Cubs free agent acquisition Craig Kimbrel is scheduled to join the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Since signing with his new club, Kimbrel had been working at the Cubs’ complex in Arizona, but he will now travel to Sacramento for his first game action, which is slated for Tuesday, adds Jordan Bastian of MLB.com.
The 31-year-old Kimbrel, fresh off signing a three-year, $43M contract, has yet to appear in a professional game this season, but that will change this week, with the electric closer set to get some minor league seasoning before he appears out of a major league bullpen. While it doesn’t appear that Kimbrel will be in Chicago by the June 20 mark that was tentatively suggested by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, one would imagine that Kimbrel should be ready for big league competition before too long.
And the reinforcements couldn’t come too early for the Cubs, who have fielded a bullpen that, as a whole, has graded out as roughly average thus far. While the Cubs’ most pressing need might be left-handed relievers, Kimbrel will no doubt strengthen a unit that features just two players sporting a FIP below 4.00. As a team, the Cubs have blown 12 saves in 2019, and while saves are of course a flawed metric, the number is nonetheless indicative of the current unit’s lack of reliability.
On the flip side, for his career, Kimbrel’s FIP sits at an outlandish 1.96, placing him in the company of some of the game’s all-time great relief pitchers. And while last season gave way to some red flags — especially in the postseason — any bullpen would benefit from adding an arm like Kimbrel’s. Currently sitting in first place in the NL Central, the 39-31 Cubs will welcome the stability, depth and experience that Kimbrel should provide.
As of now, reports that Kimbrel’s stuff has looked as good as ever in workouts are the only basis upon which to evaluate Kimbrel’s readiness, but the coming days will give scouts and fans alike their first look at his dynamic stuff since last October. Needless to say, the intensity of game action — even in the minor leagues — is a far cry from the private showcases that Kimbrel conducted during his free agency. Furthermore, a nearly eight-month hiatus from affiliated games will surely require some time to readjust to the grind of a major league season. With that in mind, though, the Cubs can look forward to the impending addition of an elite bullpen arm as the race for playoff position intensifies.