Given their need for relievers and the plethora of available arms on the market, there was never any doubt that the Cubs were going to be connected to several different names. One of those was Brandon Morrow, with whom they agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal Sunday (pending physical). Another is righty Brandon Kintzler — no relation, even though they have the same name — the former Twins closer who ended 2017 with the Nats following a trade.
Jon Morosi reported last week that the Cubs had “shown interest” in the free agent, but that “talks are not at an advanced stage.” Now comes word from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that the Cubs “are among the clubs monitoring Brandon Kintzler’s market.” Other teams mentioned in Crasnick’s tweet were the Twins, Dbacks, Nationals, and Rangers.
Kintzler is intriguing for his path to MLB alone, but he’s got a decent resumé as well. He’s a sinker specialist who threw the two-seamer he developed with the help of Greg Maddux for an astounding 74 percent of his pitches this past season. And he used that pitch for 81 percent of his 2016 offerings.
The 33-year-old needs to keep the ball on the ground because he doesn’t miss bats. No qualified MLB reliever had a lower swinging-strike percentage than Kintzler’s 5.7 percent; no one else was even below 7 percent. And while that is the lowest he’s ever posted, his career trend has followed a downward path and isn’t likely to improve much.
But even giving up all that contact, though, Kintzler has allowed a mere 0.72 HR/9 over the past two seasons. What’s more, only six qualified relievers have recorded fewer than Kintzler’s 1.72 BB/9 in that same time. That fits the Cubs’ desire for strike-throwers and the fact that he’s probably only looking for two years at maybe $7-8 million AAV limits the risk.
Despite his pedigree as a closer and his ability to keep the ball in both the zone and the ballpark, Kintzler doesn’t feel like Option 1A behind Morrow. Crasnick points out that the Cubs “could divvy up their save opportunities if Wade Davis moves on,” which I think is how the front office may be viewing this. I get the sense that Kintzler is a fallback in case the Cubs don’t get their their top target(s).
Not a bad spot to be in, though.