With Vizcaino shelved, is it time for the Braves to sign Kimbrel?

The Atlanta Braves season took a hit when the team announced that closer Arodys Vizcaino would miss the remainder of the 2019 season while he recovers from shoulder surgery. The surgery that was performed on April 17 was required to clean out Vizcaino’s labrum and remove scar tissue from his shoulder joint. 

On the same day as Vizcaino’s injury announcement, as if on cue, the Braves bullpen imploded in a 9-6 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is raising questions about whether the team would make an effort to re-sign former Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel.

“I think it goes to say that we’re going to do all we can [to improve the bullpen] both internally and externally” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. However, that comment was not the declarative statement of intent that Braves fans were hoping for. 

Both sides seem to have interest. The stumbling block appears to be the length of the contract. Kimbrel is looking for a multi-year deal. If the Braves engage in discussions with Kimbrel (who is the franchise leader in saves) they would be looking to rent Kimbrel for the rest of the 2019 season which would take up the approximately $15-20 million they have left to spend before hitting the luxury tax threshold. 

Even if Kimbrel were to agree to a one-year deal (and there are reports that other teams are interested in a long-term deal), the Braves have a financial incentive to wait until after the MLB Draft which will be held June 3-5. Signing Kimbrel prior to the draft would cost the Braves their third-round pick (60thoverall) and the loss of over $1 million in bonus pool money attached to that pick. 

The Braves play in what looks to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. With the exception of the Miami Marlins, every team can make a case for competing for the division title. The good news for the Braves is that the Nationals and the Phillies are also having early season bullpen problems. Of those two clubs, the Phillies would be the biggest threat to move on Kimbrel. 

The Braves have already shown a willingness to plan for the future with the signings of outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and second baseman Ozzie Albies to long-term extensions. They also are reported to have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they may feel their window will remain open for awhile. On the other hand, you can’t win in October if you don’t get to October. Despite his postseason struggles, Kimbrel has been one of the most effective regular season closers for the past several years.