixth-best bullpen ERA in MLB, but if they're going to make a real push to win the American League, they'll need more depth in the relief corps.
Matt Barnes has been really good closing games this season, with 19 saves in 23 opportunities, a 2.68 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. But he's not Kimbrel. It might cost the Red Sox a bit more than they're willing to part with to land their ex-closer, but they have to consider making the move, given that they're tied for the best record in the AL and their top competition will be pursuing Kimbrel as well (more on that later).
The A's are one of two teams rumored to be the most likely destination for Kimbrel and the fit makes sense. Oakland's bullpen ranks 14th in bullpen ERA (4.07) leaguewide and they don't have a true, go-to closer thanks to Trevor Rosenthal suffering shoulder and hip injuries that will cost him the season.
Lou Trivino has been solid in the closer role, with 13 saves in 15 opportunities, but Kimbrel would give the team a true lockdown presence at the back of the bullpen. He could change the team's fortunes as the chase in the AL West progresses. The A's are currently 4.5 games behind the Astros, though they do hold the final wild card spot.
The Astros are one of the best teams in baseball and continue to surge after opening the season 7-10. They're tied with the Red Sox for the best record in the AL (54-34) and possess baseball's best offense. But the relief corps needs some major fixes as the Astros currently rank 15th in bullpen ERA (4.09).
Closer Ryan Pressly is an All-Star and has been just fine closing games. He's 4-1 with a 1.46 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and 16 saves in 17 chances. But Kimbrel is a more reliable presence who has been in that role before, including closing out a World Series. Landing Kimbrel and moving Pressly into a setup role would strengthen the entire bullpen and make the Astros that much more dangerous. The fact that Houston could prevent the other team with the top record in the AL (Boston) from getting Kimbrel would be icing on the cake.
Speaking of struggling bullpens, the Braves are desperate for some help in that area. This would be another reunion and one that would fulfill a major need. Atlanta ranks 21st in bullpen ERA (4.64) and Will Smith has been shaky in the closer role. He's 3-5 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 17 saves in 19 chances. Those numbers aren't terrible but they don't instill confidence either.
Could Kimbrel go back to the place it all started in Atlanta? Certainly. The Alabama native thrived in Atlanta, becoming one of the game's best pitchers -- let alone relivers -- during his five seasons in the ATL. The Braves have a decent farm system to trade from and adding Kimbrel would give them a big boost towards a run for a fourth-straight NL East title.