Including losing three of four to the Philadelphia Phillies this week, the Chicago Cubs are in a freefall, downward spiral, whatever terminology you prefer for utter collapse. They’re the Titanic, and Jed Hoyer is going to put players into lifeboats.
Since June 25, the Cubs have lost 12 of their last 13 games. In that time, they have allowed 15 runs in twice. Since the beginning of June, they are 13-22 and have sunk to 9 1/2 games out of first in the NL Central.
Back in February, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections put the Cubs as runners-up in their division, finishing with a respectable 85-77 record, despite losing Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, and curse-breaker Theo Epstein. FiveThirtyEight had them a bit lower, finishing 81-81, just like the Phillies.
Only a little more than halfway through the season, plenty of teams could completely turn it around after the break. The only problem is Hoyer might sell everyone off before that’s possible for the Cubs.
On Friday, reports by MLB insiders today made official what most informed fans already assumed, that the Cubs will be sellers at the deadline this month. Kris Bryant and Craig Kimbrel have been the “most likely” on the block, but Mark Feinsand noted that soon-to-be free agents Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez “could” also be fair game.
"“11 days ago we were certainly fully on the ‘buy’ side of these transactions, and everyone was calling about that. And obviously people are now calling to see which players are available. So, it’s a very different scenario [than what] we expected. Life comes at you fast.” – Jed Hoyer"
Should Dave Dombrowski trade for Craig Kimbrel again or let the bullpen ruin the Phillies’ season?
The Cubs are having, as Tobias Funke once shouted, “a fire sale!” and the oft-dominant Kimbrel is apparently available. Coincidentally, the Phillies are in dire need of bullpen help, Bryce Harper wants them to be buyers at the deadline, and Dave Dombrowski is the new guy in charge.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Dombrowski has traded for Kimbrel before, acquiring him from the Padres in November 2015 in exchange for Logan Allen, Carlos Asuaje, Javy Guerra, and Manuel Margot. He was one of many headliners in the Boston Red Sox spending spree that good old Davey Dollar Signs brought to town.
And it worked. Dombrowski emptied the coffers (not really, all MLB teams are rich) and decimated the farm system (they’re still recovering from that), but the Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 games in 2018 and their fourth championship in fifteen years.
In his 12-year career, Kimbrel has been one of the top closers in baseball many times over. In 2011, he led the NL in games finished and saves as a rookie, earning his first All-Star nod and winning Rookie of the Year. Kimbrel led the NL in saves in 2012 and 2014, too. In 2013, he led all of MLB in saves. He now has eight All-Star Games under his belt, the now-defunct Rolaids Reliever of the Year Award, and a 2018 World Series ring, to name a few of the bullet points on his resumé. He’s also finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting five times.
This season, Kimbrel has a 0.57 ERA in 33 appearances. He has struck out 54 batters and has only allowed two earned runs all season, a stat line that would have pretty much every MLB team and its fans drooling.
Kimbrel has 20 saves on the season, while the Phillies bullpen has combined for 19 and leads MLB with 22 blown saves. Despite their current struggles, the Cubs’ 23 saves (so, mostly Kimbrel) are tied for seventh in MLB. Kimbrel has more saves than 11 teams’ bullpens’ totals.
Meanwhile, Dombrowski is known for getting results. It’s expensive and messy, but by now, teams know that when they hire him. Just ask Red Sox, Tigers, and Florida Marlins fans. If the Phillies didn’t know that, they’ve been living under a rock since the Clinton administration.
Dombrowski also has a habit of bringing players he likes with him from team to team, especially pitchers. David Price, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and JD Martinez were with him on the Tigers before he acquired them for Boston. Maybe Kimbrel will be next.
The Phillies have a total payroll of $194.6 million, which is quite a lot of money to end another season with nothing to show for it. But they also have a low-ranked, pretty bare farm system, so they probably won’t be the most appealing suitor for the Cubs, if they decide to throw their hat in the Kimbrel ring at all.
Think about the difference an effective Kimbrel could make on a team with such immense bullpen problems. Their blown saves are standing in the way of the NL East being a true fight between New York and Philly. Kimbrel could be the turning point that they’ve been needing.
Ultimately, with the trade deadline approaching, the overarching question the Phillies need to ask themselves is, is this the year you do a little more to go further, or waste all that money and talent and cement a full decade of being stuck in mediocrity?
Having watched Kimbrel for three years (all postseason years) in Boston, I’d say go for it.