Close on a closer: O's search for bullpen help may be nearing the end (updated)

NASHVILLE – The Orioles' search for a back-end-of-the-game reliever and a starting pitcher may now be down to just a search for a starter. The club is, according to numerous reports, closing in on a deal with free-agent right-hander Craig Kimbrel, a pitcher who is a nine-time All-Star with 417 career saves.

Even at 35, Kimbrel could be impactful for the Orioles in the later innings and could wind up as the 2024 closer with all that experience saving games on his resume.

For the 2023 Philadelphia Phillies, he went 8-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.045 WHIP in 71 games covering 69 innings. He recorded a 3.7 walk rate and 12.3 strikeout rate. He allowed just 44 hits over 69 innings for an average of 5.7 hits allowed per nine innings.

Kimbrel pitched three scoreless innings in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but yielded four runs over three innings when the Phillies lost the National League Championship Series to Arizona, and he took two losses in that series.

Opponent batters hit just .181/.273/.337/.611 off Kimbrel, who recorded 23 saves for the Phils with a save percentage of 82.1, which was a bit under the percentage of O’s closer Félix Bautista at 84.6. Bautista will miss the entire 2024 season after Tommy John surgery, so Kimbrel’s addition, when and if it becomes official, would deepen the Baltimore bullpen and allow Yennier Cano to move back into a setup role. The O’s would also have the likes of Danny Coulombe, Cionel Pérez and Dillon Tate for late-game innings. Pending their roles, Tyler Wells and DL Hall, among others, could also pitch significant bullpen innings.

Kimbrel led the National League in saves every year with Atlanta from 2011 through 2014, saving, in order, 46, 42, 50 and 47 games. He has also pitched for San Diego, Boston, the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Phillies.

The 2023 season saw him post 20 or more saves for the 11th time (2011-18; 2021-23). His 11 seasons saving 20 or more are tied for fifth-most all-time with Kenley Jansen, John Franco and Jeff Reardon, and trail Mariano Rivera (16), Trevor Hoffman (15), Lee Smith (13) and Billy Wagner (12).

He became the eighth pitcher in major league history to reach 400 career saves, on May 26 at Atlanta. His 400th career save came in his 730th career game, making him the third-fastest to achieve the feat behind Hall of Famers Hoffman (706 games) and Rivera (697 games).

Kimbrel may not be the closer he once was, but among Statcast numbers this year, he rated in the 97th percentile in strikeout rate (33.8 percent), 96th percentile in extra-base hits allowed (.190) and the 90th percentile in whiff percentage (33.0) among NL relievers.

Bautista saved 33 games and posted a 1.48 ERA in 2023. Should the O's add the right-hander Kimbrel, they will have someone with closer experience to bridge the gap until Bautista's expected return to the club for the 2025 season.  

Update: Several national writers are reporting the Orioles deal with Kimbrel is done. Joel Sherman of MLB Network and the New York Post reported Kimbrel will get $12 million this season with a club option at $13 million for 2025 that includes a $1 million buyout. That makes Kimbrel's guarantee $13 million for one season. 

Updated again: The Orioles have now announced the deal and it is official. They announced a one-year contract for 2024 with a club option for 2025. There are now 37 players on the 40-man roster. 

Boras talks about conversations with Elias regardi...
Orioles closing in on Kimbrel

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