Phillies pay heavy price for overvalued Hunter Pence

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The Phillies got their middle-of-the-order hitter Friday, picking up two-time All-Star Hunter Pence from the Astros for first baseman Jonathan Singleton, RHP Jarred Cosart, RHP Josh Zeid and a still undisclosed fourth player.

It’s the right-handed bat the Phillies felt they needed to slot in behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the order.  Pence, though, hasn’t been all that much better than Domonic Brown of late.  He’s batting .200 with just two RBI in 45 at-bats since the All-Star break.  Since June 1, he’s hitting .297/.344/.424 with three homers and 19 RBI in 172 at-bats.

Maybe now that he’s finished with the trade rumors, he’ll improve.  The Phillies are certainly banking on it after surrendering their top two prospects.  Singleton, who is just 19, was hitting .284/.387/.413 for Single-A Clearwater this season.  Because of Howard’s presence, the Phillies tried him in left field earlier this year.  But that didn’t take.  Singleton should be a 30-homer guy down the line, and he could be an upgrade over Brett Wallace by the end of 2013.

Cosart, 21, was also at Clearwater and was 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA and a 79/43 K/BB ratio in 108 innings.  He lacks polish for someone regarded as a top pitching prospect, but he throws in the mid-90s and shows a plus curveball.  He’s a definite candidate to flame out, but he has top-of-the-rotation potential.

Zeid isn’t so talented.  The 24-year-old had a 5.65 ERA and a 56/27 K/BB ratio in 63 2/3 innings while splitting time between the rotation and the pen for Double-A Reading.  If he makes it in the majors, it’ll be as a middle reliever.

Pence is the Phillies’ answer to Carlos Beltran, and the fact that he’s under control through 2013 necessated the big offer.  He will give the Phillies offense a lift, and he may well make a difference as a No. 5 hitter come playoff time.  Still, it’s debatable whether he was really enough of an upgrade to justify the investment.  He has a 119 OPS+ since 2009, which puts him a bit below fellow corner outfielders Nick Swisher and Josh Willingham and barely above Corey Hart and Bobby Abreu.  He is an above average defender and an asset on the basepaths, but he’s not truly a star and he’s about to get paid like one.

Kyle Schwarber is “probably, arguably” in The Best Shape of His Life

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Joe Maddon just held his annual media availability here at the Winter Meetings. During the scrum he said that Kyle Schwarber “looked great the other day” at a Cubs community event and that . . . wait for it . . . “he’s in, probably, arguably in the best shape of his life.” Maddon went on to say that, if Schwarber looks good in spring training, he might even be the Cubs leadoff hitter in 2018.

Schwarber is only 24, but the former catcher turned outfielder is going to spend most of his career as a DH, with another team obviously, unless he shows the Cubs that he can be a regular defender. The Cubs would love to see him in better shape whether they keep him or shop him, and if it’s the latter, they’ll want to show potential trade partners that he can play defense so as not to limit his market. It’s in everyone’s interests for him to be lean, mean and a bit more flexible once spring training starts.

To that end, according to a recent report, Schwarber “has been on a mission this offseason to transform his body.” And now Maddon is playing up the BSOHL angle. Whether that’s salesmanship or not, all eyes are going to be on Schwarber come February.