The Cubs’ late season collapse had a lot of causes, but certainly one of them was Craig Kimbrel‘s health and ineffectiveness. Kimbrel has a 6.53 ERA and has three blown saves and four losses in 17 games. He missed considerable time in both August and September as well.
What happened to Kimbrel, who has been among the best relief pitchers in all of baseball over the course of his career? Cubs president Theo Epstein thinks he knows. Here’s what he said to 670 The Score:
“We knew that given that he wouldn’t have a normal spring training, given that he was trying to do something that very few had ever done before, which was join the team midstream in a closer’s role, that there would be some risk. We felt it was certainly a risk worth taking. I think it’s impossible to pinpoint how much of his struggles have been because of that, but from my perspective it’s the single biggest factor. He’s never struggled like this before. He’s never even been close to having this type of performance before.”
Of course, the Cubs could’ve very easily signed Kimbrel at any time last offseason and certainly before June, which would not have deprived him of the normal spring training and normal start that Epstein cites as paramount in Kimbrel’s downfall in 2019. They didn’t, though, because Kimbrel had draft pick compensation attached to him until June and the Cubs didn’t want to give up a pick — the 64th pick in the draft, by the way — in order to get him. They probably also saved a decent amount of money by waiting him out until the season was already halfway over.
One way to interpret the “risk” that Epstein felt was “worth taking” is the risk of putting a less-than-prepared Kimbrel on his team. But it’s more than that, right? To Epstein and the Cubs, who again, could’ve had Kimbrel at any time, it was worth putting an underprepared pitcher in the closer’s role in a playoff race order to preserve that 64th pick. A pick which turned out to be Chase Strumpf, a bat-first second baseman out of UCLA.
Guess we’ll see in a couple of years if Strumpf was worth missing the 2019 playoffs for.