The Phillies, like any team looking for bullpen help 2½ months ago ahead of the trade deadline, were interested in Craig Kimbrel.
They had a huge hole at the back end of their bullpen, Kimbrel is one of the most accomplished closers in major-league history and he was enjoying a dominant first half for a Cubs team going nowhere and ready to sell.
The Phillies did not like the asking price for Kimbrel, who was dealt on deadline day to the White Sox for 24-year-old second baseman Nick Madrigal and 25-year-old reliever Codi Heuer, two major-league players. Madrigal was the fourth overall pick in the country in 2018, selected a spot after the Phillies took Alec Bohm.
The White Sox felt comfortable parting with two good young players because they were on a championship course and Kimbrel had 1½ years left under contract because of a 2022 option. They were and are much closer than the Phillies. But the trade worked out poorly. Kimbrel, who had a 0.49 ERA and 0.71 WHIP with the Cubs this season, had a 5.09 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with the White Sox, then allowed three more runs in three postseason appearances as they lost to the Astros in the ALDS.
After giving up one home run in 39 appearances as the Cubs' closer, Kimbrel allowed six in 27 games as the White Sox setup man.
And now, their plan, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, is to pick up Kimbrel's $16 million option then trade him this offseason.
On the surface, that sort of leak could limit the White Sox leverage in a trade. However, the relief class is so thin this winter that there should still be a sizable and competitive market for Kimbrel. Raisel Iglesias is the top reliever in free agency, and Kenley Jansen will be available too unless the Dodgers bring him back. After that? You're looking at relievers two tiers below -- guys like Ian Kennedy, Alex Colome, Adam Ottavino, Jeurys Familia. Teams interested in Iglesias that balk at the years and dollars he wants could quickly turn their attention to Kimbrel.
One thing is clear: Whoever does trade for Kimbrel will be doing so to make him their closer. The White Sox already had one of the majors' best closers in Liam Hendriks, so they made Kimbrel the setup man after the trade. It was slightly surprising, even with Hendriks' success, because Kimbrel had never been anything other than a closer, whereas Hendriks had been a major-leaguer for eight seasons before being thrust into closing duty with the 2019 Athletics. With a chance to do it over, the White Sox would probably have made the uncomfortable decision to shift Hendriks to the eighth inning.
The Phillies will have to remake their bullpen again this winter. Kennedy, Hector Neris and Archie Bradley are free agents. Kennedy was just OK here after the deadline deal with the Rangers. He went 10 for 13 in save chances, allowed at least a run in seven of 19 appearances and was taken deep seven times.
Re-signing Kennedy or going for someone like Colome would certainly be a cheaper route for the Phillies than pursuing a Kimbrel or Iglesias, but they'd also be opening themselves up again to another season with a shaky closer.
The offseason ahead will be long, as well as the Phillies' list of needs. Bullpen help is right at the top, so the news that Kimbrel's name is likely to be added to an underwhelming class of available relievers is good news for them. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already traded for Kimbrel once before, in one of his first moves leading the Red Sox in 2015.