By Norm Elrod
(CBS Chicago/CBS Local) — Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel have finally found teams. With MLB’s free agent-signing season long since passed, two of last offseason’s best available pitchers lingered on the market. Both will take the mound for their respective teams — the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves — well before the All-Star break.
What made last week a more palatable time to bring on pitching help than any week since Spring Training? It probably has less to do with the pitchers themselves than the teams that signed them and the MLB calendar in general.
The New York Mets continue to do what the New York Mets do… titillate and ultimately disappoint. Baseball fans in New York and around the majors have seen this movie before. Right now we’re squarely on the buildup side of that equation and the play of rookie Pete Alonso has Mets fans hopeful for the great things.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, on the other hand, have owned the National League for five seasons. Much of the talk revolves around Cody Bellinger, the leading NL MVP candidate, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, baseball’s most dominant pitcher of late. But young shortstop Corey Seager is enjoying a Comeback Player of the Year-level performance as well.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at the Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel signings, the rise of the Mets’ Pete Alonso and the return of the Dodgers’ Corey Seager.
Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel Sign… Finally
The Chicago Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel to a three-year deal worth $43 million. Kimbrel will take over as closer in a Cubs bullpen that’s blown about half of their save opportunities this season. With 333 career saves, he’s among the best closers of the last 10 years, even if the early signs of decline are beginning to show .
Kimbrel played for the Boston Red Sox in 2018, his third season with the team, converting 42 of 47 save chances, while logging 96 strikeouts and a 2.74 ERA in 62 1/3 innings. He turned down a one-year offer from the Red Sox in the offseason. Kimbrel should be game-ready in about three weeks, after a condensed spring training and some time in Triple-A.
Pitcher Dallas Keuchel also found his way off the market, signing with the Atlanta Braves for one year at $13 million. Keuchel played seven years with the Houston Astros, amassing a 3.66 career ERA, along with a Cy Young Award in 2015. He is also nearing the end of his career, but still can be a valuable asset at a reasonable cost.
Keuchel is probably a second or third starter in a talented Braves rotation that lacks experience. The left-hander with good control should be a calming presence in Atlanta. Keuchel has already pitched some simulated games and could be in uniform this week.
So what took so long? Kimbrell and Keuchel were ready to go back in March, yet here we are in June, a month and a half into the season. There are at least a couple reasons. For one, teams (at least the Cubs and Braves) have seen enough to know their teams’ weaknesses. Also, with the MLB Draft passed, pick compensation no longer applies to these signings.
And maybe MLB free agency is just broken. There’s certainly plenty of evidence of that.
Pete Alonso Still Hitting
The Mets’ season so far has been a bit of a mixed bag. The team is currently 32-33 in a competitive National League East, and ranks middle of the pack for a variety of stats at the plate and from the mound. Still, there have been a few bright spots, and none brighter than rookie Pete Alonso,
The first baseman is on pace to have the best rookie season in Mets history. Through Sunday, he’s hitting .258 and leads the team with 21 home runs and 46 RBIs in 233 at-bats. His home run total tops the majors at his position, beating out Bellinger and Josh Bell in Pittsburgh. Alonso is on pace to break Darryl Strawberry’s rookie record of 26 home runs in a season, set in 1983.
At this rate Alonso could be a legitimate All-Star candidate. The budding superstar (at least as the 7-line faithful see him) certainly gives fans someone to cheer for, as the team continues another ultimately forgettable season.
After Monday night’s rainout, the Mets face the New York Yankees in a Tuesday doubleheader in the Bronx.
Corey Seager Comeback
Everything is going right in Los Angeles, and that includes Corey Seager’s comeback. The Dodgers shortstop was the 2016 National League Rookie of the year and a 2016 and 2017 All-Star, who hit .308 and .295 in those two seasons respectively, along with 26 an 22 home runs.
But he missed most of the 2018 season recovering from hip and Tommy John surgery. This season, hitting fifth behind Bellinger, Seager is getting plenty of opportunities to swing the bat, and he’s picked up where he left off. Since the start of May, he’s hitting .301, with 6 home runs and 29 RBIs.
The Dodgers continue to be the best team in the NL and arguably MLB, and a healthy Seager is an important part of the equation.