Rumors

Phillies were in the mix late for Craig Kimbrel, but lose out to Cubs


Craig Kimbrel, one of the game’s elite closers, is still a free-agent. (Keith Allison)

Signing seven-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel is no longer tied to giving up draft compensation, which likely means the 31-year-old will have a new team relatively soon. It appeared that the Philadelphia Phillies were still in the mix to potentially be that new team as of Tuesday night.

“Multiple sources” told Jon Morosi of MLB.com that “the Phillies were still involved in the free-agent closer’s marketplace as of Tuesday.” Morosi added that he believed Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending ACL tear might actually have made the Phillies more inclined to push to sign Kimbrel.

At least another bullpen arm was always a need for the Phillies, but so is an elite starter and now probably a rental starting outfielder. There’s only so many in-house pieces that would be of value in a trade, so signing Kimbrel would have filled a need and allowed the Phillies to allocate prospects or controllable younger players in trades for other areas of need.

The Phillies bullpen has been decimated by injuries in 2019.

David Robertson, who signed a two-year/$23 million deal with the Phillies in January, has been on the injured list since mid-April with right elbow soreness. Tommy Hunter, in year two of a two-year/$18 million, appears to be progressing towards a return, but hasn’t pitched at all this season because of right elbow soreness.

Two-time All-Star Pat Neshek is currently on the injured list with a shoulder injury. In the midst of a breakout season, Adam Morgan is also on the injured list with a left forearm strain.

Edubray Ramos, who posted a 2.32 ERA in 52 games for the Phillies last year, hasn’t pitched in nearly a month with a stiff shoulder. And following arthroscopic surgery on his elbow last week, Victor Arano could miss the rest of the 2019 season.

Those injuries have thrust someone like Edgar Garcia – who has a good fastball, slider combination but probably isn’t ready to be pitching meaningful innings at the major league level yet – into a much bigger role than the Phillies could have imagined.

The 22-year-old allowed three earned runs on two home runs Tuesday night, allowing the San Diego Padres to climb back into a game that once seemed in-hand. Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris ultimately came in and closed out a 9-6 victory, but those two can’t pitch every night.

So suffice it to say, the Phillies could use a major addition to their bullpen. That could – and probably will – come in the form of getting some arms off the injured list in the coming weeks. But an external addition like Kimbrel – who is the active saves leader – could have turned the bullpen into a strength, which many expected it to be entering the season. Without much in the way of consistent starting pitching, that may be the Phillies best path to winning the National League East.

It is worth noting that after arguably the finest season of his career in 2017, Kimbrel was very good, but not necessarily elite in 2018. In 63 games in 2018, Kimbrel posted a 2.74 ERA, 3.13 FIP and a 1.3 fWAR, while converting 42 of 47 save attempts. Kimbrel ran out of gas entirely during the Boston Red Sox World Series run last year, posting a 5.91 ERA in nine postseason appearances.

It’s hard to gauge exactly where the Phillies stood in the Kimbrel sweepstakes. They appeared to be more engaged than the division-rival Atlanta Braves, who Morosi says weren’t one of the finalists for Kimbrel’s services. In the end, it was the late favorites, the Chicago Cubs, who landed him. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported first on Wednesday morning that the Cubs had been “pushing hard” for Kimbrel.

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