It will soon be easier to justify signing Craig Kimbrel, and the Tampa Bay Rays might be moving to the front of the line.
For years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the most resourceful organizations in baseball. A year after winning 90 games, they are leading the AL East entering Sunday. So some astute additions could be on the table, and according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times the Rays are among the teams with some level of interest in Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel, with 333 career saves, remains unsigned into mid-May. The primary reasons for that are draft pick compensation attached to him, since he rejected a qualifying offer from the Boston Red Sox, along with asking price and the idea he probably wants to be locked in to a closer role.
The Rays don’t have any bullpen troubles, with the third-best reliever ERA in baseball entering Sunday (3.21) and 13 saves. But those 13 saves have been split between five pitchers, led by Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado with four apiece and Emilio Pagan with three, as manager Kevin Cash has been very malleable with bullpen usage. In theory, having Kimbrel in the ninth inning would allow Cash to have a bit more flexibility in the bullpen.
With the 2019 MLB Draft coming on June 3, the draft pick compensation tied to Kimbrel goes away if he’s not signed on or before 11:59 PM ET on June 2. The Rays have to value all of their draft picks to some degree, so not having to give one up is surely a significant factor for them in any possible pursuit of Kimbrel (or Dallas Keuchel, for that matter). If they sign Kimbrel before the draft, they’d have to cede their third-highest pick (No. 39 overall).
As much as he has any real leverage right now, Kimbrel is better off waiting to sign until after the draft. And as a contending team that can justify a small splurge to keep up with the higher payroll Joneses, that puts the Rays in play to get him.