July 19, 2021
The Phillies might be riding a bit of a heater at the moment, winning 10 of their last 14 dating back to before the All-Star break, but if you ask anyone who's watched this club throughout the past two seasons what their biggest need is right now, it's almost certainly going to be bullpen help.
Coming off an historically bad season of relief pitching, the Phillies backed it up, improbably, with something that was even worse — blown save after blown save after blown save. A few wins in the last couple weeks have calmed some of those fears, but if the Phillies truly intend on making their first postseason in a decade, let alone making a legit run, they're going to need to shore up the back end of their bullpen in addition to making a few other small upgrades.
Luckily for Dave Dombrowski, who recently told NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark that the team won't be selling ahead of this month's trade deadline and will instead be looking to improve the club, there appears to be a perfect option available in the form of Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel. Moreover, there's a history between Kimbrel and Dombrowski, as Dombrowski traded for Kimbrel in 2016 with the Red Sox and the closer was a key part of Boston's World Series title two years later.
Kimbrel has spent the three seasons since in Chicago. With the Cubs in free fall, all signs point to them being one of baseball's biggest sellers at the July 30 deadline, and the veteran closer is expected to be one of their more sought-after players. And according to one well-known baseball writer, the Phillies wouldn't be a surprising landing spot, given their need.
Over the weekend, Bob Nightengale mentioned the Giants and Phillies as possible suitors for the 33-year-old Kimbrel. And on Monday, he doubled down on that, while also offering a bit more inside info.
“I had a GM tell me the other day, ‘Watch Craig Kimbrel end up on the Phillies or Giants,'" Nightengale said on BetQL Daily with Joe Giglio.
Sure, that sounds a lot like what he wrote in his column, but the distinction here is that it's not just Nightengale who is saying it, it's an actual GM.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, they might not have the pieces they need to land Kimbrel, especially if they're competing with multiple other teams (however the general belief is that overall there will be more sellers than buyers this time around). Additionally, they might need to save some of their few pieces to use in other deals if they believe it will take multiple upgrades to make them a true contender.
Currently, the Phillies have a 45.5% chance of making the playoffs, according to baseball-reference.com. That's the fifth best of any NL team and nearly 20 points better than the next closest team, the Braves. That's a dramatic increase from the single-digit chances they had just a couple of weeks ago. A big splash at the deadline could put them even closer.
As Kevin Cooney wrote last week right here on PhillyVoice, the Phillies landing Kimbrel is great in theory, but in practice, it's more of a pipe dream than anything else. Here's what he had to say in the bullpen portion of his look at what Phillies fans want vs. what might realistically happen at the deadline.
Don’t Get Your Hopes Up: Craig Kimbrel, Cubs
Yes, he’s the best closer on the market and the Cubs have decided to open the doors on the world’s biggest flea market at the corner of Clark and Addison. It is likely that every expert will throw the Phils into the picture for Kimbrel because they have the biggest bullpen issue of any contender. But Kimbrel is going to cost a ton in prospects and that’s something the Phillies have very few of. If the closer market turns into an arms race – and it usually does — the Cubs could get a few big pieces back for the likely free agent in the off-season. By default, that almost takes the Phils out of this mix.
What’s Realistic: Ian Kennedy, Rangers
Like Kimbrel, Kennedy is going to be a free agent at the end of the year. And like Kimbrel, he’s had a remarkable year so far for a team now out of the race — 15 saves, 2.67 ERA for a Rangers team that is 35-55 at the break. But his price should be cheaper because of his age (36, three years older than Kimbrel) and not having as long of a track record. Again, it’s about finding value on the edges when you have a depleted system. This would be the definition of that. [MORE]
Still, that doesn't seem like it's going to stop the Phillies from trying, especially now that they have a front office head in Dombrowski who is well known for being aggressive when it comes to trades and free agents. And while they may have to get creative to do it given their lack of prospects, it seems like Dombrowski has his sights set on buying. But whether that's a major upgrade or some smaller pieces will likely be determined by what happens in the Phillies' 11 games between now and the deadline.
"We're not selling," Dombrowski told Clark on the latter's "Takeoff" podcast. "We're not in a position where we're looking to move players off our team," he continued. "Anything can happen in 10 days or two weeks. I mean, if all of a sudden — and I don't like to take this scenario — if you lose 10 games in a row, well that might be one thing that's a little bit different. Or if you win 10 games in a row, it's a little bit different. But we're in a position where we're in this and we're gonna try to make our club better here over the next time period."
Adding Kimbrel, who has a 0.53 ERA in 33 2/3 innings, would certainly make the Phillies better down the stretch. Whether or not they can actually pull it off is another matter entirely.
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