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Craig Kimbrel Is Open To Signing An Extension With The Red Sox, But What Are The Odds That One Actually Gets Done?

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox

After the 2018 season, the Red Sox could be losing some familiar faces. Hanley Ramirez has an option that won’t get picked up, and the Red Sox will likely do everything they can to prevent it from vesting. Drew Pomeranz will be a free agent, Joe Kelly will be a free agent, and if an extension isn’t agreed upon, Craig Kimbrel will also become a free agent.

The bad news is, he’s going to cost a shitload of money given the way that elite reliever contracts have been trending in recent years. Wade Davis just got a three-year, $52 million deal from the Rockies last month, which is the highest average annual value ever given to a relief pitcher. Aroldis Chapman signed with the Yankees for five years, $86 million last offseason, the most lucrative contract ever given to a relief pitcher in terms of total dollars. The good news is, Kimbrel is at least interested in forgoing free agency to stay in Boston if the price is right.

Kimbrel said he’d be open to extension talks with the Red Sox, but indicated there haven’t been any yet.

“If there’s talks, fine, if they don’t, right now, it’s really not anything I’m thinking about,” he said. “Right now, I’m just worried about this next season.”

That’s a fair answer. It’s very common for impending free agents to dodge questions about extension talks with the “I’m just focused on the season” line, but Kimbrel at least acknowledged that he’s open to signing an extension to stay in Boston. Like I said, though, it’s going to cost you.

The early speculation had been that Kimbrel would become the first reliever ever to get a $100 million contract, but that seems unlikely now since teams apparently don’t sign free agents anymore. And if you’re thinking hometown discount here, I’d imagine that a player who’s only been in Boston for two years, going on three, and wasn’t drafted by the team has zero inclination to take a hometown discount. I don’t blame him, either. He’s earned every penny he’s about to get.

For nearly a decade, Kimbrel has been in the conversation for the best closer in baseball. Since his first full season in 2011, out of the 78 relievers who have made at least 300 appearances, Kimbrel is first in saves by a wide margin (290 saves to runner-up Kenley Jansen’s 226), first in strikeouts (732), second in ERA (1.86) and K/9 (14.65), and third in WHIP (0.90).

While I’m sure Kimbrel’s camp will bring the whole career package to the table in any negotiation talks, the more recent sample is just as impressive, if not more. There have been 120 relievers who have made at least 100 appearances over the last two seasons, or since Kimbrel got to Boston, and he leads all of them in K/9 (15.42) and has the third best WHIP (0.86).

As recently as last year, Kimbrel had a flat out ridiculous 0.68 WHIP, which led the majors. Get this — he faced 254 batters in 2017 and struck out 126 of them, or 49.6% of the batters he faced. Essentially, one out of every two batters who came to the plate against Kimbrel in 2017 struck out. Kimbrel also threw 522 fastballs that registered at 98 MPH or faster. Only the aforementioned Chapman threw more (607).

Now, do I think an extension will actually get done before Kimbrel reaches free agency? I don’t. I think there are many different variables in play as to why it won’t get done. First being that the whole JD Martinez pursuit has halted essentially every other thing that the Red Sox could’ve hoped to accomplish this winter. They’ve been stuck at the first thing at the top of their to-do list since their season ended almost four months ago.

Second, I think that if Boston were to focus on any extension talks right now, it’d be for Mookie Betts or even Chris Sale. Rightfully so, I suppose. Not saying that Kimbrel isn’t an important part of this team — he is — but with Mookie, you’re talking about a perennial MVP candidate, and with Sale, you’re talking about a perennial Cy Young candidate. Understandably so, those two would take priority in the extension candidate rankings.

Third, you’d have to realize that if the Red Sox extended one or both of Sale or Mookie, that’s going to cost a LOT of money. Yeah, Sale signed a team-friendly deal with the White Sox, but like Kimbrel, he doesn’t owe that same loyalty to the Red Sox. If you put yourself in Dave Dombrowski’s shoes, you know that Mookie and Sale extensions come first, if at all, and I can also see Dombrowski trying to justify not getting a deal done with Kimbrel by saying that the Red Sox have Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg as potential replacements. I see the logic there, but they’re both lightyears away from being as good as Kimbrel, like most others are.

Like I said, I don’t think that an extension gets done with Kimbrel, but I’d be extremely disappointed if the Red Sox didn’t even try. See what his number is, at least. I think most Red Sox fans would understand if he threw out a number that’s at or close to $100 million, and the team then decided to pursue other options for 2019 and beyond.