On Friday, the Red Sox closed the deal on a trade for Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox sent Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen to the Padres in return. Over the weekend, there has been a lot of mixed feelings from Red Sox Nation regarding this trade. There’s the side that believes that the Red Sox gained a great closer and did not give up any of the core young talent in return. There’s also the side that says how could the team give up four prospects, including two of the team’s top ten prospects, for a relief pitcher? In this post, we’ll analyze the trade and offer an opinion on it.
Let’s start with this: Craig Kimbrel is not just “a closer” as many of the fans who dislike the trade are categorizing him as. He’s more than just “a closer”. He’s arguably the best closer in Major League Baseball. He also is potentially a Hall of Fame talent. He’s entering the prime years of his career at age 27 and he’s under contract for the next three years. Red Sox fans who watched Mariano Rivera dominate over his career will see probably the best closer besides Rivera in this era…and he will be in a Red Sox uniform. This guy is special, folks. He’s not Jonathan Papelbon. He’s not Keith Foulke. He’s not Koji Uehara. He’s better than them all.
Here are some key points about Kimbrel.
1. Kimbrel has a career 1.63 ERA. That’s the best ERA of all time for any reliever with over 250 innings pitched.
2. Kimbrel led the National League in saves for four consecutive years from 2011 – 2014.
3. Kimbrel finished in the Top 10 in the NL Cy Young Award Voting for four consecutive years (2011 – 2014).
4. Kimbrel finished in the Top 11 in the NL MVP Voting in 2012 and 2013.
5. Kimbrel has 563 career strikeouts in 348.1 innings pitched.
This is not just a good closer. Kimbrel is an all time great closer. He’s the type of closer that comes around maybe once every ten to twenty years. This guy has the best relief ERA of all time! He dominated the National League for four years and was an MVP candidate. Yes, his numbers were down a bit last year compared to 2011-2014. His save totals ranged from 42-50 in those four seasons. In 2015, he had 39 saves playing on the San Diego Padres who won just 74 games. That team wasn’t good.
So, we’ve established just how good Kimbrel is. Now let’s take a look at the return for the Padres in the trade. The two key players in the trade Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra. Margot plays centerfield which is a position that the Red Sox have a lot of young talent. On their major league roster they already have Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. In the minors, they have Andrew Benintendi who projects as a better prospect than Margot. That’s three players who are ahead of Margot on the depth chart. Guerra is a shortstop. The Red Sox have the best young shortstop in Major League Baseball in Xander Bogaerts. At age 22, he was second in the American League in batting in 2014. He also was a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. He’s signed for the next six seasons. For the fans that are disappointed with the trade because they gave up strong prospects, what exactly did you think the Red Sox were going to do with Margot and Guerra? They weren’t going to be starting players on the Red Sox. The Red Sox have All Star caliber players at these positions who are 23 years old.
Here’s another point that has been overlooked. The Red Sox bullpen was the team’s biggest weakness last year. Everyone talks about the starting pitching. Yes, the Red Sox need starting pitching. However, the Red Sox ranked 26th out of 30 MLB Teams with a 4.24 bullpen ERA in 2015. They were also 25th out of 30 bullpens in strikeouts per nine innings with 7.78. This team’s bullpen struggled to make teams swing and miss. They lost a lot of close games because their bullpen was weak. They just added arguably the best reliever in baseball who is known for striking hitters out.
This was a position of need. It’s not a nice have. They had to get bullpen help. They still have more work to do here, but they added the best piece they could possibly add to a weak bullpen. They did it without giving up any of their core whether it be on the Major League roster or in the minors. Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, Jackie Bradley, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, Yoan Moncada, and Andrew Benintendi are all still in the organization and they just got the best closer in baseball.
This was a great move and a great start to this offseason. This team is not that far away. They have the bats. They drastically improved their bullpen. They now need a #1 starter. If they get the #1 starter they covet, they’ll likely be contending for a playoff spot this year.
The New York Yankees made the playoffs last year. The Yankees didn’t have a great lineup. They didn’t have very good starting pitching. What they did have was two dominant relief pitchers who closed the door on teams in the 8th and 9th innings in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. The Red Sox now have Koji Uehara in the 8th and Craig Kimbrel in the 9th. If the Red Sox have the lead late, they will be a very tough team to beat…especially considering the core of their team remains unchanged.
The bottom line here: The Red Sox traded a position of great strength for a position of great need…and they now have the very best player they could have gotten at this position.