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Article: Craig Kimbrel and Risk Tolerance

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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 05:25 PM

The Minnesota Twins came up short on free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel, who signed with the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday to a three-year, $43 million deal. Collectively, Twins fans are MAD. I don't think I've seen so much anger and frustration expressed from the base since Chicago outbid Minnesota for Yu Darvish two winters ago.

Which is pretty ironic, when you consider how that one's played out.I know, I know. "But Nick, Kimbrel and Darvish are different people! These are very different situations and shouldn't be viewed through the same lens!" That's true, to an extent. But the circumstances around Kimbrel and Darvish actually have stark similarities. For instance:
  • Each was, arguably, the top player at his position heading into the offseason.
  • Despite this, both players generated far less market demand than anticipated, and took much longer than expected to sign.
  • The Twins (reportedly) made legitimate efforts to sign both, but ultimately refused to meet their contractual length requirements. (Per reports, the Twins offered a five-year deal to Darvish but wouldn't go six, and offered a two-year deal to Kimbrel but wouldn't go three.) That's because...
  • Both pitchers bet against themselves.
The last point is key, in my mind. Darvish almost certainly could have gotten a shorter deal with higher annual values, returning to the market after three or four years with a chance to easily outearn what the Cubs guaranteed him in the same timespan. Instead, he wanted security. I don't blame him for this by any means, but it's certainly conspicuous as you look at how poorly Chicago's investment has turned out so far: Darvish threw 40 low-quality innings last year before undergoing season-ending surgery, and now has thrown 66 low-quality innings this year. He's been an erratic, homer-prone mess.

In trying to understand why it took Darvish and (especially) Kimbrel so long to sign, we can point to a number of factors. There's the market collusion angle. There's the likelihood that both players (and their agents) carried aggressive expectations and demands, from which they were resistant to backing down.

But there's also the fact that both players had clear red flags. I wrote about the ones attached to Darvish right after he signed:

The Cubs are now committed to the righty through 2023. He'll be 37 when the pact expires. Although $21 million in annual salary is lower than most expected but it still becomes a hindrance quickly if he underperforms or battles injury. And those are legitimate apprehensions since Darvish is arguably a bigger long-term health risk than many of his peers.

Darvish's huge pitch counts in Japan were a much-discussed topic when he initially came over to the States. As recently as last season, writers in Texas were noticing his workload – especially the heavy slider usage – and wondering if it was cause for concern.

He was healthy and throwing hard last summer, quieting any serious alarm sirens, but Darvish was pretty clearly wearing down by the time the World Series rolled around. And the fact remains: he hasn't reached 190 innings since 2013.

Kimbrel's own risk points have been discussed extensively here and elsewhere. His velocity was down last year. He pitched poorly in the second half and postseason as his control unraveled. Most of his peripherals, in general, were far from elite. He's a 31-year-old who has logged large, high-stress relief workloads every year — and remember, you're paying for his uncertain future, not his undeniably phenomenal past.

Collusion accusations aside, front offices are getting smarter and more data-driven across MLB. When I see a guy like Darvish signing late, for less than anyone expected, after receiving surprisingly little interest from the market at large, I'm not chalking that up entirely to nefarious motives. Let's face it: The majority was proved right in the case of Darvish, not to mention Twins-centric examples like Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison.

Kimbrel is an all-time great closer. Everyone recognizes this. The Twins are hardly the only contender with bullpen issues. Many of them are large-market clubs with far less financial restraint. How come none of these teams scooped up Kimbrel at any during his last seven months of availability — especially his former team the Red Sox, who saw all that greatness up-close and wouldn't have even had to forfeit a draft pick?

The Twins' leadership is at the head of baseball's evolution toward sophistication and analytical evaluation. Their shrewdness when it comes to managing risk has helped them avoid bad free agent deals that could hinder future flexibility. As much as some people want to say, "It's not your money, the Pohlads have endless cash" or "There's no salary cap in baseball," the reality is that committing millions of dollars into future seasons does have an impact, and will limit what the team is able to do going forward.

