NASHVILLE, Tennessee – During the first night of general manager meetings on November 7 in Scottsdale, Ariz., Orioles GM Mike Elias met with David Meter, the agent who represents veteran right-hander Craig Kimbrel. It didn’t take long for Elias to realize this.
Kimbrel, a free agent again this offseason, would be a perfect fit in Baltimore, becoming the O’s closer for the 2024 season.
“It was very clear that we wanted him and he wanted to join the Orioles team,” Elias said.
Less than a month later, Elias did it.
On Wednesday – the final day of the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort – the Orioles signed Kimbrel to a one-year deal that includes a club option for 2025. The right-hander will make $12 million in ’24, a source said. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand is worth $13 million (or a $1 million buyout) with a ’25 option.
Kimbrel is set to become the highest-paid Orioles player since Elias became general manager prior to the 2019 season. The mark was previously held by Kyle Gibson, who made $10 million in ’23. Kimbrel’s deal – which guarantees him at least $13 million – was the largest free-agent contract finalized by any MLB team during this year’s winter meetings.
Baltimore was in the market for a reliever with closing experience as Felix Bautista (2023 Mariano Rivera Award winner) is expected to miss the entire ’24 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. The O’s wanted a veteran replacement for the All-Star right-hander, and Kimbrel will get a chance to do that, as he is expected to be the team’s closer next season.
“He’s one of the best closers in baseball history right now,” Elias said. “He still has a lot left in the tank, and he had a really solid season last year, and we see a lot of things from a scouting perspective moving forward that make us make a pretty big bet that this guy really “It’s going to be a good season for us to do well.”
Kimbrel is a 14-year big league veteran who ranks eighth in AL/NL history with 417 career saves. He has been a Reliever of the Year award winner in both the American League and National League during his extraordinary career.
Although Kimbrel may not be as impressive as he was from 2010-14 – when he recorded a 1.43 ERA in 294 appearances with the Braves – he has still been solid in recent years. He is coming off a 2023 season in which he posted a 3.26 ERA and collected 23 saves in 71 appearances during his lone year with the Phillies.
“When he’s on, he’s a lockdown pitcher. He’s a guy who’s intimidating,” said Baltimore catcher James McCann, who lives near Nashville and stopped by the Winter Meetings on Wednesday. “Similar to Bautista, when he’s holding the ball, you know the game is over.”
Kimbrel was the NL Reliever of the Month in June and was tremendous in September, when he gave up only two earned runs in 12 innings. However, he was not as attractive after Philadelphia reached the NL Championship Series, during which he gave up four runs in three innings versus Arizona and was relegated to the closer’s role.
The Phillies signed Kimbrel to a one-year, $10 million deal last season. Previously, Kimbrel had a 3.75 ERA in 63 games for the Dodgers in 2022. He recorded a 2.26 ERA in 63 games split between the Cubs and White Sox in ’21.
Kimbrel has a 2.40 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 757 1/3 career innings split between the Braves, Padres, Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers and Phillies. He won the World Series with Boston in 2018, and he’ll look to achieve similar success with the O’s, who are coming off a 101-win season in which they won the AL East title.
“We have this really great team, great roster, that we’re missing our closer because of injuries,” Elias said. “We’ve got a guy who likes to take advantage of innings and close out games, and he also likes to win. And he saw a team that could use him.”
If the Orioles are able to get a reliable version of Kimbrel, their bullpen has the potential to be a force again in 2024. The unit also includes All-Star right-hander Yenier Cano as well as left-handers Danny Coulombe and Zionel Pérez. To use in high-leverage situations.
It’s possible that Baltimore doesn’t add to its bullpen mix. While acquiring a starting pitcher is now the clear top priority for the O’s, Elias wouldn’t rule out bringing in another impact reliever this winter.
“We’ll monitor opportunities in the bullpen, and if it’s a trade or a free-agent contract that starts to look attractive, there’s room for more,” Elias said. “But I would feel like this group stands out really well around the league now.”