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Phillies Rumors: Club reportedly interested in closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel has been the best closer of his era. (Keith Allison)

In case you’ve forgotten since a month of September where the Philadelphia Phillies used nearly every player on their 40-man roster, manager Gabe Kapler and the organization like to be matchup-based with how they use the bullpen. Sometimes that meant that star rookie Seranthony Dominguez was utilized in a traditional closer’s role in the ninth inning. Other days, Dominguez would be used in a high-leverage situation in the sixth inning, leaving the Phillies without someone geared to pitch in the ninth inning.

With an apparent desire to continue using Dominguez all throughout the later innings of the game,‘s Jon Morosi says the Phillies are interested in one of the game’s best late-inning relievers:

Kimbrel, who will be 31 next May, won a World Series in 2018, his third season with the Boston Red Sox. But while his 42 regular season saves were the third-highest mark in the majors, Kimbrel struggled to a 5.91 ERA during the Red Sox World Series run.

A former third-round pick, Kimbrel is obviously very familiar with the National League East, having spent the first five seasons of his career with the Atlanta Braves. Morosi noted interest in a reunion from the Braves, as well as the Phillies. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe seems to think a Kimbrel re-signing in Boston is less-than-likely. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Kimbrel will return to the National League, but not the National League East, as he has him signing a four-year/$70 million free-agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Some in Philadelphia are hesitant to issue a major contract to a closer after the Phillies did so with another former Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Between his famous crotch grab – or adjustment, as he referred to it – and multiple public trade requests, Papelbon didn’t leave Philadelphia on good terms. At the same time, he made two National League All-Star teams during his time with the Phillies. He adjusted (no pun intended) so well to diminishing velocity that he was still able to become the Phillies all-time leader in saves prior to being traded to the Washington Nationals in July of 2015. Papelbon may not have a reputation as a fan-favorite in Philadelphia, nor was it probably smart for then general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to reward a closer with a $50 million deal as the Phillies faded out of contention, but he was very productive in the ninth inning during his time with the club.

Of course, Kimbrel isn’t Papelbon, even if he’s at a similar stage in his career as Papelbon was when the Phillies signed him. If the Red Sox aren’t prepared to make a major push to retain the seven-time All-Star, it’s fair to ask why that is. You need great players to become a great team, but having a great closer is a luxury if you aren’t a great team. If that sentence confused you, here’s another way of looking at it: for any team to sign Kimbrel to a lucrative free-agent contract, they would presumably be signaling that they think they are ready to start competing for World Series titles immediately. Are the Phillies – even with the possibility of adding multiple star free-agents – going to be at that point in 2019?

Earlier this month, I wrote in the Phillies Nation Mailbag that Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano are the only four pitchers on the Phillies roster that are pretty safe bets to be back in the Phillies bullpen in 2019. Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos and Luis Garcia all have closer type stuff, but have been too inconsistent to be relied upon in that role consistently.

Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, David Robertson and Kelvin Herrera are all free-agents with high-leverage closing experience. Andrew Miller, Joe Kelly and Adam Ottavino are three free-agents that can be used all throughout the late innings of the game, so signing any of those three could potentially allow Dominguez to be used strictly in the ninth inning (and sometimes late in the eighth as well). So even if it’s not Kimbrel, the Phillies have a chance to add a legitimate relief option this offseason. That they are even being mentioned with Kimbrel gives you an idea of the financial flexibility the Phillies possesses and a desire to win that starts with managing partner John Middleton.


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