It's easy to say the Twins should've spent more heavily on the bullpen this offseason regardless of the money they'd already sunk into Addison Reed. But if that commitment wasn't already in place, the team would've been more likely to spend it on elsewhere for this year. At least, I believe so.

And speaking of Reed, he's a prime example of relief pitcher volatility. He went from durable top-tier bullpen arm to unusable in a flash. If you review all the highest-profile relief signings of the past few years, you'll find a lopsided miss-to-hit ratio. Kimbrel is a class above most others, but still, in a season where the Twins are getting premium performance from a minor-league signing (Ryne Harper) while cutting the cord on Reed and watching their lone FA reliever (Blake Parker) start to fizzle, how can you really knock them for eschewing the highest end of the veteran market?

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying the Twins don't need relief help. They do. I've never wavered from that stance. But from my view, they should be seeking to execute the same blueprint that landed Ryan Pressly in Houston last summer: trading mid-tier prospects for prime-aged relievers, ideally with an untapped strength, under multiple years of control. There should be no shortage of such opportunities in the coming weeks, and the Twins have no shortage of prospects do deal with.

Acquiring Kimbrel in the middle of the season was a rare opportunity, it's true. And the Twins evidently made an effort to capitalize on it. But their ability to dictate a risk tolerance threshold and stick to it has served them well in the past, and I believe it will again here.

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#2 Doomtints

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 06:34 PM

I was against Darvish and explicitly stated he was injury prone. If I am the only person not surprised by how Darvish played since the trade, I'll gladly accept any offer in any baseball organization to tell them what to do, but I bet I'm not the only person surprised.

 

Darvish had already missed a full year and parts of three additional years due to injuries. I mean, come on people. What the heck were you all looking at?

 

Kimbrel looks nothing like Darvish on paper. I can't begin to imagine where a Darvish comparison comes from. If Kimbrel is significantly worse than his average over the next three years, he will still be the best guy in the Twins bullpen.

 

The Twins had an opportunity to grab a closer who has experience facing off against the Yankees lineup as an edge in the playoffs and they passed on the opportunity.

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#3 USAFChief

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:08 PM

 

There should be no shortage of such opportunities in the coming weeks, and the Twins have no shortage of prospects do deal with.

 

There should be no shortage of Ryan Pressly's available in the coming weeks?

 

Dude.

 

 

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#4 D.C Twins

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:18 PM

Relievers are volatile. Relievers are a gamble. Relievers are scary to sign.

 

BUT... Relievers are very much needed to win a championship.

 

Chances will need to be taken with some combination of money or prospects....if we want to take a real shot at the championship.

 

Overpaying will be required when and if this chance is taken, because other competitive teams will also appreciate the need and drive the market. (and realize that by missing on a reliever they are likely not only failing to improve their team, but allowing the competition to get better....zero sum game)

 

So ultimately the FO and ownership need to decide if they are all in or not.

 

If they are all in, I hope overpaying was not the only reason that Kimbrel was not signed.....because being "shrewd" will not get them the relievers they need to push this team over the finish line.


#5 Mike Sixel

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:21 PM

There should be no shortage of such opportunities in the coming weeks, and the Twins have no shortage of prospects do deal with.

There should be no shortage of Ryan Pressly's available in the coming weeks?

Dude.

Yes, that was great.

It's not the individual decisions, it's the pattern. But, let's see if they break it at some point. Houston certainly has decided that trading great prospects for great pitching works.....

Also, do we have to type... There is risk.... every time we want the twins to sign someone? Standing pat also has risk, just remember how everyone was sure healthy Mauer and Morneau were going to carry this team, so no need to trade prospects when the twins were healthy and winning, they'd surely be winning again the following years....

Bank the wins in good, lucky, years.

Edited by Mike Sixel, 06 June 2019 - 08:22 PM.

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#6 Soft Tosser

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:29 PM

I think there is something to be said for giving the current crop of relievers and minor league callups the innings for a while to see what we have before making a major trade for a reliever. Let things settle out a bit first.

