Phillies Throw Caution To The Wind In Acquiring Texas’ Gibson, Kennedy
Whatever doubts there may have been that the Phillies would not buy at this year’s deadline left the moment Brad Miller raised his arms in the batter’s box on Thursday afternoon. Their general manager, known for his aggressive track record, likely felt compelled to match his ball club’s resilience. They thought about splurging for Byron Buxton to stabilize center field. A minor trade for a respectable fourth starter in Tyler Anderson fell through due to a medical issue for one of the low-level prospects the Phillies would have sent to Pittsburgh. So with one hour to go before the 4 P.M. trade deadline, the Phillies were still lying in the weeds.
That last hour turned out to be a very busy one. Doing nothing would have been defensible, but that was not a likely outcome. We may never know exactly what compelled Dave Dombrowski to pull such a massive trigger this afternoon. Maybe it really all came down to that massive walk-off grand slam completing the team’s first seven-run comeback since 2010. Maybe it was winning four straight series to start July. Or maybe it was simply that the age, talent, and salary of stars like J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, and Zack Wheeler were too high not to supplement. The Phillies did not go all in, but they came as close to doing so as they were ever going to.
There was no logical scenario that involved the Phillies being buyers and not upgrading their pitchers – it is no secret that Philly has struggled with pitching all season. The bullpen has blown 23 saves so far, just two shy of their franchise record. Kennedy, on the other hand, is 16 for 17 in saves with a 2.51 ERA. With Zach Eflin’s knee injury appearing more serious by the day, the Phillies’ third-best starter was either Howard, who has not reached the fifth inning of a start in 2021, or Matt Moore, who has a 6.46 ERA. Now it is Gibson, who at 32 is enjoying easily the best year of his career with a 2.87 ERA that is better than any Phillies starter not named Wheeler. Gibson has had just two prior seasons with an ERA below 4 (2017 – 3.62, and 2015 – 3.84).
There is zero doubt that the 2021 Phillies are a better team as a result of this trade. Whether or not the overall health of the organization is also better is much more debatable. Giving up Spencer Howard seemed ludicrous until it actually happened. He entered on an innings limit due to a fairly deep injury history that had him in Triple-A to start the year. The Phillies tried to make him a reliever, but when the rotation started to fall apart, they had to move him there. Howard has been incredible early in starts; opponents are hitting .107/.206/.125 in their first trip through the order, but he has not gone deep in any of his starts this year.
Of all the Phillies’ prospects, Howard has the best combination of talent and development under his belt. He projects as a very good number three starter for far longer than the year and a half remaining on Gibson’s contract. The 36-year old Kennedy is a rental, and one of the biggest trade chips possessed by an organization lacking in them is out the door. With Andrew Painter, Mick Abel, and Bryston Stott untouchable, this is the biggest move the Phillies could realistically have made at this point in time. That did not mean they had to make it, of course, but Dave Dombrowski has never shied away from situations like this.
The Phillies are also acquiring 22-year old right-handed pitcher Hans Crouse in the deal. He was Texas’ second-round pick in 2017 and has a 3.35 ERA in 13 starts at Double-A Frisco. He likely cancels out Kevin Gowdy, the Phillies 2016 second-round pick, who is one of the two prospects going to Texas. Gowdy has a 4.43 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) at High-A this year. Crouse ranks ninth in MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 prospects list. Acquiring Crouse was obviously not the main point of this deal for the Phillies, but he could either become an incredible bonus, a saving grace, or an afterthought depending on how he develops and how Gibson and Kennedy perform in their time in Philadelphia.
One last crucial element of this trade is the luxury tax. Per Jayson Stark, Texas included $4 million in cash to the Phillies, keeping the team under the tax. Philadelphia has never exceeded the threshold since its inception over twenty years ago. Reports suggested Dombrowski had ownership’s blessing to do so this year, but it appears as though that will not happen.
Two years ago, John Middleton said he would never exceed the tax just to give the Phillies a better shot at being the second Wild Card team. The Phillies’ most likely path to the 2021 Postseason is winning the weak NL East, even after the Mets (trading for Javier Báez) and Braves (trading for Richard Rodriguez, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler) also improved today. But they probably are not much (if any) better than the hypothetical second Wild Card team Middleton had in mind. Times have changed, though. A deep Postseason run is not needed to reinvigorate the fanbase, but some type of run desperately is after trading someone with Howard’s talent.
Phillies Bring Back Freddy Galvis
Turns out Gibson and Kennedy were not the only additions the Phillies made today.
The Phillies’ left side of the infield has been a major weakness thanks to regression from Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorius. Their team defense has been atrocious, but Galvis is a shortstop known for his glove. The switch-hitter’s .249/.306/.720 slash line is solid as well. Galvis suffered through the Phillies rebuild from 2012 to 2017 before being traded to San Diego. He is not quite as good of a defender as he was in his first stint in Philadelphia but is still probably an upgrade over Gregorius’ glove.
What is Galvis’ role though? It is hard not to think of the Asdrúbal Cabrera 2018 trade that contributed to a Phillies team and clubhouse that fell apart down the stretch. Part of that came from players like Cabrera and Wilson Ramos taking away playing time from young players like J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro. It seems at least possible an encore could be in store if Galvis takes away playing time from the struggling Gregorius, even if that situation is not a perfect comparison. The Phillies are giving up 23-year old minor league pitcher Tyler Burch (2.45 ERA in 8 appearances in High-A in 2021) for Galvis, who has one year left at a low salary. The Phillies should still be under the tax after this move.
Each of the last three years, the Phillies have bought at the deadline. Their reward for depleting an already barren farm system has been three straight disappointing conclusions. It would have been possible, if difficult, to stomach another similar ending if the Phillies had not traded a player like Howard, but that is no longer the case. Dombrowski is betting hard on his team’s high-end talent and the NL East imploding on itself instead of waiting to reinvest some of the miscast money spent this year in the winter. The Phillies cannot afford to be actively wrong once again. There is no other way to put it: this year, they have to be right.
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