There are good reasons why Dave Dombrowski has two World Series rings and I have none.
He’s a better roster builder than I am, and he’s probably a lot smarter in general. Neither very high bars to clear, but still.
Where it seemed as if the Phillies had only two options at last week’s trade deadline — sell the farm for modest prospects or sell your prospects for big names — Dombrowski, in his brilliance, saw more.
He moved fading pitching prospect Spencer Howard and landed veteran starter Kyle Gibson, closer Ian Kennedy, and flighty pitching prospect Hans Crouse.
Instantly, Dombrowski had a roster that could present a solid, five-man rotation by September — Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Gibson, Zach Eflin, Ranger Suarez.
He had a bullpen that could see defined roles by the end of this week: Kennedy at the back, Jose Alvarado and Hector Neris as setup men, failed starters Vince Velasquez and Matt Moore as utility options with the rest.
Dombrowski also had a template for a predictable, dependable pitching staff in 2022. This is especially true if some of the promising bullpen pieces develop into closer options, assuming Kennedy, a 36-year-old who will be a free agent, does not return.
Crouse? At this moment he’s a 22-year-old double-A prospect who loves Nick Foles
and makes questionable facial hair choices.
Gibson and Kennedy, on the other hand, very much matter.
One solid arm
Gibson will do more than just devour innings. With the immediate exits of Velasquez and Moore from the starting rotation, and, eventually, the exit of Chase Anderson, Gibson will make the appearances of All-Star pitcher Wheeler and faltered ace Nola less desperately important.
This matters more for Nola, who’s been pressing. His 4.30 ERA ranks 42nd out of the 53 qualifying starters and his 10 quality starts in 21 outings — at least six innings pitched with three earned runs or less — are the antithesis of what a No. 1 pitcher is supposed to do; that is, give his team a chance to win more often than not. Nola says he’s physically sound. Gibson’s arrival should ease his mind.
It certainly eases the mind of manager Joe Girardi. He’s dealt with an epidemic of starts that lasted fewer than five innings from Velasquez (nine of 17), Moore (six of nine), Anderson (five of eight) and Howard, who somehow failed in all seven of his starts. That’s 27 of 41 clunkers; or, short-arm starts in more than 25% of the Phillies’ 106 games after Monday. Girardi needed his bullpen for about half a game in two-thirds of those 41 starts. Casey Stengel couldn’t have won with that sort of inefficiency.
“It’s hard to manage the innings, you know?” Girardi said before Tuesday’s game at Washington. “You plan it out every day and you make sure [bullpen] guys are getting their rest, but you understand that you can’t always set things up the way you want to.”
For the moment, Gibson stands as the No. 3 starter, since Zach Eflin hasn’t pitched in nearly three weeks with knee tendinitis, which likely will render him unavailable until at least September. But if Eflin returns and is effective in three or four weeks, the Phillies should be able to make a respectable stretch run.
Further, all four pitchers are under the Phillies’ control in 2022. As, of course, is Suarez.
Shuffling the bullpen
Kennedy’s arrival moved Suarez from the closer’s role to the rotation, which is utterly tantalizing.
Suarez needed just 33 pitches to navigate three innings of no-hit, shutout ball Monday, his first start since Sept. 30, 2018. A 25-year-old lefthander, Suarez rose through the minors as a starter, though 68 of his 72 major league outings have come in relief. If Kennedy’s arrival transforms Suarez into a No. 4 starter for the next four seasons, which the Phillies control, then the Howard trade will be a win for the Phillies.
Kennedy doesn’t have to be a great closer; he just has to be an actual closer. Suarez wasn’t. Hector Neris, given five chances in as many seasons, never has been. Jose Alvarado, who throws 100 mph left-handed but never knows where the ball will wind up, probably never will be. But Neris and Alvarado are valuable. So is Velasquez, as a long reliever, as a setup man, or, as we’ve contended for four years, as a closer.
Kennedy delivers stability to a bullpen full of talent but devoid of accomplishment. Bullpens get built from the back to the front, and Kennedy gives the Phillies a foundation. Together, Kennedy and Gibson give the Phillies a launching pad for viability both this season and next.
This why Phillies owner John Middleton hired Dealin’ Dave Dombrowski.
And why he did not hire me.