Jul 31, 2021

Mid-season Upgrade

It's been a strange trade deadline, even by the Phillies standards.  This graphic from NBC Sports only tells part of the story.  Pitching is the team's #1 priority, both in the bullpen and the back end of the rotation, but they also have a hole in center field and they have one of the worst defensive infields I have ever seen in my life.

The chatter among Phillies fans and members of the local sports media throughout the month has been that this may be the year that the team may finally go over the luxury tax threshold this summer.  Their argument is that even though the 2021 Phillies are heavily flawed, they may have lucked into a potential playoff spot as a result of the injury plagued Braves, Mets and Nationals.  My response to this is the same that it is every year - When John Middleton goes over the luxury tax once, I will concede the point that he may do so again in the future.  Until then, I don't believe for a second that they will budge over the threshold by a single dime.  Once again, they have lived up (or down) to my expectations, and they still have yet to go over the luxury tax since the it was implemented 24 years ago.

The Phillies have been hovering at or around .500 throughout the season, and they have more needs than they could possibly fill at the trade deadline, even if they weren't as weak on the farm as they are.  A good case could be made that they should have written off the 2021 season entirely and traded Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura for the best prospects they could get.  McCutchen is in the last year of his 3 year deal, and Segura is signed through 2022 with a team option for 2023.  Both are having a great season and probably could have injected some much needed young talent into our farm system.  I don't want to see either of them go - particularly Andrew McCutchen, who has been my favorite member of the team since he came to Philadelphia in 2019.  However, the team's chances of making the playoffs this year is slim, and even if they did manage to take advantage of an unusually weak NL East division and sneak into the post-season, they would almost certainly be knocked out in the first round.

As it turned out, the Phillies weren't sellers at the deadline, but they didn't go crazy in acquiring talent either.

A reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke the news on Tuesday that the Phillies and Pirates agreed to a deal to send 31 year old left handed starter Tyler Anderson to Philadelphia in exchange for two young players from Clearwater that I have never heard of before this week: 20 year old pitcher Cristian Hernandez and 21 year old catcher Abrahán Gutiérrez..  It's not the kind of trade that sets the world on fire.  Anderson is 5-8 with a 4.35 ERA this season - definitely an upgrade over our current options at the band end of the rotation, but not a superstar by any means.  Still, I was happy to hear that the trade happened.  It was an upgrade in the rotation that wouldn't cost too much in the way of top level prospects.  Well, not so fast because the trade didn't happen.  Evidently, the Pirates found something in Cristian's medical reports that they didn't like, so they pulled out of the deal and traded Anderson to the Mariners instead.  I swear, this could only happen to the Phillies.  Even the bland, unexciting trades fall through.  Sheesh!

We did end up making a trade with Pittsburgh after all.  On Friday morning, the Phillies acquired a 24 year old lefty named Braeden Ogle in exchange for Abrahán Gutiérrez (the Clearwater catcher from the previous trade proposal).  I've never heard of him before this week either, but who knows, maybe he'll contribute.  He has spent the season with the Triple A Indianapolis Indians and has yet to make his Major League debut.  I haven't really done any research on Ogle yet, but I suppose having a lefty starter to stash away in Allentown and maybe compete for a spot on the big league roster next spring can't be a bad thing.

The big trade of the deadline for the Phillies came a few hours later when the we acquired a starter, a closer and a pitching prospect from the Texas Rangers.  But before I start talking about the new faces in town, let's discuss the three young pitchers who are leaving Philadelphia: the Phillies have sent Josh Gessner, Kevin Gowdy and former top prospect Spencer Howard to the Rangers.

Right off the bat, I'm not at all worried about the loss of Gessner and Gowdy.  Neither of them have progressed with the organization, and quite frankly, they're longshots to reach the big leagues at all.  Gessner was signed out of Australia and hasn't gotten past rookie league.  Gowdy is held in a big higher regard since he was the Phillies second round draft pick in 2016, but he's going to be 24 this year and has had control issues.  The fact that he hasn't made it past Single A in nearly five years with the organization says it all.

