April 01, 2019
MLB teams have played one series in the 2019 regular season as April has just arrived. It's as good a time as any to overreact.
The Phillies have an offense as good as any in the league, with the fourth most homers (8) and third most RBI (23), third best slugging rate (.562) and fifth best on base percentage (.384) after a trio of games. They do still struggle in batting average, their .236 average is 16th best in baseball — but that's another story for another day. This offense is rolling.
Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta also made impressive early starts and seem poised to lead the starting rotation all season. But the bullpen looks weak.
In those three games — all wins as the Phils are baseball's only undefeated team — the bullpen pitched for just over 10 innings and allowed five runs, a 4.35 ERA that measures in the second half of all teams. They have no real closer, just a Gabe Kapler-led by-committee approach that has seen David Robertson and Hector Neris struggle.
Help is still out there.
Craig Kimbrel, an ace closer, and Dallas Keuchel, a former Cy Young award winner, still have no team — and each has previously been linked to the Phillies during the offseason. They are staying in shape and would each be potent additions to a team come May:
Free agents Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel may be working out and pitching regularly, but without having the benefit of spring training, several teams who have checked in don’t believe they will be ready to pitch in #MLB games before May.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) April 1, 2019
According to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the Mets, Brewers and Padres are among the teams most interested in one or both of the duo. He does go on to admit that the Phillies also have a need:
Other NL East teams have a greater need for Kimbrel; the early days of the season already have exposed cracks in the bullpens of the Phillies, Nationals and especially the Braves. The Brewers’ interest in Kimbrel, first reported by The Athletic on March 19, stems partly from the loss of right-hander Corey Knebel to season-ending Tommy John surgery and righty Jeremy Jeffress to the injured list with right shoulder soreness. Club officials, however, seem pessimistic about completing a deal. [The Athletic]
The Phillies, if they don't make a run at Keuchel or Kimbel, run the risk of seeing one or both join their division. The Nationals, for example, looked to need pitching help after being downed by the Mets in the opening series. Baseball writers like Fansided's Ross Shinberg are already desperately calling for their club to make a move:
Enough is enough. I’ve buried the lede long enough: As the Nationals are right now, this team not good enough to win the World Series solely because of the bullpen.
Do not wait until June to fix the bullpen.
Fix it now before more games are lost. [Fansided]
Reports from Newsday say that the Mets are interested in both pitchers as well. And, after seeing what the Phillies did to the Braves pitching staff over the weekend, Atlanta might soon be in the market for some help as well.
However, Philadelphia has just as big a need in their rotation and bullpen as their division rivals do if they hope to play deep into October. Reinforcements would be welcome. It is possible teams are simply waiting to ink the two arms until after June's MLB entry drafty — a move that would in theory save teams from surrendering a draft pick when inking the player (something the Phils already went through, giving up a high pick to sign Harper). If that is the case, this could continue to drag on.
However, if the small sample size struggles continue, or if the Phils' rotation winds up being seriously top-heavy as the season marches on, the front office shouldn't be hesitant to address the needs before the July trade deadline, during which time the price for an upgrade will be high in what will surely be a competitive trade market.
The team has already shown it's for real. If the front office believes it too, they should be following the pair of All-Stars closely.
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