Craig Kimbrel injury adds to Orioles bullpen concerns, offseason decision making

Craig Kimbrel left his appearance on Sunday and now Baltimore's entire offseason plan is being called into question.
Baltimore Orioles v Los Angeles Angels
Baltimore Orioles v Los Angeles Angels / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

When the Baltimore Orioles lost Felix Bautista to multiple elbow surgeries, it was a very obvious blow to the Orioles' bullpen. Whenever any team loses a guy that is essentially a mortal lock to come up big and miss bats in the highest leverage situations, they are going to feel that. Going into the offseason, replacing Bautista (or at least trying to) was among Baltimore's top priorities as a result.

The solution that the Orioles landed on was to sign Craig Kimbrel to a one-year deal with an option for 2025. Kimbrel pitched reasonably well last year with the Phillies, with a 3.26 ERA in 71 appearances, but he hasn't been the guy he used to be in a long time. He was also 35 years old and coming off a high-profile postseason failure, which made the move a pretty risky one, especially without further bullpen fortification.

Sadly, those fears became reality over the weekend, as Kimbrel was forced to exit Sunday's game against Oakland with an injury (and, yes, following a blown save). Just like that, Baltimore's offseason plan has been called into question.

Craig Kimbrel leaves game with injury, potentially throws Orioles' bullpen plans out the window

It has been obvious for most of the 2024 season that Kimbrel hasn't been quite right. In his 13 appearances this season, Kimbrel has posted a very reasonable 3.18 ERA, and he has still been striking out batters, which is great. However, Kimbrel's outings have often been adventures, as his walk rate has jumped and the quality of contact against him has been downright spooky bad.

As of this moment, all that is really known is that the team is calling the injury "back tightness," but we probably won't know the severity for a little bit. At Kimbrel's age, it could range from "he slept wrong" to a more serious issue that could require a long stint on the IL. Fans will just have to hold their breaths and hope that a little bit of rest will be all he needs and that he will come back even stronger.

What is fair to question right now, though, was whether the Orioles correctly addressed their bullpen this past offseason. Paying Josh Hader almost nine figures always felt like a pipe dream, as fun a story as his return to the system that raised him would have been, but Baltimore did nothing to add more bullpen depth beyond signing Kimbrel (except a couple of low-impact waiver claims). There were a lot of quality relievers that got signed last offseason for not a lot of money, and sitting that market out for the most part looks like it could prove to costly.

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