The Philadelphia 76ers made a bunch of noise and stole the headlines as the last grains of sand left the hourglass on the NBA trade deadline. They acquired James Harden on February 10 from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for disgruntled all-star Ben Simmons, shooting guard Seth Curry, center Andre Drummond, and two future-protected first-round picks. The Sixers also received forward Paul Millsap from Brooklyn in the deal.
Fans of both teams, and the rest of the NBA for that matter, weighed in immediately and argued about who got the better end of the deal. National media members discussed a litany of topics related to the trade, whether it be who won, who is better, was it a good trade for the Sixers, are the fans or organization to blame for Simmons wanting to leave, we could be here all day. Since the trade, Harden has the best selling jersey in the NBA and the Sixers are the top selling team, according to Fanatics. The point is, the Sixers were in the headlines for everyone as one thing was clear: this trade made waves.
I have always lived by this sports mindset: B.O.E – Baseball Over Everything. It is my first love. So just like any sports news, when I heard the news of the James Harden trade, I had a thought: What mid-season trade in recent Phillies history would Harden most be like for the Phillies? Let’s get into it.
Joe Blanton – 2008
On July 17, 2008 the Phillies acquired Joe Blanton in exchange for Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman, and Matthew Spencer.
Back in 2008, the Phillies were trying to follow-up a strong 2007 season that broke their postseason drought with another trip to the postseason. The Phils were in first place from the beginning of June through the All-Star break. They made it known to other organizations that they wanted to upgrade their pitching staff in order to put less pressure on the bullpen. During the break, they did just that. Blanton may not have been the flashiest name traded that season (insert Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia), but the Phillies pulled the trigger.
Blanton had a 4.69 ERA for the A’s prior to the trade. Those might not jump off the page, especially compared to his 4.10 career ERA prior to that season. Clearly, James Harden is much better statistically than Joe Blanton. He had five straight seasons averaging 29 points or higher, including three straight where he led the Association in scoring. This season has been a down year for Harden statistically – he is averaging the lowest points per game since he played for Oklahoma City back in 2011-12. May be good numbers for some, but average to below average for his standards – a Joe Blanton season if you will.
Blanton came to Philadelphia and did exactly what the franchise was looking for – stabilize the rotation and help them on a deep post-season run. His 4.20 ERA the rest of the way for Philly was par for the course and not far off from his numbers with Oakland. But, he did go 4-0 during the regular season in a Phillies uniform. During the post-season, Blanton went 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA and left his mark on Phillies and major league lore by hitting a homerun in the World Series.
That homerun made me jump out of my chair. I jokingly called he would hit a homerun to my friend moments before, as Blanton had just swung so hard at the previous pitch he nearly fell over. He may go down as the last full-time pitcher to hit a homerun in the World Series if the universal DH is adopted. His numbers may not have gotten drastically better, but come crunch time he stepped up, left fans with an unforgettable moment, and helped get the Phillies a World Series ring – their first since 1980.
So, the question is: will Harden channel his inner Joe? Will we see the Beard continue his “average” output (for him) while Embiid continues his dominant season, but then he steps up in the post-season? Maybe he will even leave us with an unforgettable moment on the biggest stage. An epic deep buzzer beater perhaps? Most importantly, if we use Joe and 2008 as a guide, the Sixers will be the last team standing, holding the Larry O’Brien trophy as champions.
Cliff Lee – 2009
2009 was another strong season for the Fightin’ Phils. Coming off a World Series victory, expectations were high and they had a target on their backs for the first time in a long time. Prior to acquiring Lee, the Phillies had been in first place from May 30 up until the trade was made, sporting a seven game lead in the division – a lead they would never relinquish. But with Brett Myers undergoing surgery, Cole Hamels having a down year by his excellent standards, and Jamie Moyer having an ERA over 5.00, there was an obvious need for some more rotation help.
Lee showed up and made an immediate impact. He was the reigning Cy Young in the AL. His cool, calm, yet silent confidence clicked with fans immediately. In his first start for his new team, Lee carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished with a complete-game 5–1 victory over the Giants. He finished the season with 12 starts for the Phils, including three complete games. Lee went 7–4 with a 3.39 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 79.2 innings.
His impact truly came come playoff time. Lee had a 0.74 ERA through 24.1 innings in his first three postseason starts in the NLDS and NLCS combined. He was absolutely dominant. The Phillies made it back to the Fall Classic. He continued that dominance in Game 1 of the World Series, outduelling former teammate CC Sabathia. Lee threw a complete game while striking out 10 and walking none – the first time a pitcher had done that in World Series history – to put the Phillies up 1-0 in the series. He also made two plays as nonchalant as can be.
He turned around in Game 5 and recorded another victory, despite allowing five runs over seven innings. Ultimately the Phillies fell short of the repeat, making it oh so close.
So, will the Sixers get the dominant James Harden? Will he return to his previous form and continue to get better and better down the stretch before going nuts in the playoffs? Fans might be hopeful for Lee-like results, but if it is Championship you want – you may fall just short like Lee and the Phils in ’09.
Kyle Gibson & Ian Kennedy – 2021
The Phillies have been in a very large postseason draught. In 2021, they had questions all over the rotation and the bullpen. Despite that, they still had reasons for hope. Bryce Harper ended up winning NL MVP, Zack Wheeler finished as runner-up for NL Cy Young, Aaron Nola and JT Realmuto also gave the Phillies plenty of reasons to hope coming into the season. Instead, they struggled most of the season. In a weak division, they still had a chance to improve at the deadline and make a push towards the postseason. Gibson and Kennedy were both having career years. Gibson’s 2.87 ERA prior to the trade was the best of his career and Kennedy’s 2.51 ERA was the best of his career, three years after transitioning to a reliever.
As New Found Glory might say, it was all downhill from here. Gibson was supposed to give us another rotation piece to pair with the NAIT Zack Wheeler and possibly mask some of Aaron Nola’s struggles by taking some of the pressure off of him. Gibson pitched 12 games for the Phillies last season to the tune of a 5.09 ERA. That would have marked the second-worst of his career. He also averaged 8.9 hitter per nine innings and one home run per nine, finishing with a 4-6 record. Kennedy was supposed to stabilize a bullpen that had been in flux for several seasons. It did allow young pitcher Ranger Suarez to move from the bullpen to the rotation, which was a very effective move. However, his ERA ballooned by more than a run and a half to 4.13 over his 23 appearances for Philly. He recorded 10 saves but blew three and surrendered seven home runs in his short time in Philadelphia.
The question: Will Harden be like Gibson and Kennedy? Harden has been accused of not staying in shape, becoming easily disgruntled, and not always staying in game shape while partying a little too much. Time will tell, but if those things are true, will Harden fall off the table completely? Will his numbers balloon to almost role player levels? Now with 10 playoff teams, they may not fall out of playoff contention, but if Harden plays like Gibson and Kennedy, the Sixers faithful may be feeling a sense of deja vu as their season falls apart with Harden’s statistics.
Who do you think Harden will most perform with? Let us know if you have other examples of Phillies in-season trade acquisitions you think Harden might compare to before the season is done. Here’s hoping for Sixers fans sake, it’s not the Gibson and Kennedy route.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire