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Craig Kimbrel trade scenarios: 3 best fits for Chicago Cubs’ closer

Jun 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) pitches in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for the Chicago Cubs is that they snapped their 11-game losing streak on Wednesday, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies, 8-3. Unfortunately for the Wrigley faithful, they indeed lost 11 in a row, the team is 43-44 and has a handful of prominent soon-to-be free agents. One of those players is closer Craig Kimbrel.

The right-handed reliever has returned to being his dominant self in the late innings this season, sporting an 0.57 ERA, an 0.66 WHIP, 54 strikeouts and 20 saves across 31.2 innings. He’s blowing his high 90s fastball past hitters and getting them to wave at his curveball.

ESPN’s Buster Olney and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman have each noted that the trade market for Kimbrel will be aplenty, and understandably so. Prospective buyers would be acquiring one of the elite closers in the sport.

Here are three teams that make sense for a Craig Kimbrel trade.

Houston Astros add another late-inning option in Craig Kimbrel

craig kimbrel trade scenarios
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros are rolling, as they own the best record in the American League and have been a force to be reckoned with this season. That said, they could use assistance in the late innings. It’s something Craig Kimbrel would undoubtedly provide.

The Astros don’t necessarily have to make a move for a closer, as Ryan Pressly owns a 1.46 ERA and has blown just one save. On the other hand, the Astros’ bullpen has been shaky outside of their closer and a modern-day MLB bullpen can’t have enough variety.

Manager Dusty Baker has a handful of ways he can utilize Kimbrel. He could put the 33-year-old in the closer role, moving Pressly into a setup role, which he found success with in the past. Another option is having Kimbrel being a three-to-six-out reliever to get the ball to Pressly in the ninth. It’s about winning a World Series, and Kimbrel would aid a weak spot on the Astros.

What may stop Houston from making a move for Kimbrel is them being set at closer. Surrendering a prized prospect or two for a midseason rental to take on a precarious relief role may not be of interest to the Astros, albeit it would be for a dynamite pitcher.

Toronto Blue Jays finish bullpen overhaul in style by adding Craig Kimbrel

The Blue Jays have improved their bullpen over the last two weeks, acquiring Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards. These moves are helpful to a lacking bullpen, but they don’t resolve Toronto’s closing conundrum. Craig Kimbrel would be a clear-cut answer to their problem.

The hard-throwing right-hander would assume closing duties for manager Charlie Montoyo, helping them close the door in pivotal divisional matchups. Currently third place in the AL East, the Blue Jays have to begin performing better in divisional play if they aspire to make the playoffs (the Blue Jays are 14-17 against the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees this season).

Cimber and Richards improve the middle relief corps, and Jordan Romano has been a bright spot. Throw Kimbrel into the relief mix and all of a sudden the aspect of the Blue Jays that’s holding them back becomes a sturdy and reliable unit. The offense is stellar, and the starting pitching is plausible with upside. An improved bullpen helps Toronto’s chances of breaking through in the AL.

They have the prospect arsenal to make a hefty and worthwhile short-term investment in Craig Kimbrel. What stops a trade from getting done? The possibility of Toronto preferring to surrender highly regarded prospects for a starting pitcher rather than a reliever.

Philadelphia Phillies emphatically solve their closer issue by acquiring Craig Kimbrel

craig kimbrel trade scenarios
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies have a potent one-two rotation punch and an offense with an abundance of dangerous hitters. Why are they just 41-43? First and foremost inconsistency, but their bullpen has also been an outright mess. Craig Kimbrel can stop the bleeding for manager Joe Girardi in that regard.

Joe Girardi, like his predecessor, Gabe Kapler, has been too committed to Hector Neris in the ninth inning, and it’s costing the Phillies games and/or putting games in unnecessary danger. Neris has blown six saves and owns a 5.12 ERA this season. That said, it’s not just a Neris issue. He’s simply on the hill in the final inning with a lead.

Ranger Suarez is the lone Phillies’ reliever performing at a high level with consistency (he owns an 0.85 ERA and is holding opponents to a .131 batting average), as their bullpen as a whole owns a 4.91 ERA. Kimbrel becomes their closer from day one. Like the Blue Jays, the Phillies need to start performing better in divisional play if they want to make the playoffs. Kimbrel would be their best closer since prime Brad Lidge.

At some point, the Phillies have to crack the playoffs because they don’t have the pieces to begin a full-fledged rebuild and frankly the talent present should be leading to playoff appearances. The Phillies have to improve their Achilles heel and hope their talent translates into more wins.