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Zulgad: What’s next? Pursuit of Craig Kimbrel means Twins know they need help

Maybe the Twins were concerned about Craig Kimbrel’s struggles in the second half and playoff last season. Maybe Derek Falvey and Thad Levine felt that going to three years, with a fourth-year option, for a 31-year-old reliever entering his 10th season was too much. Maybe the Twins’ brain trust simply felt that paying the seven-time All-Star $43 million wasn’t a wise investment.

Whatever the case, the Twins finished, at best, as runners-up to the Chicago Cubs in the sweepstakes for Kimbrel’s services. It was reported Wednesday evening that Kimbrel had agreed to a deal with Chicago. It was known that the Twins had interest in Kimbrel and felt he could help a team that has been among the best in baseball, but could definitely use some assistance in the bullpen, if it wants to make a run deep into the playoffs.

The righthander would have brought an impressive resume to the Twins. He has 333 career saves (the most among current big-league relievers) and a 1.91 ERA in 542 appearances. The thing that likely caused some concern when Kimbrel hit the open market was his 5.91 ERA in nine postseason appearances and a 4.57 ERA after the All-Star Game. The Red Sox won the World Series with Kimbrel closing, he finished the year with 42 saves and had six more in the postseason, but there were question marks.

What’s not in question is the clear understanding on the part Favley, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, and Levine, the team’s general manager, that the Twins have an opportunity to not just win the American League Central (it would take a lot of work not to win this division) but also get to the World Series.

The Twins have one of baseball’s most powerful lineups — they entered Wednesday with a big-league leading 111 homers — and so far many of their starters have pitched better than expected. Their bullpen also has some nice pieces in it, but adding a veteran starter to bump much of the rotation down one spot and getting at least one more reliever would be a major help.

Kimbrel likely interested the Twins because once he could be signed without losing draft-pick compensation — that came on Monday when the MLB draft arrived — he would have cost the Twins money but nothing else. The same holds true for starter Dallas Keuchel, who remained on the market as of Wednesday evening, but reportedly is a target of the Yankees.

Assuming Keuchel isn’t going to land in Minnesota — I would be much more hesitant to pursue a starter who hasn’t pitched all season — if and when the Twins pursue available pitching before the July 31st trade deadline, they are going to have to give up prospects.

That should not be an issue — prospects are often overvalued and the only two who are likely untouchable are shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielder Alex Kirilloff — but getting both a starting pitcher, let’s say Madison Bumgarner from the Giants, and a top-notch relief arm is going to cost Minnesota several minor leaguers.

How willing will Falvey be to give up what it would take to get at least two pitchers? That remains an unknown but opportunities like these Twins have don’t come around every season. It’s easy to say that this is going to be the beginning of an extended run of several successful years but that’s an extremely dangerous assumption. We’ve seen what happens in this town when teams assume that success is a certainty to continue.

Adding Kimbrel to the mix would have been a clear indication that Falvey had every intention of giving his team the best chance possible to win now. Falvey still has the opportunity to make that statement before the end of July. Only, if and when he does that, it’s going to cost him more than money.


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