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#7 Dantes929

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:55 PM

 

I was against Darvish and explicitly stated he was injury prone. If I am the only person not surprised by how Darvish played since the trade, I'll gladly accept any offer in any baseball organization to tell them what to do, but I bet I'm not the only person surprised.

 

Darvish had already missed a full year and parts of three additional years due to injuries. I mean, come on people. What the heck were you all looking at?

 

Kimbrel looks nothing like Darvish on paper. I can't begin to imagine where a Darvish comparison comes from. If Kimbrel is significantly worse than his average over the next three years, he will still be the best guy in the Twins bullpen.

 

The Twins had an opportunity to grab a closer who has experience facing off against the Yankees lineup as an edge in the playoffs and they passed on the opportunity.

For starters if he isslightly worse he won't be better than Rogers has been. If he is significantly worse he won't be much good at all.  He had a 4.57 ERA in the 2nd half of last season and a 5.91 playoff ERA last year (he was the worst against the Yankees) to go with a playoff history ERA of 3.92.  Time will tell but I think he will be Addison Reed. Cubs had to do something.They have blown 12 saves this year.    I think he looks exactly like Darvish on paper.  

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#8 h2oface

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:55 PM

The Twins' leadership is at the head of baseball's evolution toward sophistication and analytical evaluation.

 

I guess we just forget Houston exists.

 

But from my view, they should be seeking to execute the same blueprint that landed Ryan Pressly in Houston last summer: trading mid-tier prospects for prime-aged relievers, ideally with an untapped strength, under multiple years of control.

 

Instead of just keeping the pitcher they didn't need to trade. And who did they trade him to? Yup, Houston. Houston who got us to take mid-tier prospects.... not even top prospects for this years top reliever.

 

The FO has done well with free agents this year. I don't think that Schoop has performed better than LeMahieu, but he has been very good. Cron and Perez have surprised..... so far. All of Paraker's advanced stats say what happened yesterday was bound to happen. But Morrison, Duke, Lynn, and Reed count too. Glad that is over. And they resigned Molitor, which was a huge mistake (and not in hindsite). I am giddy about how our team has done so far, and not denying that this FO may be the best we have had, with a chance to be even better, but I am not ready to anoint them as at the head of baseball's evolution toward sophistication and analytical evaluation.

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#9 Mike Sixel

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 08:58 PM

Houston has made several trades involving multiple players in their top ten prospect list. So, maybe aim higher than only trading medium players?

Or are they not at the forefront of winning?
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#10 h2oface

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 09:42 PM

Seems to me Pohlad's, with there cheaptitiude for years and fielding a poor product, owe it to the team and the fans to make up for it now.


#11 rghrbek

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 11:11 PM

I wanted Kimbrel I will state that.  Although his finish to last year was alarming. 9th inning niche pitchers, falling off the end of the deep end is concerning (see Glen Perkins).

 

This is where I agree with most of what Nick states.  

 

However, if we identify a guy, that makes current and long term success, I would like to see this FO be more aggressive.  

 

Finally, was anyone here willing to give Kimbrel more money and the additional year?  Because reality is that is what it would have taken.  3 years 50+ million to go  to a hot team, or 3 years 43 million to go to recent World Series champs and perennial contenders.  

 

That is what the Twins are up against for now at least, until we prove we are long term contenders.

 

Still, we are loaded in the minors and should be aggressively shopping our top 10 prospects, maybe outside of our top 2 or 3.  Clearly our window to win is now.

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#12 Nick Nelson

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 11:26 PM

 

There should be no shortage of Ryan Pressly's available in the coming weeks?

 

Dude.

They don't need to acquire the best reliever in baseball. Just a good one or two. Do the descriptors you omitted – "prime-aged relievers, ideally with an untapped strength, under multiple years of control" – seem that unattainable in a sea of ready sellers? These Twins have shown an ability to help some pitchers discover new levels, no?

 

 

I guess we just forget Houston exists.

 

...

 

Instead of just keeping the pitcher they didn't need to trade. And who did they trade him to? Yup, Houston. Houston who got us to take mid-tier prospects.... not even top prospects for this years top reliever.

