NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Orioles have signed right-hander Craig Kimbrel, the club announced Wednesday, setting Baltimore up with its new closer to replace the injured Félix Bautista in 2024.
Kimbrel, a nine-time All-Star, recorded 23 saves for the Philadelphia Phillies last season. He held a 3.26 ERA in 69 innings and threw an additional six innings in the postseason. The 35-year-old is no stranger to the American League East, excelling with the Boston Red Sox for three All-Star seasons from 2016 to 2018.
Kimbrel will earn $12 million in 2024, with a $13 million club option or $1 million buyout for 2025, a source confirmed to The Banner. The annual salary makes Kimbrel the highest-paid Orioles player since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was hired in 2018.
Elias expressed his interest in adding a late-inning reliever to fill in for Bautista, who underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in October. Bautista will likely miss all of the 2024 season but is expected to return healthy for spring training in 2025. Without Bautista, the Orioles operated with a closer-by-committee approach, although right-hander Yennier Cano handled the majority of the duties.
On Monday, Elias noted that he would like to sign a reliever with closing experience, yet he admitted those players are rare — and their market is generally lively. Kimbrel fits the bill. He has 417 saves. And on Wednesday Elias said Kimbrel’s agent was the first he reached out to this winter. Elias deemed the fit of Kimbrel in Baltimore to be ideal.
“When he’s on, he’s a lockdown pitcher,” said catcher James McCann, who was at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Wednesday. “He’s a guy who is intimidating. He’s obviously got the stuff. He’s been doing it for so long. But he’s definitely a veteran guy who can come in and [pitch] a lights-out-type inning where you know, similar to Bautista, when he’s grabbing the ball, you know the game is over.”
Kimbrel’s baseline numbers were strong in 2023, even if there was louder contact against him. Opposing batters had an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher 46.7% of the time they made contact, which ranked in the bottom 4% of the league, according to Statcast. His four-seam fastball proved to be a plus pitch, with a .185 batting average against, and his curveball forced whiffs on 38.2% of swings.
Kimbrel’s outings in the National League Championship Series proved shaky. He blew a save and allowed a combined four runs in consecutive games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. And his average fastball velocity has dropped nearly 3 mph since it reached 98.3 mph in 2017.
Replacing Bautista is a tough task. The 28-year-old All-Star held a 1.48 ERA with 33 saves prior to his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Still, Kimbrel’s pedigree makes him an ideal closer replacement, and Elias said Wednesday he signed Kimbrel with the idea he would handle end-of-game situations.
“He is one of the best closers in baseball history at this point. He’s still got a lot in the tank,” Elias said. “He had a really solid season last year, and we see a lot of things from a scouting perspective going forward that has us placing a pretty big bet that this guy’s going to have a really good season for us.”