(670 The Score) -- The Chicago Cubs' championship aspirations were heightened Wednesday evening, and their goal became more attainable.
The team agreed to a three-year, $43 million deal with seven-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, according to The Athletic.
The high-profile addition of Kimbrel -- who went unsigned in the offseason after declining a $17.9-million qualifying offer from the Boston Red Sox -- was a departure from the rhetoric the organization had long been using. The Cubs made only a couple of minor additions over the winter, citing payroll constraints without being overly specific. The Cubs had an Opening Day payroll of around $208 million, the second-largest in MLB.
"We all heard where we were at with money," left-hander Jon Lester said. "For Tom (Ricketts) and Theo (Epstein) to get this deal done is a huge shot in the arm for us. This is like getting a gift on Christmas morning and having to wait a week or so to open it."
Kimbrel will be counted on to fill a role that has been held down by a rotating cast of relievers since Brandon Morrow injured his arm last July. News of Kimbrel's agreement with the Cubs came a day after setup man Pedro Strop returned from a hamstring injury. The presence of those two will fortify a bullpen that has carried a heavy burden at times.
"The real thing this move does is lengthen our bullpen," Lester said. "Now this takes a little pressure off us as starters if we don't go deep in a game. Now our bullpen gets a little deeper and you are not having to worry about matching up as much. We have him and Stropy back now. We are getting two arms. This is a huge boost for us."
Kimbrel, 31, is on a Hall of Fame trajectory with 333 saves, a 1.96 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 14.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate in his career, over which he has held foes to a .154 batting average.
Knowledge of that pedigree left the Cubs clubhouse buzzing after a 9-8 win against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field.
"He is an awesome pitcher," said reliever Steve Cishek, who was Kimbrel's teammate in the World Baseball Classic. "We had a lot of fun with him on that team. This is a great addition."
While he will take a bit to get game-ready, the hope is Kimbrel could be ready to join the Cubs in about a week after going to the minor leagues for some work and conditioning.
"It is an obvious boost when you sign Craig Kimbrel," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "What he has done winning the World Series last year and throughout his career is amazing."
Rizzo credited Ricketts and the ownership group for spending the money to acquire Kimbrel.
"This is a big statement in them believing in us and credit to us," Rizzo said. "To go get a pitcher like that is a big boost to us. We are trying to win the last game of the season this year. It's not just to get to the playoffs and hope for the best. Our expectations just went through the roof."
By Bruce Levine