SF Giants: Building a Craig Kimbrel trade with the Chicago Cubs

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 26: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Chicago White Sox on September 26, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 26: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Chicago White Sox on September 26, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /
SF Giants, Craig Kimbrel
PHOENIX, ARIZONA – JULY 16: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a ninth-inning pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 16, 2021. Kimbrel could be a top trade target of the SF Giants leading up to the MLB trade deadline. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

The SF Giants have had their fair share of crushing defeats in 2021. While the Giants became the first team in MLB to reach the 60-victory mark on Wednesday, many fans believe the team’s record should be at least a few games better if not for some bullpen struggles in high-leverage situations. With the MLB trade deadline on the horizon, San Francisco’s president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, should have plenty of opportunities to upgrade the pitching staff.

The SF Giants bullpen has struggled at times in 2021

Relievers Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee have each emerged as valuable high-leverage arms, alternating between eighth and ninth-inning duties based on matchups. However, neither have extensive closing experience at the big-league level, and each have their own weakness. McGee has struggled when asked to pitch a lot in short periods of time, while Rogers has struck out less than 14% of the batters he’s faced, making him especially prone to allowing a run to score in extra innings when each team receives a free runner on second base.

If the Giants could add a premium closer at the deadline, pushing McGee and Rogers to the seventh and eighth innings, San Francisco could have one of the most dominant bullpens in the league. With the Dodgers and Padres hoping to close the gap in the National League West, making it even harder for teams to mount comebacks late in games could be a fantastic way to continue playing like the best team in MLB.

While plenty of relievers will be on the trade block over the next couple of weeks, only a few could justifiably displace McGee and Rogers from the closer spot. The Giants front office is unlikely to part with some of their best prospects to bolster their bullpen, but they could still make a deal happen for some of the league’s most powerful arms.

SF Giants trade target: Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel has already written his name in MLB history as one of the best relief pitchers of all time. However, after a pair of down seasons, Kimbrel has rekindled the dominance of his youth at 33. This summer, Kimbrel was selected to his eighth All-Star team. He has recorded 22 saves in 37 appearances, completing 35.1 innings, recording 61 strikeouts, 12 walks, and a 0.51 ERA (1.10 FIP) in 2021.

The Cubs are only two games below .500 and could play their way into postseason contention with a hot August or September. Still, team ownership has recently prioritized cutting payroll, leading them to sell. Kimbrel is easily the best potential reliever on the move but is also making $16 million in 2021 with a $16 million vesting option for 2022.

The Giants easily have the payroll flexibility to add someone like Kimbrel. Plus, given the front office’s penchant for hoarding prospects, they might want to prioritize higher-paid players to lessen the pressure to include the most notable young players in the organization. Given the circumstances in Chicago, that could be exactly the case with Kimbrel.

SF Giants: Building a deal for Chicago Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel

Unlike most sellers, the Cubs do hope to return to contention soon. In fact, a huge motivator for Chicago’s recent sell-a-thon is giving the front office enough payroll flexibility within ownership constraints to re-sign star players, like Kris Bryant and Javier Báez, who are both free agents at the end of the season. Hoping to make a run at an NL Central crown in 2022 with Bryant and Báez, San Francisco might be able to entice them with a package centered around upper minor league depth pieces, like Mauricio Dubón and Camilo Doval.

Dubón looked like a part of the Giants core entering the season but struggled at the plate while other players took advantage of their opportunities and ultimately forced him to be demoted to Triple-A. Nevertheless, Dubón might be one of the most versatile defensive players in professional baseball, grading as one of the best defensive center fielders in MLB alongside above-average work at shortstop and second base. The Cubs, by the way, face long-term questions at all three of those positions.

Offensively, Dubón has struggled with inconsistencies. Never a big power hitter, Dubón has posted a soft .234/.272/.373 triple-slash in 169 plate appearances. Yet, even in his ugly 2021 season, Dubón hit a passable .236/.288/.418 with an uncommonly low .227 BABIP. Dubón is a career .279/.331./465 hitter with a 17.1% strikeout rate against lefties. In an outfield that includes left-handed hitters Ian Happ and Jason Heyward, Dubón should at the very least have a future as a platoon piece on the bench in Chicago.

Doval had a strong start to the season in the Giants bullpen, but having never played above High-A before 2021, Doval’s inconsistent control eventually forced him to be sent back to the minor leagues. He made 13 appearances and struck out 13 across 10.2 innings of work. He issued six walks, surrendered four home runs, and recorded a 7.59 ERA.

Doval works from a side-winder motion that is incredibly difficult for opposing batters, especially right-handed hitters, to pick up. His fastball has topped 100 mph but generally sits around 97. His slider still may be his best pitch, although also his most inconsistent, flashing devastating potential. Nobody would be shocked if Doval were one of the best closers in MLB in 2023. Granted, no one would be surprised if he’s still floundering at Triple-A either.

Neither Doval nor Dubón are among the most valuable minor leaguers in the organization, but a package centered around them would help offer the Cubs a package that includes two players who have appeared at the big-league level. Doval has struggled in the hitter-friendly Triple-A West League, recording a 5.31 ERA in 20.1 innings pitched, but has continued missing bats, striking out 25. Dubón, on the other hand, has been exceptional in Sacramento, hitting .382/.456/.426.

Kai-Wei Teng entered the season ranked among the organization’s 20 best prospects as a big right-hander with above-average command and a good feel for a strong four-pitch mix. Teng’s stock seemed headed up at the start of the season when he was invited to big league camp and flashed mid-90s velocity. However, since he was suspended ten games for the use of foreign substances, he’s struggled to throw strikes and had his High-A season derailed. The 22-year old has struck out 69 hitters across 47.1 innings pitched in 12 starts, but he’s also issued 32 walks and recorded a 6.27 ERA.

Still, Teng could easily be replaced by another lower-level Giants prospect that piqued the Cubs’ interest. Last year’s 2nd compensatory round selection Nick Swiney could be a viable alternative. If the market for Kimbrel heats up even more, or Chicago offers to cover some of Kimbrel’s contract, a more premium starting pitching prospect, like Sean Hjelle, could easily replace Teng in this proposal.

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The SF Giants could easily look to add an elite reliever before the MLB trade deadline on July 31st. If they do, they could benefit from the Chicago Cubs desire to save money and build a contender soon to work out a deal for dominant closer Craig Kimbrel.