The loss of Spencer Howard is the real news here, and if I'm being completely honest, I think a lot of the hand wringing that Phillies fans are doing over his inclusion in this deal is overblown.  He's had a handful of good innings at the Major League level, but they've been followed by a complete meltdown in nearly every appearance with his velocity falling off of a cliff by the third inning.  Unfortunately, he wasn't much better out of the bullpen either.  It's clear that the kid has stuff, but nothing I have seen out of him suggests that he has the physical conditioning to succeed at the big league level.  I'm sorry, if you can't pitch into the third inning, you're not going to make it.  I think there's an outside chance that the Rangers might be able to work with him and convert him into an effective closer.  Hell, he might even be able to develop into a great closer.  However, the odds are that he's a heck of a lot closer to being the next Kyle Drabek than the next Cole Hamels.  I think the Phillies did the right thing by getting something of value for him in a trade while they still can.  By this time in 2022 or 2023, I don't think he'll be more likely to switch teams in a waiver claim than as the centerpiece of a package at the trade deadline.

Frankly, I'm of the opinion that if the Phillies get any production out of Gibson and Kennedy at all, they will have robbed the Rangers blind.

Speaking of which, the Phillies are getting three pitchers plus $4 million in cash from the Rangers, which will keep them under the luxury tax threshold (surprise, surprise).  Kyle Gibson is the centerpiece.  He was an All-Star this season and comes to Philadelphia with a 6-3 record and a 2.87 ERA this season.  He's 33 years old and has been an average mid-rotation starter throughout his career, but if we're being completely honest about the 2021 Phillies, he is coming into this team as it's second best starter behind Zack Wheeler.  Yes, I know Aaron Nola has been very impressive in some starts, but he's been pretty bad in a few others.  With more than half of the season in the books, Gibson has a 2.5 WAR to Nola's 2.0, so if you're a believer in stats over hype, Kyle Gibson has been a significantly better pitcher than Aaron Nola in 2021.  He's also signed through the end of next year, which gives the Phillies fewer gaps to fill in the rotation this winter.

The Phillies are also getting a pretty good closer in the deal.  Ian Kennedy has 16 saves with the Rangers and a 2.51 ERA in over 31 innings.  He's only signed through the end of this season, but at 36 years old, that's a good thing.  Maybe they bring him back in 2022 on a one-year deal or maybe they look elsewhere.  Either way, this trade brings a highly effective closer to the Phillies bullpen without putting them on the hook for an outrageous mult-year contract to an aging veteran.

Finally, the Phillies are getting a pitching prospect of their own named Hans Crouse in the deal.  The Rangers took the right hander in the second round of the 2017 draft.  He's pitched in Double-A this year in his age 22 season and has an ERA of 3.35 over 51 innings, striking out over 27% of the batters he's faced while walking 9.7%.  I don't know enough about him to guess what his ceiling might be, but he was considered a top 10 prospect in the Rangers organization, and has been reported to be the 4th highest ranked prospect when slotted into the Phillies farm system.  I'm not saying that Crouse will have more success at the big league level than Spencer Howard, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.  Even if he doesn't make it, we can already thank him for Twitter gems such as this:

It's facts like this that you just can't get on Phantavision.  Thanks Rob!

Last, but not least, there was one feel-good story that came out of this whole mess.  It was announced right at the 4 pm deadline that Freddy Galvis was coming back home.  The Phillies traded 23 year old Clearwater pitcher Tyler Burch to the Orioles to reacquire our shortstop.

Freddy Galvis is truly one of my favorite Phillies players of all time.  At one time, he was the best defensive shortstop in the game, and even at 31 years old, he has the fifth best fielding percentage among all MLB shortstops.  He's not the strongest bat in the lineup and he never has been, but the dude plays the game like he enjoys it, and like he has something to prove every time he steps foot on the diamond.  Since he was a young kid in Reading, he has exceeded expectations at every level and carved out a respectable career in the big leagues for nearly ten years, including time spent with the Padres, Blue Jays, Reds and Orioles.  He will definitely bring a much needed defensive upgrade to our middle infield when he comes off the injured list in early August.  I hope to see Girardi give the bulk of the playing time to Ronald Torreyes, Jean Segura and Freddy Galvis with Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorius spending a little more time on the bench for the rest of the season.

So, to summarize, I think the Phillies made short and long-term improvements without costing them anything that they're likely to miss.  Are they massive improvements?  No - but they are improvements.  If I'm being objective, I don't think they did enough to win the NL East this year, but I don't think they necessarily should have.  They're not a strong enough team in 2021 to justify blowing through all of their top prospects and going all-in this year.  However, I suspect that these are the first steps in Dave Dombrowski's plan for the franchise, and I think they were steps in the right direction.