The San Francisco Giants will have one of the most valuable trade chips around this summer in reliever Will Smith. How does Craig Kimbrel’s ongoing free agency impact the market?
With the San Francisco Giants expected to be aggressive sellers this summer, fans and writers of the team alike have begun evaluating various trade scenarios as we approach the month of June.
One interesting wrinkle to the relief pitcher market—an area where the Giants are expected to be particularly busy—is the ongoing free agency of seven-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel.
While exploring a potential trade fit with the Minnesota Twins last week as part of our ongoing “Sell-off Series” we discussed what a fair trade for San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith might look like this summer.
There’s an argument to be made the Smith has been the best reliever in baseball.
The 29-year-old has struck out an eye-popping 40 percent of the batters that he’s faced while walking hitters at a measly 5.3 percent clip. The southpaw is also 12-for-12 on save opportunities after spending the bulk of his career as a high-leverage setup man. His experience filling multiple roles out of the bullpen only adds to his appeal.
Normally, a player like Smith would be the best available option for contenders looking to bolster their relief corps. This year, there’s another factor to consider.
Craig Kimbrel is still looking for work.
The 31-year-old is not just one of the best relief pitchers in the game today, he may very well be the best relief pitcher of all time. Yet, he remains a free agent as we approach June.
There are several reasons why Kimbrel remains unsigned. Teams have cooled on the idea of spending big money in free agency in recent years as they look for ways to maximize value. And after he received a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason, Kimbrel has draft-pick compensation tied to signing him.
The good news for Kimbrel is that teams will no longer have to sacrifice a draft pick to sign him once the 2019 MLB draft concludes on June 5th.
Multiple teams have remained in contact with Kimbrel’s agent Scott Boras and once the draft wraps, the bidding will begin. The Giants will be hoping that the bidding ends quickly, which looks like the best outcome for everyone involved.
Kimbrel has been working out, but teams are going to move cautiously in returning him to big league action. The sooner he signs, the sooner he can get back into rhythm. If negotiations drag on toward the trade deadline, that moves everything closer to the playoffs when teams will want him at his best.
There’s also the simple monetary reasons to sign sooner rather than later. He has shown great patience to this point, but every day he waits is another day without pay.
Assuming he does sign quickly, the trade market for Smith and the rest of the Giants relievers won’t change much at all.
It will likely remove the team that signs Kimbrel from the bidding for Smith and any other Giants relievers they may have had their eye on. That isn’t ideal, but enough contenders need bullpen help that a strong market will still develop.
On the other hand, if Kimbrel remains a free agent into late June and early July, it could take significant leverage out of the Giants’ hands.
Even small-market teams like Milwaukee and Tampa Bay have remained tied to Kimbrel, and anyone the Giants talk to about a trade could simply point to Kimbrel’s availability to drive down the Giants’ asking price.
Everyone expects the draft to kick the Kimbrel market into gear. Hopefully, we will gain some clarity over the next couple of weeks.
For now, it’s just another compelling storyline for San Francisco Giants fans to follow as they get ready for what promises to be a busy summer.