NASHVILLE – The Orioles might leave the Winter Meetings later today without a signed contract from a free agent, an agreement with a trade partner or a selection in the Rule 5 draft. However, the quest for a closer appears to be reaching its conclusion.
Multiple reports have the Orioles nearing an agreement with veteran Craig Kimbrel on a contract for the 2024 season. An industry source confirmed that discussions intensified and a deal could get done.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias arrived in Nashville with pitching as his main priority. He’s in the market for a starter and an “anchor,” as he worded it, for the back end of the bullpen.
Félix Bautista will miss next season while recovering from ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, leaving a huge void that Kimbrel can at least partially fill.
Kimbrel, who turns 36 in May, ranks eighth on the all-time saves list with 417 in 14 seasons. As the New York Post reported last night, the Orioles have been “seriously engaged” with Kimbrel, the flirtation beginning prior to the meetings.
He already was linked to them, along with Robert Stephenson, Jordan Hicks and Aroldis Chapman. They also made contact with Old Mill High graduate Josh Hader, which seems more like due diligence.
Kimbrel posted a 3.26 ERA, 1.043 WHIP, and .611 OPS against, registered 23 saves and averaged 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings this year with the Phillies, and he made his ninth All-Star team. He was rocked in the Championship Series, allowing four runs and five hits and walking four batters in three innings.
Theories that Kimbrel ran out of gas late in the season are countered by his 1.50 ERA and .186 opponents’ average in 12 appearances in September.
Orioles bench coach Fredi González managed Kimbrel with the Braves from 2011-14. The right-hander was voted National League Rookie of the Year in 2011 after posting a 2.10 ERA with 46 saves in 79 games and striking out 127 batters in 77 innings.
Kimbrel also has pitched for the Padres, Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox and Dodgers. He’s won awards as baseball’s top reliever in both leagues.
Signing Kimbrel and making him the primary closer would allow the Orioles to keep Yennier Cano in a setup role on most nights. They also have left-handers Cionel Pérez and Danny Coulombe returning and are deciding on roles for Tyler Wells and DL Hall.
Dillon Tate is expected to be full-go in spring training after missing the 2023 season with forearm and elbow injuries. He's throwing off a mound.