The Seattle Mariners had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball last season, headlined by Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Casey Sadler and Kendall Graveman when he was in Seattle. The bullpen as a whole was 4th in baseball in terms of WAR. Seattle’s bullpen was 8th in ERA, 3rd in Walks per nine innings, and 3rd in FIP. As these numbers show, the bullpen was the strength of the team, but could the M’s add stud reliever Craig Kimbrel to this already dynamic group?
Craig Kimbrel has been one of the best relievers in baseball for about a decade now, and he is reportedly on the trading block. Kimbrel is slated to make $16 million in the final year of his contract in 2022. The 34-year-old was worth 2.2 WAR last year in just under 60 innings for the Cubs and White Sox, which was 6th best in the league. He had an ERA of 2.26, a FIP of 2.43, and his expected ERA and expected FIP was higher than his actual numbers by a combined .3.
Even though Kimbrel has been one of the best relievers in the game, he did have a stretch of poor performance. In 2019 he had an outlier stretch with over an ERA of over 6 and then he had a poor 2020 with an ERA over 5. This stretch is a bit concerning, but in both of these seasons, he only pitched in 36 innings total. This suggests that they were just a bad stretch that is normally half of a full season for Kimbrel, so I don’t think the M’s need to worry about this stretch too much.
2021 was also an interesting season for Kimbrel since he was traded across Chicago from the Cubs to the White Sox. He had a 0.49 ERA with the Cubs, but it ballooned to a 5.09 with the White Sox. This is because he had a rough August and allowed nine runs that month in just 11 innings. Overall, it is nearly impossible for relievers to have sub 2 ERAs all year. Paul Sewald had similar splits to Kimbrel as well. He had a 1.40 ERA in the first half and then a 4.15 in the second half.
The problem with relievers is that they are so inconsistent, but that is why trading for Craig Kimbrel fits so perfectly. He gives them another bite at the apple of great relievers. If Kimbrel is acquired and struggles, then the M’s can let him have a day or two off instead of having to go to him when he struggles. This was the problem with Paul Sewald down the stretch, so having more trustworthy relievers is always a plus.
Based on this, Craig Kimbrel is still a very dominant reliever in baseball and would be a big-time add for the Mariners. The Call to the Pen suggested that the Mariners could be a good landing spot for the services of Kimbrel. This would certainly be exciting, but how does a bullpen without Craig Kimbrel compare to one with Craig Kimbrel?
Ken Giles (coming back from Tommy John surgery)
If you add in Craig Kimbrel, the bullpen looks quite strong
The Mariners certainly have good depth in their bullpen, especially coming off of a very strong season. However, we saw that players like Paul Sewald became fatigued when it mattered most in the final month of the season because manager Scott Servais had to keep going to him day after day. Servais could only trust a few pitchers regularly, mostly Sewald, Steckenrider, Sadler, and Castillo for the most part. This led to overusing the same pitchers over and over.
This over dependency on Paul Sewald and others led to a slide in bullpen production in the final month of the season. Adding Craig Kimbrel would give much more depth to the ‘pen, and no team can possibly suffer from too many good relievers. It is also expected to see some regression in the bullpen in 2022. Casey Sadler will almost certainly not have a sub 1 ERA and Paul Sewald probably won’t have a 40% strikeout rate again in 2021 either.
Also relying on Ken Giles and Andres Munoz to be dominant coming off of Tommy John surgery is not the best idea either because both could struggle or not be ready at the start of the year. This is why acquiring Kimbrel to hold down the back end of the bullpen is a great idea. His contract makes it such that he won’t net a big return, and if Kimbrel helps get the Mariners into the playoffs, it would absolutely be worth it.
Putting Craig Kimbrel at the back end of the Mariners bullpen gives them the potential to have a bullpen just like the Kansas City Royals did when they went to back to back World Series.
If the Mariners were to get into the playoffs, teams have shown that they are using relievers more and more in the playoffs. Starting pitchers aren’t going as deep into games and having a super deep bullpen could help the M’s chances of winning games in the playoffs. Based on all of this, trading for Craig Kimbrel is a great idea and one that the Mariners should consider. A trade package should not cost the Mariners too much either.
In this return for Kimbrel, the M’s send infield prospect Tyler Keenan and left-handed pitcher Juan Pinto to the White Sox. The Mariners would be taking on all of Kimbrel’s $16 million salary for 2022, which is a big reason why Kimbrel is available. Keenan struggled in his first year in pro ball, but has big power potential and was the M’s 4th round pick in 2020. Pinto is only 17 years old and offers lots of potential as major league arm, whether it is a starter or reliever, someday in the future for Chicago.
Craig Kimbrel is a great insurance policy to add to the bullpen, he can eat up high leverage innings, and he increases the top-end talent on the team as well as adds to the depth of the ‘pen. The pitchers also get injured, so if Paul Sewald or Drew Steckenrider get hurt, the Mariners would still have a strong back end of the bullpen. It also gives the possibility of trading a bullpen arm to help fill another hole somewhere else on the roster.
The Mariners should certainly try to take advantage of the situation with Kimbrel because even though he is going to make a lot of money in 2022, he would be a very good arm to have in the bullpen. Trading lesser prospects for a proven major league player is a phenomenal idea and one that the Mariners should look into. Using their payroll flexibility to add a large one-year deal for a player like Kimbrel could lead to the Mariners finally making the playoffs in 2022.