Pence deal helps Phillies' Series chances 

July, 30, 2011
The Philadelphia Phillies have acquired right fielder Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros for four minor league players. The Phillies had one glaring need at the trade deadline, and this trade filled it with a right-handed bat for their lineup’s five hole, while also giving them a good defensive right fielder. Pence is a two-time All-Star who was one of the most popular Astros players in the clubhouse and with the fans. He is only 28 years old, and the Phillies now have control of him for two more full seasons beyond 2011.

In making the trade, the Astros acquired the Phillies’ best pitching prospect, 21-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, and their best position player prospect, first baseman/left fielder Jonathan Singleton. However, neither player has played a full season against competition better than Class A, so they both have a long path to the major leagues -- 2014 is the most optimistic timetable for their arrivals. On the surface, most people will evaluate this deal as positive for the Astros, based on long-term projections and visions of the type of players Cosart and Singleton can become. However, Cosart has a history of health issues, and there are questions about whether Singleton will have much game power and will be able to hit good major league pitching.

The Astros didn’t get enough for the best player on their team, as this deal has a lot of risk for them. In a deal such as this, it would have been better to acquire at least one major league player or top prospects who were closer to the major leagues.

Every GM I worked for always preached the importance of trading for proven major league players or prospects who were close to the major leagues to reduce the risk of failure or injuries, unless of course the player was a sure thing. Early in my career, in 1987, the late Syd Thrift, GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates, traded All-Star catcher Tony Pena to the St. Louis Cardinals. Pena was the team’s most popular player, but Thrift got center fielder Andy Van Slyke, catcher Mike LaValliere and pitcher Mike Dunne. It was an unpopular deal at the time, but it ended up being a key trade in reshaping the Pirates into a contender. The difference between that trade and this one is that Van Slyke, LaValliere and Dunne already had some major league service time, which lessened the risk of the transaction not playing up to its potential. This deal has no major league player coming back, and the two best prospects in the package haven’t even made it to Double-A.

Billy Beane, president and GM of the Oakland A’s, has a philosophy that is backed up by history. For every three top pitching prospects, one gets hurt, one stumbles and one makes it. In short, that means you need three top pitching prospects to get one. Cosart has a chance to become a top-of-the-rotation starter, if he’s fortunate enough to be the one of three. Singleton has a chance to hit and hit for power; he also might never succeed against the game’s best pitchers and their best stuff. Pitcher Josh Zeid, the third player in the trade, has a good arm and might make it to the Astros’ bullpen. The player to be named later will eventually get named (of course), and when he is, it probably will be someone with an even smaller chance of making it successfully in the big leagues. We all love prospects and we all hope they reach their potential, but we all know the gigantic risk that exists for even the game’s best prospects.

If this was the best deal the Astros could have made for Hunter Pence, they should have waited until a better deal came to them, either Sunday or in the offseason.

On the other side of the deal, the Phillies, under the leadership of GM Ruben Amaro, have made a significant deadline trade for the third consecutive year. In 2009 they acquired Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians. In 2010 it was Roy Oswalt from the Astros. And this year it’s Hunter Pence, again from the Astros. All these moves give the Phillies their best chance of returning to the World Series for the first time since 2009 with home-field advantage.

Pence will be the Phillies’ starting right fielder next to Shane Victorino in center field and Raul Ibanez in left. The deal will allow the Phillies to be more patient with the development of Domonic Brown, whom they’re expected to option to the minors to make room for Pence. The demotion will allow Brown to get playing time to continue his development instead of sticking as their fourth outfielder and prepare him to take over Ibanez’s spot in the outfield when the veteran becomes a free agent at season’s end.

Here’s a breakdown of the players involved in the deal:

Hunter Pence
The 28-year-old Pence was the Astros’ representative in the All-Star Game this year. He’s a complete player who looks awkward in everything he does. He is a support player, not an impact player, but one who will fit in nicely in right field for the Phillies, and most importantly fit in nicely in the fifth position of the Phillies’ lineup behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Pence is not a high-OPS or high-OBP player, and has never driven in 100 runs.

However, he has been one of the most consistent hitters in the National League over the past four years. Pence should benefit from playing at Citizens Bank Park, and should improve on his normal .280 average with 25 home runs and 80 RBIs. Besides getting a boost from the park, being inserted in a lineup to bat after Utley and Howard will definitely help.

He is not the kind of player you measure by stats, and he’s extremely strange looking at times, from the awkward throwing angle to the weird leg pattern as he rounds the bases. But he is a winner and definitely helps the Phillies' chances of getting to the World Series.

He was hitting .309/.356/.472 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 26 doubles, 11 home runs and 62 RBIs in 99 games at the time of the trade, on pace for career bests in many categories. He’s a good right fielder on a world championship-caliber team.

Jarred Cosart
Cosart, 21, has an electric arm with a fastball clocked at 93-98 mph with good late life. His curveball is slightly above average at times, and his changeup continues to develop. He has clean arm action and a chance to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

This year he was pitching at the Phillies’ Clearwater affiliate in the High-A Florida State League, where he was 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 43 walks in 108 innings pitched. His WHIP was 1.30.

He was the Phillies' 38th-round selection of the June 2008 free-agent amateur draft. He’s had a history of shoulder, elbow and back problems; some scouts have questioned his desire and work ethic.

Jonathan Singleton