4. Arizona Diamondbacks
An interesting team to watch in the potential Craig Kimbrel sweepstakes is the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite being nearly out of contention at the trade deadline, the Diamondbacks still made offers to both the Padres and Reds, for closers Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman respectively. This includes the supposed conversation between A.J. Preller and D’backs general manager Dave Stewart, in which Preller reportedly asked for Paul Goldschmidt in return for Craig Kimbrel.
The Diamondbacks certainly were serious in their interest in both Kimbrel and Chapman, and could be a dark horse candidate to acquire either one this offseason. For the D’backs their utmost priority should be improving their pitching staff, but that can be done via free agency. The Diamondbacks have the money to spend, and seemingly the will to spend it, and could be able to afford several free agent acquisitions and a trade of young talent to acquire Kimbrel to solidify a shaky bullpen. This seems an unlikelier scenario than those above giving the fact that the D’backs are in the same division as the Padres. With that being said it wouldn’t be wise to count them out of anything at this point.
5. Detroit Tigers
One team that more obviously placed themselves as sellers at the trade deadline that could be interested in Kimbrel is the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers traded away both Yoenis Cespedes and David Price at the trade deadline, getting a decent prospect haul in return to build for the immediate and long term future. It seems unlikely that the Tigers will be willing to enter into a rebuild with several aging players on their roster.
With this in mind, they may attempt to double down by acquiring a player of Craig Kimbrel’s caliber to fix what was one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball in 2015. The Tigers have a severely weakened farm system as it currently stands, although they may be willing to part with one or more of the prospects that they acquired at last year’s trade deadline to make this sort of trade happen. If the Tigers are serious about attempting to compete in 2016, this is a trade that they will certainly entertain.
6. Washington Nationals
At the trade deadline last year, the Nationals appeared to be the most likely landing spot for Kimbrel behind either the Yankees or the Astros. This was obviously before the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon. For this reason the Nationals have fallen down this list as a less likely trade partner for the Padres with regards to Craig Kimbrel. For the Nationals, first on their priority list is getting rid of Jonathan Papelbon.
As it currently stands, the Nationals will not likely make any sort of move at Kimbrel until after they have figured out what is going to be done with Papelbon. The options right now include keeping him on the team (unlikely), outright cutting him (slightly more likely) or attempting to trade him to a willing team at a discounted price (more likely). In a possible scenario, the Padres could agree to take on the contract of Papelbon, to offset the cost of Kimbrel, and in effect “buy” several talented prospects to offset the cost of taking on Papelbon. Definitely a scenario to keep an eye on.
7. Chicago Cubs
Another team that experienced an earlier than expected playoff elimination, not entirely due to bullpen issues, is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs, along with the Astros, Yankees, and Nationals, are one of the teams that had the most serious discussions with the Padres about not only Craig Kimbrel but several other players as well. The Cubs obviously could use a stronger arm in the backend of the bullpen, and the Padres could use one or several of the Cubs bright, young prospects.
These two teams probably make the best trade partners of any team on this list. The Padres covet a young shortstop and the Cubs have at least four that are either big league ready or right on the cusp. Any trade between these two teams would likely center around one of these shortstops, most likely Starlin Castro or Javier Baez, and could include further moving parts such as a member of the Padres pitching staff, Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross perhaps, or any other number of Cubs prospects. This trade seems less likely to happen given the high volume of possible moving parts but is still a trade that must be watched closely.
8. Atlanta Braves
This seems like a bit of a crazy idea but the Atlanta Braves could be in the market for the return of Craig Kimbrel. The Braves only parted with their homegrown closer as a means to extract themselves from the Melvin Upton contract. With that issue now resolved, the Braves could be willing to bring Kimbrel back home for the Braves potential contending team in 2017, when they open up their new ballpark.
Despite the interest on the Braves end, this is a trade that is extremely unlikely to actually happen. While the Braves do have the strong, young prospects the Padres want, it seems unlikely that they would be willing to part with any amount of talent to acquire Kimbrel this offseason, when contention is still at least a year away. This would be a more likely trade if the Padres choose to hang on to Kimbrel through 2016, and try to trade him away next offseason. For that reason, it is definitely a possibility, but an increasingly unlikely one.
While it is not a sure thing that Craig Kimbrel will even be available this offseason, if he is these are the eight teams that should express the most interest for his services. A pitcher of Kimbrel’s caliber is rare, and all these teams will be jumping at the chance to acquire him. If the Padres are smart they will take the chance to put him on the market and see who bites, and at what price.