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Zulgad: Window of opportunity: It’s time for Twins to close deal with Craig Kimbrel

MINNEAPOLIS — Thad Levine was asked at TwinsFest if the club had given thought to pursuing free agents Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. The team’s general manager provided an in-depth answer that while no longer applicable to either of those players is even more interesting now.

Levine said any such decisions included at what price points he and Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey would recommend to owner Jim Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter that a free agent should be pursued. Levine also said this discussion included whether that player was the right fit and whether the timing was right.

“If we feel if the person checks the box on the who … we are then also going to hold ourselves to the standard of: Is now the most appropriate time for us to be doing this?” Levine said. “And I would just tell you my view of it is, the best time to acquire players of that magnitude is when your window to win is wide open – not when you’ve got your fingers underneath the window and you’re trying to jam the window open.

“I want to do it when we are projected to win the [American League] Central and we are ready to put our foot on someone’s throat. That’s the time to make those types of moves. I think we’re really close to that, so I think that’s once again the balancing for us, is the who and the when.”

Two-plus months later, the who and the when appear to be clear. Righthanded closer Craig Kimbrel remains a free agent and it appears as if the Twins’ window to win the AL Central is more open than any believed it might be. The Twins improved to 8-4 with a 6-4 victory on Sunday over the Detroit Tigers at Target Field and sit atop a division that appears to be Minnesota’s for the taking.

The problem Sunday was the bullpen made it far too interesting after a strong start by Jose Berrios (two runs, four hits, one walk and seven strikeouts in 6.2 innings). Trevor May gave up a run-scoring double to Christin Stewart in the eighth inning, and Taylor Rogers gave up a single that scored another run and hit a batter before getting out of the inning. Blake Parker entered in the ninth and loaded the bases again with one out before Trevor Hildenberger got the final two outs on seven pitches.

The game should have never gotten that interesting.

The Twins are now 6-1 against Central Division foes, going 2-1 against Cleveland, 2-0 against Kansas City and 2-0 against Detroit. Cleveland was the pick of many to win the Central because of their starting pitching, but injuries and a lack of willingness to improve this offseason make the Indians far less of a threat than originally believed. The Tigers were still 8-7 after losing two games to the Twins, but Ron Gardenhire’s team is in for a long summer. The White Sox and Royals are both under .500 and are likely to remain there through the end of the season.

It’s a different story for first-year manager Rocco Baldelli’s team. The Twins pounded out 14 hits and two home runs (C.J. Cron and Eddie Rosario) on Sunday and it appears this club will be capable of scoring plenty of runs. The return of third baseman Miguel Sano, assuming he can stay healthy, could provide more power.

But as Falvey and Levine saw Sunday there are improvements that can be made on the pitching side. There are some who likely would want to target starter Dallas Keuchel, 31, and the 30-year-old Kimbrel, who both continue to sit on the unemployment line. But the Twins aren’t going to sign both. Could they sign one of them? Absolutely, and Kimbrel would be a definite upgrade to a bullpen that could use it.

There were initial reports that Kimbrel was looking for a five-year, $100 million deal as late as March. No team was willing to give the righthander that type of money and he has had to adjust his asking price. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported this weekend that Kimbrel, “continues to seek a deal he believes to be fair and in the range of two recent free-agent relievers, Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) and Zack Britton (three years, $39 million).”

There was a report in recent months that the Twins would be willing to give Kimbrel a three-year, $45 million deal and, assuming Rosenthal’s sources are correct, there is reason to believe Kimbrel’s camp now would be more than willing to entertain that offer.

Kimbrel has pitched nine big-league seasons and is coming off a year in which he recorded 42 saves and a 2.74 earned-run average for the World Champion Boston Red Sox. He hasn’t had fewer than 31 saves in a season since his rookie year in 2010 with Atlanta and has 333 saves in his career to go with a 1.91 ERA.

There are a couple things about signing Kimbrel that could be a concern. One would be the Lance  Lynn factor that the Twins became all too familiar with last year. The Twins thought they got a bargain when they signed the starting pitcher to a one-year, $12 million contract during spring training after he failed to find work elsewhere. Lynn got off to a rough start — he had an 8.37 ERA in five April starts — and seemed to be disgruntled about the fact he did not find work in the offseason. The Twins finally moved him to the Yankees at the trade deadline.

The other factor would be what role the Twins might ask Kimbrel to play. These are no longer your father’s Twins and thus, although Kimbrel might consider himself to be a closer, Baldelli and Co., might want to use him in key situations that wouldn’t result in a save.

These are legitimate factors that have to be considered but should not eliminate Kimbrel from consideration. One issue with the 2018 Twins was that club did not get off to a good start and was sitting at 9-15 at the end of April. The clubhouse chemistry reflected a team that had a few vagabonds on it (Logan Morrison was another bargain addition in spring training) and a key piece (Brian Dozier) whom the front office clearly didn’t want to keep around for the long term.

These Twins seem far more capable of taking on a player like Kimbrel, especially if he gets a three-year contract and not a one-year deal. Guys like Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez provide veteran stability in Baldelli’s clubhouse. Kimbrel, meanwhile, has to realize that the use of relievers has changed and that, even if he was used in some non-save situations, he also would get an opportunity to close out games at times.

Most importantly, he would be a key part of a winning team that has a real shot at a division title.

If the Twins were to move quickly on Kimbrel, they could send him to Fort Myers to get his arm ready before bringing him to Target Field to provide some much needed relief out the bullpen. With Martin Perez joining the starting rotation on Monday, the Twins bullpen now features righthanders Ryne Harper, Hildenberger, May and Parker and lefthanders Adalberto Mejia, Rogers and Andrew Vasquez. Righthanders Addison Reed and Matt Magill and lefty Gabriel Moya remain on the disabled list.

Kimbrel and his funky motion would be a definite boost to the above group and would send a message to the clubhouse and the fan base. It might have happened sooner than expected, but Levine and Falvey have to realize the window for these Twins suddenly appears to be wide open.



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