At the outset of the offseason, Craig Kimbrel reportedly wanted the biggest contract ever given to a relief pitcher: a six-year deal worth more than $100 million, multiple team executives told The Athletic's Jayson Stark.
It wasn't unreasonable.
Kimbrel is well on his way to unseating Mariano Rivera as the game's most accomplished closer, and the hard-throwing right-hander waltzed into free agency on the heels of another dominant season. Last year, en route to his seventh career All-Star appearance, Kimbrel put up a 2.74 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP for the Boston Red Sox, recording 42 saves while managing the sixth-highest strikeout rate (38.9 percent) among qualified relievers. He then helped Boston secure a World Series with a shaky but still effective postseason.
Yes, he hit the open market shortly after turning 30, a couple years older than Aroldis Chapman was in 2016 when he landed a record-breaking five-year, $86-million contract from the New York Yankees. But Kimbrel's largely unrivalled brilliance, coupled with inflation and MLB's growing revenues, made him a viable candidate to become the highest-paid reliever ever.
Three months later, the vaunted closer remains unemployed, and his chances of securing a nine-figure deal look bleak.
With Opening Day just two weeks away, Kimbrel is probably screwed, and will likely be stuck with a below-market deal because of baseball's depressed competitive landscape - a function of a labour contract that insufficiently incentivizes winning. He could end up as the most prominent victim of the ongoing free-agency crisis.