Do: Make a run at Byron Buxton and Craig Kimbrel
The two weakest parts of the 2021 Phillies’ roster right now are the bullpen and center field. If they are serious about making a push for the NL East crown, then they need to find ways to upgrade both positions. Two players, Craig Kimbrel of the Chicago Cubs and Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins should be at the top of their wishlists.
Craig Kimbrel could save the Phillies’ bullpen
Craig Kimbrel has somehow regained the form that once made him the best closer on the planet. After back-to-back seasons of an ERA above 5, Kimbrel has been lights out for the Cubs this season. He sports a 0.53 ERA and has converted 21 of 23 save opportunities. That’s a stark contrast to the Phillies’ 23 blown saves.
For comparison’s sake, Héctor Neris has allowed nine times the number of earned runs (18) that Kimbrel has (two) and has allowed four more home runs. The Phillies lead MLB in blown saves, so it’s reasonable to say Kimbrel would be just a tiny bit better than what they have on their roster.
Kimbrel won’t come cheaply, but he has an option in his contract for next season, meaning he won’t be just a late-season rental. If there is any way they can get a deal without shedding a prospect like Stott or Abel, then it’s a no-brainer for the Phillies, even if Ranger Suárez, has shown some potential. Plus Dave Dombrowski has already traded for Kimbrel once before, so maybe a reunion between the two could be in the cards.
Could Byron Buxton be the next Phillies’ centerfielder?
Out in centerfield, Travis Jankowski is hitting .375 and has been playing out of his mind for the Phillies this season. That said, it’s a pretty small sample size and he’s definitely due for some major regression. Odúbel Herrera has slashed .241/.292/.390 in 62 games and the Phillies could clearly stand to do better.
Enter Byron Buxton. Believe it or not, the former top prospect and current Twins’ centerfielder is just 27 years old and should theoretically be entering the prime of his career. So why is Buxton available? And even more importantly, why might the Phillies be able to afford him?
Well, the biggest knock on Buxton throughout his career has been his inability to stay healthy. Since debuting in 2015, he’s played in 100 or more games just once and it was all the way back in 2017.
Earlier this season Buxton looked like one of the best players in baseball to open the season, hitting .426/.466/.897 through the first month of the season. He had a stint on the injured list, only to return and fracture his hand just a few games later in June. There is no guarantee that Buxton will be ready to come off the injured list if or when a trade is made, but he does figure to play again this season.
When he’s healthy, there are few outfielders in the major leagues as good as him. Buxton’s calling card throughout his career has been his elite defense, something he’s been recognized for with a Gold Glove and a Platinum Glove. The Phillies defense has been a mess this season, and they could use someone like Buxton patrolling center.
His health is a legitimate concern and I understand the apprehension in trading for an oft-injured outfielder, but his upside is also very real. If Buxton can come back healthy in time for a late-season push to the playoffs, he could be the boost the Phillies need both defensively and offensively.
Both Kimbrel and Buxton have the potential to turn the Phillies’ season around. They are capable of playing at an elite level, and if healthy would be major splashes. The Phillies should be aggressive in their pursuit of both of them.