Cubs Reportedly ‘Doing Background Work’ on Craig Kimbrel

In what should come as a surprise to no one, Ken Rosenthal reported in The Athletic ($) that the Cubs “are showing interest in” free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel. This is my shocked face. The Cubs are among several teams interested in bolstering their bullpen and Kimbrel’s price has come way down from the $100 million he was reportedly seeking this past winter.

Another major factor in his continued unemployment is the draft-pick compensation tied to him as the result of the Red Sox extending him a qualifying offer. But with the draft starting June 3, that pick-forfeiture penalty expires at 12:01am ET on June 3. Such trifles shouldn’t really matter much for teams like the Cubs picking late in the round, yet here we are.

The other factor driving the Cubs’ interest, as Rosenthal reports, is the additional financial wiggle room they gain from Ben Zobrist’s absence due to divorce proceedings. They are moving forward for now as though the 38-year-old will not return this season, which could mean having as much as $10 million in extra payroll. That’s something we’ve previously discussed here at Cubs Insider and that Bleacher Nation has likewise looked at.

According to Rosenthal, “the Cubs are doing background work on Kimbrel and trying to figure out whether such a move would be financially viable.” He also wrote that rival execs believe the Cubs do indeed have more to spend, though whether that’s a function of Zobrist’s money or just their annual flex fund isn’t clear. If it’s both, the Cubs could easily afford Kimbrel for the remainder of the season or even on a three-year deal.

After backing down from his initial ask, reports have the bearded righty seeking a three-year deal worth $39-52 million. With Brandon Morrow in the final guaranteed year of his contract and still just playing catch on flat ground, the Cubs could easily absorb $13-18 million in AAV over the next few seasons.

And Kimbrel might not even be the Cubs’ only target, since they’ve been actively scouting relievers lately. Among potential targets are the Giants’ Will Smith, Washington’s Sean Doolittle, and even Álex Colomé of the White Sox. Getting one high-leverage reliever would solidify their playoff odds, getting two would make them legit World Series contenders.

Several teams are going to be after Kimbrel, so it’s entirely possible he ends up somewhere other than Chicago. But it’d be something of a surprise if he’s not donning a new jersey at a celebratory press conference by the end of next week.

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