O's get their man for the bullpen at the Winter Meetings

NASHVILLE – It was a 2023 Winter Meetings where the Orioles did not come home with a Rule 5 draft pick but did head home with a new closer for the 2024 season.

Right-hander Craig Kimbrel, 35, agreed to terms with the Orioles on Wednesday. It was reported via several outlets to be a one-year deal worth $12 million with a team option at $13 million for 2025 that includes a $1 million buyout. The Orioles officially announced the signing in the afternoon yesterday.

The team checked a big box with this move, added to the back-end of their bullpen and now they can move on to the continued pursuit of a starting pitcher to join the top half of their rotation. If they check that box, that would be a nice 1-2 punch to the Baltimore offseason. A team that won 101 games last year, is close to set to take on the competition and try and repeat their AL East title.

Kimbrel led the National League in saves four straight years with Atlanta from 2011 through 2014. He is a nine-time All-Star that ranks eighth on the all-time saves list with 417. He is just three saves shy of Kenley Jansen, five behind Billy Wagner and seven back of John Franco.

This deal gives the O’s added late-game bullpen depth and a proven closer who converted his first 16 saves chances in 2023. Opponent batters hit .181/.273/.337/.611 off him. He got out both left (.608 OPS against) and right-handed hitters (.612).

“He is one of the best closers in baseball history at this point,” O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Wednesday in Nashville. “He still has a lot in the tank, and he had a really solid season last year. And we see a lot of things from a scouting perspective going forward that has us placing a pretty big bet that this guy is going to have a really good season for us.

“We’ve got this really great team, great roster, that is missing its closer because of injury. We’ve got a guy that loves pitching leverage innings and closing out games. He loves winning. He saw a team that could use him.

"It was pretty clear that we wanted him, and he wanted to join this Orioles team,” Elias added saying that getting the club option was an important feature of the deal for the Orioles.

Kimbrel struggled early last year and then got it going. Over his first 14 games he went 1-1 with an 8.25 ERA and .922 OPS against. And then he went 7-5, with 20 saves, a 2.21 ERA, .162 average against and .538 OPS over his final 57 games beginning May 9.

“It’s nice to go home with one of our big wish-list items under the tree,” Elias said.

Kimbrel was on the NL All-Star team in July, earning his ninth career selection and recorded the save for the NL in the 3-2 win on July 11 at Seattle. The win snapped a nine-game losing streak for the National League.

Kimbrel was named NL Reliever of the Month for June when he went 2-0 with five saves in five chances with a 0.69 ERA in 13 games. It was his fifth career Reliever of the Month honor.

McCann visits the WM: O’s backup catcher James McCann was a visitor with his agent to the Winter Meetings on Wednesday morning. He was a guest on MLB Network and later was interviewed by the Baltimore media here.

McCann said the playoff loss to Texas still hurts, but that you have to move on at some point and right now his eyes are on the 2024 season. After one year as an Oriole, he’s bullish on the team’s future.

“It’s really an exciting time to be a Baltimore Oriole. What next year and even the next years could hold,” he said.

Interviewed before the O’s deal with Kimbrel was official, McCann said he was ready to chase another playoff spot even if the club signed no one.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “Obviously there are a few pieces that we lost that will be replaced either internally or externally. But the main core is there. If guys stay healthy, we’ll have another good season. That’s why it’s an exciting time in Baltimore. You could literally do nothing, and you have quality players in place.”

McCann could be a teammate of 20-year-old infielder Jackson Holliday on Opening Day. Besides adding Kimbrel, the other big development here was when Elias noted that Holliday has a great shot to make the OD roster for next year.

McCann got to see the kid play last spring.

“For him, one of the advantages is, he grew up in a major league clubhouse being around his dad. He looks like he is 12 in the face, and he acts like a 40-year-old veteran. He knows exactly how to go about his business. He handles the clubhouse like a pro. That has to be because of how he came up. So, I think if he is on the Opening Day roster, he will fit right in. He’s a hard worker and he understands major league baseball because he has been around it his whole life,” he said.

Eve Rosenbaum, Orioles assistant general manager, was a guest yesterday on “MASN All Access” and talked about what makes Holliday so special.

“He knows baseball through and through, obviously with his family, the bloodlines. He knows what to expect in the major leagues. I think that catches a lot of players by surprise. Just even going from high school ball to college ball to the minors and the majors.

"Each time its physically more demanding and mentally more demanding. The PR and media demands are higher, and it can catch a lot of people by surprise and take guys time to adapt. With someone like Jackson, because of his upbringing, we think he'll have an easier transition and more time to focus on his statistics and his on-field play."


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