Last time I spoke with Twins boss Derek Falvey, I told him to sign Nelson Cruz. He did.
Let’s try this again. Derek: You should sign Craig Kimbrel.
1. You need a closer. Maybe Blake Parker or Fernando Romero could handle the job, but neither feels like a sure thing.
Parker has closed games, but the Angels seemed pretty happy to let him leave and to sign Cody Allen, who is coming off the worst season of his career.
Romero has never earned a save in professional baseball. Parker and Romero could be assets this season, but you’re better off if they are earning their money somewhere other than the ninth inning.
2. You may view Kimbrel as ridiculously expensive. Because he likely will be. The analytics world doesn’t like expensive closers, because few pitch lots of innings or necessarily take the mound during the biggest crises.
But Kimbrel has been exceptional and healthy. He’s only 30. And if you don’t sign him and Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler begin producing, you may have to go get a closer anyway, perhaps by giving up valuable assets in a trade.
A Kimbrel signing would be clean. He would be in place if this group of young Twins proves it’s ready to win.
3. The current players and fan base need a jolt. The problem with rebuilding is that it can be self-fulfilling. You can go years “developing” players without winning or giving the impression you’re trying to win, which can cause clubhouse apathy and fan anger.
If you sign Kimbrel, you’d be sending a signal to Miguel Sano and Joe Fan that you want to win now.
4. Kimbrel would make the whole bullpen better. You have a lot of pitchers who can handle the seventh or eighth inning. You have no one who would inspire immediate confidence while pitching the ninth.
5. Kimbrel would give you better starting pitching depth. If you didn’t have to try out Romero as a closer, he could compete for a starting job. Modern baseball teams might need 8-12 capable starters because of injuries and overloaded schedules. You may need Romero and Martin Perez in the rotation at some point.
6. In a way, Kimbrel would be a bargain. You’d be taking the $23 million a year you were paying Joe Mauer to be a good-fielding, light-hitting first baseman, and spending a little more than that a year on Cruz and Kimbrel — one of the game’s best pure sluggers and one of the game’s best relievers. That’s how you get better.
7. You need veterans. One of the reason the Twins signed Cruz was for his expected mentorship of Sano, a player capable of sinking or elevating the entire franchise.
Kimbrel may be able to do the same for your relievers, perhaps the entire clubhouse. He has pitched in hundreds of important games.
Leadership in baseball can be overrated, but Kimbrel’s mere presence would be a symbol of organizational ambition and would give the kids someone to look up to.
I usually argue against those arguing that the Twins should spend hundreds of millions on free agents. Most teams that “win” in winter spending disappoint all summer. Long-term free-agent deals can hamstring financial flexibility — too often the same Twins fans who complain about Mauer’s contract argue that the Twins should sign someone expensive who isn’t nearly as good as Mauer was when he got his deal.
There is no logical reason to think the Twins should outspend New York or Los Angeles. (And, by the way, the two New York teams and the Dodgers have combined for one World Series title in the last 18 seasons. Teams from the middle of the country that stripped down and rebuilt through their farm systems have won three of the last four.)
The Twins, though, can and should spend strategically, and signing Kimbrel is the kind of risk they should take.