The Atlanta Braves recently discussed a Craig Kimbrel trade with the White Sox, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, before the Braves signed Kenley Jansen. That one-year, $16MM deal for Jansen is an exact match for the one-year and $16MM remaining on Kimbrel’s contract, which perhaps suggests that Atlanta’s pursuit of Kimbrel is no longer in the cards.
Even before last year’s playoffs were finished, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Kimbrel and the White Sox. Reports at that time stated that the club’s plan was to pick up Kimbrel’s $16MM option and then trade him in the winter. With Liam Hendriks already present as an elite closer, Kimbrel was seen as surplus to requirements. Prior to the lockout, the club further bolstered their bullpen with the signing of Kendall Graveman, seemingly only increasing the odds of a Kimbrel trade. During the lockout, MLBTR listed him as one of the players most likely to be dealt in the post-lockout period.
However, after ten days of post-lockout frenzy and with Opening Day just over two weeks away, Kimbrel is still on the roster. The club also added yet another hard-throwing reliever recently, signing Joe Kelly to a two-year, $17MM deal.
Although the clock is ticking, there are still reasons to think Kimbrel could eventually be moved. The White Sox are currently projected for a payroll of $194MM, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. That’s miles beyond the club’s record for an Opening Day number, which was last year’s $129MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Between Hendriks, Kimbrel, Graveman and Kelly, they have over $44MM devoted to four relievers this year. While they could just roll into the season trying to have a super bullpen, it still seems more likely that they look to subtract Kimbrel’s salary from the ledger. The Blue Jays were recently reported to have checked in on Kenley Jansen. With Jansen now signed to the Braves, perhaps the Jays and any unknown Jansen suitors could now pivot to a Kimbrel deal instead.