Could Craig Kimbrel, arguably the greatest active closer, be traded twice in four months?
Well, it's complicated.
While the San Diego Padres are expected to shift to sell mode this week in the midst of a disappointing 2015 and are motivated to move some money to loosen up their long-term financial picture, the fact is that only a few teams are in a good position to absorb a significant salary for the ninth inning (Kimbrel is still owed $24 million total for 2016-17, with a team option for $13 million in '18) and give up young talent.
The other matter of complication here is the possibility of this being a bit of a buyer's market for bullpen help. That all depends on how serious the Brewers get about moving Francisco Rodriguez, the Reds with Aroldis Chapman and, of course, the Phillies with Jonathan Papelbon.
It could be that the Padres' best bet is to find a trade partner for Kimbrel in the offseason, when budgets are more flexible and a less-finite number of teams are in the market for bullpen help.
Having said all that, there is the possibility of the 5-foot-11 Kimbrel, his electric fastball and his unique pre-pitch setup (affectionately known as "Kimbreling") coming to yet another new venue this year. The Braves' rebuild featured the difficult decision of moving Kimbrel, a local hero, as a vehicle to simultaneously move Melvin Upton Jr. San Diego had visions of Kimbrel closing out games en route to its first run to the postseason since 2006, but that hasn't panned out, and Kimbrel has had a down year by his lofty standards.
Here are the five situations that seem to suit Kimbrel best should a deal get done between now and the close of business on Friday.
1. Blue Jays
With $32 million coming off the books at season's end when Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey hit free agency, it's not totally inconceivable that the Blue Jays can work Kimbrel's contract into the budget, though he would admittedly be a difficult fit in the payroll's present. What we know for sure is that he'd fill their need for a stabilizing force in the back end. Aaron Sanchez's move to the bullpen is more of a short-term solution, because his future, it appears, is in the rotation.
First on the Nats' list of needs is a healthy lineup. Second on the list is a bullpen reinforcement. Yes, the bullpen has been better than it was in the season's first two months, and, on measure, it profiles as better than league average. But beyond Drew Storen, it hasn't offered much in the realm of bankable dominance. And for a team very likely October-bound, in spite of all the injuries, Kimbrel would give Washington a dynamic 1-2 punch in the back end.
The bullpen is the one area the Yanks clearly don't need to improve. That said, with the Greg Holland-Wade Davis-Kelvin Herrera lesson still fresh in everybody's mind, you could see how the possibility of a Kimbrel-Andrew Miller-Dellin Betances tandem could be tempting for a team trying to win its first World Series since 2009. The simple fact of the matter is that the Padres' main motivation is to move Kimbrel's salary, and there aren't many teams capable of taking that on. The Yankees can. And doing so would strengthen a strength and make the Yanks a truly dangerous October squad.
The Cubs are only going to make a splash in this midseason market if it brings back assets they can control beyond 2015, so Kimbrel certainly qualifies. Joe Maddon has refrained from defining roles in the Cubs' bullpen, despite Jason Motte handling the ninth for several weeks and Rafael Soriano recently coming aboard. Kimbrel would give this bullpen a more definable identity for the long term.
The obvious issue here is an intradivision trade, which might spook some. But that obviously wasn't an issue when the Dodgers and Padres did the Matt Kemp deal. And the Dodgers are like the Yankees in their ability to consume Kimbrel's costly contract. Los Angeles is prioritizing the search for starting pitching this week, so it might be the least likely team on this list to actually get this deal done. But the Dodgers merit mentioning here because of the lockdown pairing he'd create with Kenley Jansen and the money factor, which is a big one when considering a Kimbrel swap.