I didn't say they were alone at the forefront. Houston is obviously there too. Believe me, I didn't like the Pressly trade (I consider it this FO's worst move) but I wouldn't really care if the Twins didn't become contenders a year later. 

 

There are plenty of teams with no short-term hopes, and those teams have no reason not to deal present value for future value. The Twins are in a very good position.

 

 

Finally, was anyone here willing to give Kimbrel more money and the additional year?  Because reality is that is what it would have taken.  3 years 50+ million to go  to a hot team, or 3 years 43 million to go to recent World Series champs and perennial contenders.  

This is a point I think everyone needs to recognize. Tampa made very fair offers. Kimbrel's preferences were no secret. The Twins would've probably had to outbid the Cubs, maybe by a sizable margin, to woo him. But it seems like the attitude of some is "They should've signed him, no matter what it took." That's utterly insane to me. 

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#13 DiscGolfer

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Posted 06 June 2019 - 11:38 PM

People keep talking about Pressly like he was a lights out pitcher before he was traded.He was a good reliever with upside and turned out to be really good with Houston.There could very well be other Pressly types out there that just need to be found.

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#14 Aerodeliria

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 01:10 AM

 

People keep talking about Pressly like he was a lights out pitcher before he was traded.He was a good reliever with upside and turned out to be really good with Houston.There could very well be other Pressly types out there that just need to be found.

I think this is exactly the point. Pressly was lights out when he left here, which means that the talent was there. It's hard to imagine landing another Pressly to be honest. (It was the one trade I was very upset about. I just saw no need for it. All of the other trades had some sort of justification that I could understand.)

 

I think we saw the real Parker emerge yesterday. I hold my breath everytime I see his name as the man being called in from the pen. I think he is the next Addison Reed in waiting. We need someone at least on a level with Rodgers who can be lights out.

Edited by Aerodeliria, 07 June 2019 - 01:12 AM.

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#15 rdehring

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:21 AM

Thanks, Nick, for a rational statement of the situation and realistic reasons for not going overboard for a player with legitimate questions.

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#16 the_brute_squad

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:30 AM

By not signing Kimbrel the Twins have assured themselves of losing at least one quality prospect. The price tag on Kimbrel doesn't appear to be that high, especially considering they'll have to pay another reliever the same - if not close to - the same. I agree the third year may have been too steep but for a chance at a ring I think it's a risk worth taking.

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#17 Darius

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:30 AM

I’m not mad at all about Kimbrel. Good riddance for a 3 year deal.

I am not happy about the refusal to address the bullpen in the offseason. Despite them pitching out of their minds up until this point, its been clear to anyone that the bullpen is sub par. We saw similar themes in the ‘00s when they could never get out of the first round. I’m tired of this franchise always half-a@&ing it and all of the excuses made for it (the small market fan’s equivalent to virtue signaling).
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#18 Twinfan & Dad

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:33 AM

Thank you for bringing up the comparison. Moderators had muted me when I tried to comment on Darvish and this topic a month ago. IMO Kimbrell would have signed with the Cubs unless the Twins massively had the bigger offer. Now let's use some of these prospects and go get us a closer before the deadline.
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#19 Don't Feed the Greed Guy

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:36 AM

The Twins made a trip to the Kimbrel auction with a list and a budget. Chicago, with those 12 blown saves, were panicky buyers. We'll all get to see what they bought in the coming months, and over THREE years. Chicago can assume that risk. Minnesota can't.

Good article. Now write one on the Ryan Presslys of 2019 that might bolster the Twins pen at the turn.
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#20 USAFChief

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Posted 07 June 2019 - 06:46 AM

They don't need to acquire the best reliever in baseball. Just a good one or two. Do the descriptors you omitted – "prime-aged relievers, ideally with an untapped strength, under multiple years of control" – seem that unattainable in a sea of ready sellers? These Twins have shown an ability to help some pitchers discover new levels, no?

 

There's going to be a "sea of ready sellers" for prime age relievers under multiple years of control? Your plan is for multiple teams to make as bad a trade as the Twins did with Pressly? 

 

 Let's hope you're right.

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