According to multiple reports, the Orioles are closing in on their first major acquisition this winter, as they are close to a deal with veteran reliever Craig Kimbrel. Joel Sherman of the New York Post and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic were first with the news.
Although Kimbrel is not the dominant, late-inning reliever he once was in Atlanta and Boston, this would be a solid move for the Orioles, as they attempt to fill the mountain-sized void left by All-Star closer Felix Bautista, who will miss the entire 2024 season with Tommy John surgery.
Kimbrel has always been an intimidating figure on the mound. The 35 year-old Huntsville, Alabama native is known for his intensity, which manifests in him dangling his right arm as he stares in for a sign before every pitch. Over 14 Major League seasons, Kimbrel has saved 417 games, good or eighth on MLB's all-time list. The imposing right-hander was stellar with the Atlanta Braves from 2010-2014, posting ERAs of 0.44, 2.10, 1.01, 1.21, and 1.61, respectively, while saving 186 games before being traded to the Padres before the 2015 season.
After a solid season in San Diego, where he registered a 2.58 ERA and saved 39 games, Kimbrel signed with the Red Sox as a free agent, where he put up his best career season in 2017. That year, he was worth 3.6 WAR, saved 35 games, and posted a miniscule 1.43 ERA.
A nine-time All-Star, Kimbrel has pitched for the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, and Phillies since leaving the Red Sox in 2019. While he has not been the dominant reliever he was during the first 9 seasons of his career, Kimbrel has remained solid, posting ERAs of 3.75 and 3.26 in his last two seasons, respectively. In 2023 with Philadelphia, Kimbrel averaged a superlative 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings and has averaged over one strikeout per inning in every season of his Major League career.
At the start of the off-season, the Orioles wisely tabbed adding a late-inning reliever as a priority. While there were a handful of options who were just as good, if not better, than Kimbrel (including lefty Josh Hader and right Jordan Hicks), the addition of the veteran, imposing right-hander to the Orioles' bullpen makes a lot of sense. He fills the gap left by Bautista, adds some playoff grit and experience, and while a contract has not yet been agreed upon, he likely will not take up significant room on the payroll for years to come.
With the imminent addition of Kimbrel, the Orioles can check late-inning reliever off their holiday shopping list, and can now turn their attention to bolstering their starting rotation. While Kimbrel may not be as dominant as he was from 2010-2018, the addition of Kimbrel arguably already places the Orioles' 2023 off-season ahead of their lackluster 2022 additions of Kyle Gibson, Adam Frazier, and Mychal Givens. Let's hope there is more to come.