With pitchers and catchers less than two weeks away from reporting to Clearwater, baseball season is on the immediate horizon. Two seasons ago, the Philadelphia Phillies were coming off of the best season in franchise history with 102 wins and were predicted by most to repeat a sixth time as NL East Champions. After faltering to an even 81-81 record, some still predicted the Phillies to contend last season in bounce-back fashion.
Heading into this year, however, nobody is on the Phillies bandwagon. It is clear to most that their window to win a championship has slammed shut this season and the decline will continue.
With the glory years clearly in the rearview mirror, I will take the next couple of weeks to review the major transactions that lead up to the best period in Phillies history and how it impacts the team today. Today’s focus: the Phillies trading Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox for Aaron Rowand, Daniel Haigwood and Gio Gonzalez.
Background: Along with the signing of David Bell and the trade for Kevin Millwood, the 2003 signing of Thome put Philadelphia on the map with their new stadium as a destination spot for free agents and a team on the rise. His 2005 season, however, was riddled with injuries. It allowed Ryan Howard to win Rookie of the Year in his absence.
Following that season, the Phillies traded him to the White Sox for CF Rowand and minor league pitchers Haigwood and Gonzalez. This was Pat Gillick‘s first major transaction as GM.
Evaluation for White Sox: Thome had 3.5 fantastic seasons in Chicago before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers midway through the 2009 season. He made an All-Star Game and was arguably the face of the team during his time there. It turned out to be an excellent situation for Thome in Chicago considering his professional and personal circumstances at the time.
Evaluation for Phillies: Haigwood was flipped a year later to the Texas Rangers for Fabio Castro, who was subsequently flipped in 2009 for Matt Stairs. Rowand forever endeared himself to Philly in his first season when he broke his nose diving for a ball right into the center field gate. He enjoyed an All-Star selection, a Gold Glove award and a breakout season in his contract year before signing with the San Francisco Giants.
Gonzalez was traded the following offseason back to Chicago in an infamous trade that will be discussed in the future.
Who Won?: This is a hard one to call. Rowand and Thome spent almost equivalent time with their new teams, and Thome clearly outplayed him: Thome was a 4.9 WAR player in 2006 compared to Rowand’s 0.5. Haigwood eventually led to Stairs and his moonshot in the 2008 NLCS. Gonzalez was the no. 2 prospect behind Cole Hamels during his time here (remember when the farm system was good?), but was traded away before his could truly mature at the major league level.
Two hidden elements in this trade should not be overlooked. First, along with Thome, the Phillies agreed to send $24 million towards his remaining contract, which was the largest in team history at the time. Similarly, the biggest reason why the trade was made to begin with was to make room for Howard to take over first base on a full-time basis. In that 2006 season, Howard hit 58 home runs and won NL MVP. All things considered, this appears to be a slight Phillies win.
What If They Didn’t Trade Thome?: Based on his production with Chicago, his production at first base would have been comparable to that of Howard over the subsequent three seasons, and the Phillies would have presumably traded Howard for pitching depth. The Phillies wouldn’t have had Rowand’s production and would have been forced to find a different replacement or roll with Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels again.
Removing Howard would have significantly compromised the Phillies’ playoff years though, and it is impossible to say if they would have won a World Series without him. On the bright side, however, the current team wouldn’t be saddled with his contract and would have untold payroll flexibility, and Darin Ruf would have a place to play. All in all, this is a trade that worked out for the Phils despite their current predicaments.
What’s Next? Bobby Abreu