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Time to Trade Kimbrel

If you're going to do it, now is the time.

Kevin C. Cox

I promise I don't try to intentionally piss you off. I really don't. Sometimes, it just happens.

I mean, I get that Kimbrel is awesome. He's so awesome that he's the best reliever in baseball. How good? His fWAR over the past three seasons - Kimbrel's first 3 full seasons - is 8.7 and a win and a half better than second-place Greg Holland, and he's almost 3 full wins ahead of the knuckleheads in third place and beyond. Kimbrel's FIP during that time period is 1.43 and a half run better than again-second-place Holland. Want his xFIP? At 1.62, he's more than half a run better than second-place Kenley Jansen. His K% of 42.9% is the best. One of the few categories he's not the best in is ERA at 1.48 because Eric O'Flaherty (1.45) edges him out with about a full season fewer innings pitched. And if you really want saves, his 138 is 28 more than anyone else in the sport. We get it. Kimbrel is more awesomer than everyone else's closer. You can use whatever stats you want, but that's the conclusion you're gonna get.

But the MLB is often about getting the most punch for your money, and while Kimbrel packs a wallop, he's going to start hitting the wallet just as hard. Over his first three seasons, Kimbrel was incredibly cheap, making about $1.5 million total over that time period while accumulating over $40 M in value. Most players then head into arbitration where their teams continue to rake in profits on their player - usually according to the 40-60-80 model (paid 40% of value, then 60%, then 80%). Most players. The people who break that handy little rule are the elite, and as you might have guessed, Kimbrel fits that category.

The last time we had a truly elite closer hit arbitration like this, it was Jonathan Papelbon. Despite what you might think of him now, he was the bee's (or is it bees') knees from 2006-2008, beating out Mariano Rivera by a full win of value. And Kimbrel crushes him in every comparable - though I'll make the sidenote that FIP and fWAR do not account for league differences (Saturday posts!). It's not even frakking close. What did Papelbon make his first year of arbitration? $6.25 million.

Now is that too much for Kimbrel? In a vacuum, no not really. As of this moment, wins are worth about $4.5 M (this might escalate rather rapidly, but we'll avoid that for now), and at ~3 wins a season, Kimbrel is worth *moves abacus nearer to computer* $13.5 M a season, which makes his arb value about 50% of his value. Of course, he had his "worst" season yet and was "only" worth $11.1 M this season. And we have to wonder about injuries - see: Venters, Jonny and O'Flaherty, Eric. Aaaaand there's always the Braves' budget.

But to be honest, the Braves can afford Kimbrel next season. But then you have to ask about 2015 (Paps made $9.35 M in his 2nd arb season) and 2016 ($12 M). Can they afford what's sure to be more than that? It gets iffy. But the longer the Braves wait, the less teams will want to pay - less control and more money owed, afterall - to acquire his services.

Because the real question is about getting value for value. Sometimes, that means getting production value for monetary value, and sometimes, that means getting production value for production value. That's what makes this offseason so crucial. It's basically trade him now and get some good stuff in return that helps now and in the future or keep him and the elite production he brings to the table. Let's take a look at the current landscape.


Options (Trade or Free-Agent) Better than Kimbrel: ....... Didn't we just go over this?

Possible, Acceptable Trade Options: Glen Perkins, Greg Holland, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Steve Cishek, Drew Storen, Jim Henderson, Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle, Huston Street

Possible, Acceptable Free-Agent Options: Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Nathan (if opts out), Edward Mujica, Fernando Rodney, Brian Wilson

There are certainly a few options out there. But are any of them anywhere near Kimbrel? Nope. He's dominant, and you get three years of him. I'd go on to give you examples of what similar trades have been made, but ... there aren't any. Teams don't typically trade closers like this. But where could he go?


New York Yankees: With Mariano Rivera retiring and a playoff-less season behind them, the Yankees are probably looking to grab some headlines this offseason. That could include bringing in Kimbrel, even though David Robertson is more than capable. The issue is what the Yankees could trade back.

Toronto Blue Jays: They've traded for relievers before, and they certainly aren't gun-shy about making trades. But I'm not really seeing it here, and they traded everything of real value last offseason, unless they want to talk Brett Lawrie.

Detroit Tigers: Perenially looking for a closer, and while they have Jose Veras as an option, the Tigers could look for a closer to finish off the roster of what should be another AL Central championship in 2014. Nick Castellanos and Drew Smyly would be attractive chips.

Los Angeles Angels: This is basically the Blue Jays again - have the motivation and the trade history but not the goods unless it involves Howie Kendrick.

Arizona Diamondbacks: There could be another possibility, and the DBacks have a number of interesting possibilities. Prospects like Matt Davidson could be a possibility, and a guy like Aaron Hill could be involved. Can't imagine Archie Bradley being the guy, though.

Los Angeles Dodgers: You really can't have a discussion that doesn't involve the Dodgers these days. I'm struggling to see what the Dodgers would trade here, but you really can't count them out, I suppose.


Now should the Braves really trade Kimbrel? It's a tough choice. The Braves are currently built to win for the next two seasons, and it's hard to trade the best in anything away from a winning team. It would be a media nightmare if the new closer blew a big game, but there's always the possibility that whoever the Braves get contributes more than Kimbrel. We are talking about a closer here, a reliever who at his peak was worth about 3.5 wins in a season. But he's also the best closer in the game by a wide margin.

The crucial question is what the Braves could get for him. The answer is that we simply don't know. But you obviously don't trade Kimbrel to get rid of him or the money he's bound to be owed. The Braves have to get real value in return, and I think that's a very real possibility. They have to get something worthwhile to make that trade.

But the time to make that decision is running out. It's either trade him now or hold onto him until free-agency because you're either deciding he's so good that he has to stay around or the risk is too much. Either way, now is the time.

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