Rollins says Freddy Garcia trade made him think Phillies were “team to beat”

Jimmy Rollins won the National League MVP in 2007. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

Jimmy Rollins’ declaration that the Philadelphia Phillies were “the team to beat” in the National League East prior to the 2007 season is now one of the most famous quotes in Philadelphia sports history. However, Rollins says that one of the more infamous trades in recent memory gave him the confidence to make that statement.

Rollins joined Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia to discuss the 10-year anniversary of the team’s 2008 World Series title. Prior to getting to the 2008 team, Salisbury asked Rollins to revisit the 2007 season, when the Phillies reached the postseason for the first time since 1993:

“I really believed that [the Phillies were the team to beat], with all of my heart. We had made a couple of moves I thought needed to be made. [The Phillies] brought over Freddy Garcia, and knowing what he did just a few years earlier in Chicago, I’m like ‘well that’s the type of pitcher we need.’ I felt we had the offense – we could swing the bat, we could score with anyone. It was just a matter of keeping the other team from scoring. So we bring in some big name pitchers that have had success, I was like ‘it’s our turn, that’s all we needed.’ It was never about the offense for us. It was just about the pitching staff. And for me, at that moment, that was the answer. It didn’t quite work out that way in the beginning – or maybe even at all – but for me that was just what I needed to make that claim.”

At the December 2006 MLB Winter Meetings, the Phillies traded RHP Gavin Floyd and a player to be named later to the Chicago White Sox for 30-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. Garcia had put together a pretty effective first eight seasons between the White Sox and Seattle Mariners, though advanced metrics that were unavailable at that time suggest that some of his seasons may not have been as good as they looked at the time because of inflated wins numbers.

In any event, the Phillies didn’t get what they traded for, as Garcia went 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA and 5.45 FIP in 11 starts. Garcia made his final start for the Phillies in early June, before he was forced to have season-ending shoulder surgery in August. After throwing over 200 innings in seven of his first nine seasons, Garcia was able to throw just 58 innings for the Phillies in 2007. Floyd, a former top prospect for the Phillies, struggled through an injury-riddled season in 2007 as well, but would throw over 185 innings in each of the next four seasons after that. And the player to be named later? Well that turned out to be Gio Gonzalez, who has had a very effective major league career, most notably with the division rival Washington Nationals.

But it stands to reason that the Phillies, who had narrowly missed playoff spots in 2005 and 2006, were excited to add an arm like Garcia into the rotation. And even though Garcia didn’t have the impact that Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick intended when he acquired him, if that was the jolt the Phillies needed to make the playoffs in 2007, it worked.

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Propelled by career years from both Rollins and Chase Utley, the Phillies overcame a seven-game deficit in the National League East with 17 games to go to win the National League East. The New York Mets, who had finished within a game of the World Series in 2006, missed the postseason entirely. Rollins won the National League MVP and a Gold Glove, all while posting career-highs in batting average, home runs, slugging percentage, offensive WAR, defensive WAR and fWAR.

Without an effective Garcia, 23-year-old Cole Hamels had a breakout season, going 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA. While Kyle Lohse had some impact upon being acquired, Hamels was the team’s only true playoff-caliber starting pitcher, especially considering that Brett Myers was moved to the bullpen early in the season.

But as Rollins said, the Phillies had a dominant offense. Beyond Rollins and Utley, Ryan Howard hit 47 home runs and drove in 136 RBIs. In what turned out to be his final year with the Phillies, Aaron Rowand, originally acquired with the aforementioned Gonzalez from the White Sox, slashed .309/.374/.515 with 27 home runs, 89 RBIs and a 5.4 fWAR. Jayson Werth, who gained the most from Rowand departing that offseason, had a breakout year. Shane Victorino posted a 2.8 fWAR.

Garcia didn’t turn out to be a good addition. But it’s funny to look back over a decade later and see the impact he may have had on Rollins, who led one of the finest offenses in franchise history in 2007.

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