Kimbrel hopes to help Orioles reach playoffs again as their replacement for injured Bautista

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Craig Kimbrel expressed a bit of urgency after joining the Baltimore Orioles.

“They want to win, and they want to win now. I don't know how many more years I got to do this, and go out there and sling the ball,” the 35-year-old closer said Thursday. “I want to be a part of a winner. I want to be part of a great opportunity and be comfortable doing it.”

After winning 101 games and an AL East title, the Orioles are now a reasonable destination for any free agent hoping for an immediate shot at the postseason, and for a reliever like Kimbrel, the opportunities go beyond that. After closer Félix Bautista had Tommy John surgery, Baltimore had a significant need in the bullpen, one that the Orioles tried to fill by acquiring Kimbrel on a $13 million, one-year deal.

Kimbrel has a $12 million salary next year, and Baltimore has a $13 million team option for 2025 with a $1 million buyout. He can earn $1 million in performance bonuses next year, $500,000 for games and $500,000 for games finished. Kimbrel would get $100,000 each for 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 in each category.

Bautista had 33 saves and a 1.48 ERA last season but did not pitch after Aug. 25.

“It’s hard to replace someone like him. What he did last year was absolutely spectacular,” Kimbrel said. “To come in and to fill those shoes and keep this team on a good roll, I fully expect to do that. That’s why I signed here. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”

Kimbrel joins a bullpen that still includes All-Star Yennier Cano. Kimbrel went 8-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 23 saves last year for the Philadelphia Phillies, who reached the NL Championship Series. It was the ninth year Kimbrel pitched in the postseason. He won a World Series with Boston in 2018.

Last year's playoffs went fine for Kimbrel until the NLCS. After a save in Game 1 against Arizona, Kimbrel took the loss in Games 3 and 4, squandering a two-run lead in the eighth inning of the latter. Philadelphia went on to lose the series in seven.

“It was unfortunate how it ended. It’s terrible,” Kimbrel said. "Part of sports — people win, people lose. You always want to be on the winning side of it, but that’s just not the case. Luckily, I’ve been knocked in the face quite a few times in my career and been able to get back up and keep on going.”

The Orioles certainly hope to be back in the postseason after losing to eventual champion Texas in the AL Division Series. And after the wall in left field was pushed back before the 2022 season, Camden Yards has become more palatable for pitchers.

“As a pitcher, it wasn’t a ballpark you wanted to go to,” Kimbrel said. “It looks like a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark now.”

A nine-time All-Star, Kimbrel's dominance in his prime was pretty similar to Bautista's last year. From 2012-14, Kimbrel had 139 saves and a 1.27 ERA for Atlanta.

That type of performance may be beyond Kimbrel at this stage in his career, but Baltimore is hoping he still has a lot to offer. Kimbrel is eighth on the career list with 417 saves and second to Kenley Jansen (420) among active pitchers. If all goes well in 2024, he could easily pass Billy Wagner (422), John Franco (424) and Francisco Rodriguez (437).

“I saw a team with a need and an opening, and I saw a lot of opportunity,” Kimbrel said. “I want to win, and the Orioles want to win. We want to go deep into the playoffs.”