We saw what happened last summer when the Phillies tried to fix their bullpen by acquiring relievers with a few years of results but repertoires that weren’t too far above average.
It worked out disastrously, with Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and David Phelps feeding into the contagious blown lead problem and only making the bullpen worse.
Relievers in that tier are available every July. And while the Ian Kennedys or Kendall Gravemans or Daniel Bards of the world would be a lot cheaper to acquire than Craig Kimbrel, the Cubs’ closer is the one who could help the Phillies the most in their quest to separate themselves from the lackluster pack in the NL East.
Kimbrel, who has a 0.53 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 33⅔ innings, has been every bit as dominant this season as he was in his first five years with the Braves. He’s appeared in 35 games and in 17 of them, he’s retired every batter he’s faced.
He is a potential Hall of Famer and one of the most productive closers in MLB history.
After winning four straight series and going 10-4 in July, the Phillies’ playoff odds are now the highest in the NL East at 40.6%, according to Baseball-Reference. The Mets are next at 25.2%, followed by the Braves at 21.0% and the Nationals at 14.7%. These playoff odds take into account remaining schedules and how teams have performed over the last 100 games. The Phillies have MLB’s easiest second-half schedule while the Mets have one of the most difficult. The Mets also just lost Jacob deGrom and Francisco Lindor for indefinite periods of time.
Kimbrel would not be a two-month rental. He is owed about $5.3 million after this year’s trade deadline and has a club option for $16 million next year. That’s a large number but it’s a fair one if you’re getting the pitcher Kimbrel has been most of his career. He experienced a two-year hiccup in 2019 and 2020 when he had problems throwing strikes, but he’s cut his walk rate in half this year.
The Phillies are about $4 million below the $210 million luxury tax threshold. Managing partner John Middleton has said that the Phils would be willing to exceed the threshold for the right difference-making opportunity. Kimbrel would seem to represent a difference-making opportunity, particularly for a team with more blown saves than any other this season.
As discussed on Tuesday’s Phillies Talk podcast, acquiring Kimbrel could help the Phils kill two birds with one stone if it enables them to move the current closer, Ranger Suarez, to the back of the rotation. Suarez has spent most of his pro career stretched out as a starter and could be a better option down the stretch than Matt Moore or Vince Velasquez, the Phillies’ current No. 4 and No. 5 starters. It would not be ideal to start Moore and Velasquez in 40% of the games down the stretch of a playoff run.
The cost? Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made clear he’s not trading either of the last two first-round picks, pitchers Mick Abel and Andrew Painter. What about Spencer Howard? Alec Bohm?
Check out the Phillies Talk podcast for a deeper dive.