Manager David Ross said Tuesday right-hander Craig Kimbrel will be the Cubs closer in 2021.
“Talking to him, he feels great this offseason,” Ross said during his first press conference of spring training. “The work and the videos he’s sent in, he looks really polished already.”
Kimbrel, 33 in May, is entering the final season of a three-year deal he signed with the Cubs in 2019. He’s gone through ups and downs during his tenure in Chicago (6.00 ERA, 41 appearances), including the shortened 2020 season in which he lost the closer title to Jeremy Jeffress while working through mechanical issues early.
Kimbrel finished last season with a 5.28 ERA and 1.435 WHIP in 18 appearances, both the second worst of his career behind 2019. He improved as the season went on, flashing his high-90s velocity while turning in a 1.42 ERA in his final 14 outings (12 2/3 innings).
That includes eight scoreless September appearances (7 1/3 innings) in which he struck out 13 while walking no batters.
Although Jeffress — who turned in a 1.54 ERA last season and led the Cubs in saves (eight) — remains a free agent, the Cubs expect to add another reliever on a big league contract, team president Jed Hoyer said. The bullpen is coming off a performance last September in which they led the National League in ERA (2.96).
“As long as Craig is who we know he can be, he’s going to be our closer,” Ross said. “But I do think there’s so many guys in that bullpen that are going to help our success.
“Craig’s a big part of that on the back end, but there’s a lot to deal with as far as how long a season goes. In my mind’s eye, Craig’s our closer and things will fall in after that."