Phillies will reportedly sign Craig Kimbrel

Just when it seemed like the Phillies’ heavy lifting for the offseason was done, they struck one more big deal just before Christmas.

They inked a one-year, $10 million deal with free-agent Relief Craig Kimbrel ESPN. The deal was first reported by The Athletic. It’s the same contract the Phillies signed Corey Knebel for last offseason.

Kimbrel was the top arm left in a thinning class of free-agent removers. He’s coming off an up-and-down season with the Dodgers in which he saved 22 games with a 3.75 ERA but lost his job late in the year and has fewer at-bats with a lower strikeout rate than ever in his big league missed career.

Kimbrel has alternated dominant seasons with underperforming seasons every year since 2018. The common thread through his bad years was a lack of control. His four worst years — 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2022 — were the four seasons he struggled with the most restrictive walks.

But when he’s on, he’s proven to be one of baseball’s finest and most overwhelming assists. He is a potential future Hall of Famer with 394 career saves, a 2.31 ERA, .99 WHIP and 410 more strikeouts than innings. He’s also appeared in 23 playoff games with four different teams – the Braves, Red Sox, Cubs and White Sox. He won a ring with the Red Sox in 2018 and saved six games during their playoff run.

This is the second time Dave Dombrowski has landed Kimbrel. He was the Red Sox’s president of baseball operations when they traded four prospects, including Manuel Margot, to San Diego for Kimbrel in November 2015, just three months after he was hired. Dombrowski, of course, was in charge as Boston won it all in 2018 before being sacked the following September.

The Phillies needed another high-leverage bullpen arm and got one with Kimbrel. Now they hope they get the good Kimbrel. He joins Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado on the back end of the bullpen. Matt Strahm, Connor Brogdon and Andrew Bellatti are also in line for high profile work.

Other bullpen candidates for opening day include Sam Coonrod, Nick Nelson and prospects Andrew Baker and Francisco Morales. The Phillies could also have Bailey Falter and/or Cristopher Sanchez swingman.

The big question will be who will close for the Phillies. Dominguez has done well in the role in 2022, but Kimbrel could end up getting the first chance because he’s spent 11½ of the last 12 seasons as a closer and the half season he’s spent as a setup with the White Sox, went very badly. There’s a lot to sort out in the months before Rob Thomson has to make his first late bullpen decisions in a regular-season game.

The Phils signed left-hander Strahm to a two-year, $15 million contract earlier this offseason. They signed Trea Turner to play shortstop, Taijuan Walker as a mid-rotation starter, and Strahm and Kimbrel to make key outs late in the games. There’s no more glaring hole in this roster, but teams could always use more pitching depth, and we could see the Phils make some minor moves in the new year.

From a luxury tax perspective, the Kimbrel deal will take the Phillies to about $251 million, the largest payroll in team history. The first luxury tax threshold in 2023 is $233 million, and the Phils would pay a 30% tax on every dollar spent over $233 million, though teams’ tax penalties aren’t calculated until the end of the season.

Only the Mets ($392 million) and Yankees ($291 million) have higher estimated payrolls than the Phillies during the vacation.

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