The Rays had shown repeated interest in generational closer Craig Kimbrel, and were prepared to sign him once the loss of a draft pick was removed as a cost for doing so this week.
Instead, they were outbid by the Cubs, and thanks to Ken Rosenthal we now know by how much:
The Rays, the team with the lowest payroll in the majors, were the runner-up for Kimbrel, giving him a choice of two proposals, according to major-league sources. One of their offers was for two years, $31 million, while the other was for three years, $39 million, sources said.
The Cubs won Kimbrel over with a three-year, $43 million contract offer — a difference of $4 million — but it is worth noting that the Rays offer does not include income tax, which presumably removes something like 2-5% from Kimbrel’s salary in Chicago.
Whatever the math might be, in the end the Rays were outbid, and just barely. We’re talking something in the $2-4 million range.
It’s possible that the decision ultimately came down to the player liking the opportunity with the likewise competitive Cubs more than having to continue to face the AL East, as he did with the Red Sox previously, but who can say definitively without asking the player?
There are, however, things we can learn from this report.
What can we learn from the Rays pursuit of Kimbrel?
- The Rays are ready to spend for the right addition. The two-year offer from the Rays would have been the highest AAV in franchise history, if Rosenthal’s report is accurate. Tampa Bay has had a comfortably low payroll, possibly the lowest in baseball, and they’re ready to change that.
- The Rays are also ready to stand by their player valuations. While the temptation may be to say Tampa Bay was simply too cheap, it’s worth remembering that every signing will have someone losing by a marginal amount. If the Rays were willing to be outbid by so marginal a cost to the franchise overall, it stands to reason that they had a limit they wouldn’t cross based on opportunity costs and the other available reliever options, rather than on a pure lack of ability to pay.
- The Rays are considering an upgrade to the bullpen. While the Rays closer has been a Cerberus of Alvarado, Castillo, and Pagan to great effect, there’s always opportunity to improve. Now it will have to come by trade instead.
- Nothing about Dallas Kuechel. The Rays may have a price at which they would consider signing the other big free agent who waited out the draft, and there have been reports (Rosenthal and Josh Tolentino) that they’ve been in contact with Keuchel’s camp. But looking to add to the bullpen is different from considering a new piece for the rotation.
- The Rays believe their window is open. Adding Kimbrel on a two- or three-year deal is not something Tampa Bay would do flippantly. At such a high cost, the Rays must believe this team is ready to compete now, and in the coming seasons.