When A.J. Preller completed the blockbuster trade for Craig Kimbrel and tag-along Melvin Upton Jr.a mere hours before the start of the 2015 season, many questioned the San Diego Padres general manager’s sanity. The trade seemed unnecessary at face value.
The Padres not only took on a large amount in additional salary but also gave up several decent prospects on top of the salary. In hindsight the trade looks decent, given Kimbrel’s strong performance and Upton’s resurgence, but the Padres gave up too much, in both prospects and in salary cap space, in order to upgrade the closer on a losing team.
With 2015 firmly in the Padres rearview mirror, the time is now to decide what to do in order to put the best possible team on the field come opening day 2016. That all starts with biting the bullet and trading Craig Kimbrel. The Padres really have no need for a pitcher of his caliber, and a salary of his caliber, on a team that is more likely competing for .500 than competing for a playoff spot as currently constituted. The Padres dangled Kimbrel as trade bait during last year’s trade deadline and should do the same come the winter meetings. Expect no shortage of splashes by Preller, starting with Kimbrel.
If a pitcher of Craig Kimbrel’s caliber is made available, there will be no shortage of potential suitors lining up at the chance to upgrade at the back end of the bullpen. In addition to the teams that were interested during the 2015 season, there are a few other teams that could test their hand come this offseason. The eight most likely landing spots for Craig Kimbrel are detailed below.
1. New York Yankees
First on the list of possible suitors for Craig Kimbrel has to be the New York Yankees. Of all the teams who expressed interest in the closer during the lead up to the 2015 trade deadline, the Yankees seemed to have gotten the closest to actually pulling off the deal. According to several reports, Brian Cashman and the Yankees were willing to part with top shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo and take on the contract of Jedd Gyorko to acquire Craig Kimbrel. If the reports are to be believed, A.J. Preller balked at the offer and decided to keep Kimbrel at least for the time being.
Despite one of the strongest back ends of the bullpen in all of baseball, the Yankees would still seemingly be interested in acquiring Kimbrel if the price is right. If the Padres and A.J. Preller are wise, they will revisit the talks involving Jorge Mateo and Jedd Gyorko, perhaps with the Yankees including more trade pieces to make a deal more logical. For the Padres the chance to unload two large contracts and restock the farm system may be too much to pass up.
2. Houston Astros
Behind the Yankees, the Astros also reportedly got very close to a deal with the Padres for Craig Kimbrel. A recent report came out that said the Padres and Astros were in advanced talks at the trade deadline for Kimbrel. Reportedly a package of pitchers- Francis Martes, Josh Hader and Joe Musgrove- going from the Houston Astros to the San Diego Padres would have been enough to get the deal done, although the Astros deemed this price too high at the time.
In hindsight, with the Astros bullpen implosion costing them their first round series against the Kansas City Royals, the Astros probably should have jumped at the chance to acquire one of the top two or three relief pitchers in all of baseball. While this trade was deemed too much at the time for the Astros, it, or something similar to it, may be revised this offseason if the Padres do choose to once again use Craig Kimbrel as trade bait. For a young team with a farm system oozing with talent, the Padres may have a perfect trade partner.
3. Texas Rangers
Another team who earned themselves an early exit in the first round of the playoffs due to a lack of bullpen depth and success, the Texas Rangers, may also be interested in Craig Kimbrel should he become available this offseason. For the Rangers, Kimbrel may be the piece the bullpen needs to get the Rangers back to the playoffs in 2016. Similarly to the Houston Astros, the Rangers have a strong farm system and could be a good trade partner for the Padres, who are in desperate need of a restocking of their farm system.
While the Rangers would seemingly be unwilling to part with their more upper echelon prospects in Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara, some combination of lesser prospects could be enough to cause the Padres to jump at the opportunity. While the Yankees and Astros already have a head start given the trade deadline talks, the Rangers have an advantage due to A.J. Preller’s familiarness with both general manager Jon Daniels as well as the Rangers farm system. This relationship could pay off for both men and lead to some sort of deal.
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