So, a few people disagreed with my take on the Hunter Pence trade. And that’s pretty understandable. When you’re a contender and you have a chance to get an All-Star caliber player for A-ball prospects, sometimes you just have to pull the trigger.
My opinion is that the Phillies should have been able to get more if they were parting with Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart in the same deal. Those are two of the top 50 prospects in the game. I think it’s a better return than what the Padres got for Adrian Gonzalez from the Red Sox. It’s far, far better than what the Phillies got when they traded Cliff Lee to the Mariners a year and a half ago, and it’s probably more than what they gave up for Roy Halladay. Even the best players don’t generally net the kind of return Pence just did.
Of course, there is a big difference here, in that Pence is under control for 2 1/3 years, whereas most of these kinds of trades take place with a year or less left before free agency.
The Astros, though, were never able to sign Pence to a long-term deal through his arbitration years as so many other teams have done with their building blocks. Not only that, but Pence was a super-two arbitration player after 2009, meaning he’s getting four chances to build his salary in arbitration, rather than the usual three.
Had Pence debuted a month later in 2007, he wouldn’t have been arbitration eligible for the first time until this year. Under those circumstances, I think he would have made something like $5 million, $8 million and $11 million in his three arbitration years.
Instead, Pence made $3.5 million in 2010 and he’s earning $6.9 million this year after winning his arbitration case against the Astros (Houston actually offered him $5.15 million). Now he’s in a position to earn $10 million next year and $13 million-$14 million in 2012.
And Pence needs to take a step forward if he’s going to be any sort of a bargain at $23 million the next two years. Yeah, he’s a two-time All-Star, but his OPS has hovered right around .800 in each of his four full seasons. He strikes out 2 1/2 times for every time he walks, and his career OBP is .339. He hit exactly 25 homers each year from 2008-10, but he’s going to fall short of that mark this year.
It’s not my intention to slam Pence. I still think he has the ability to take his game up a notch. In my opinion, he hasn’t been deserving of either of his All-Star appearances, but that’s not to say he won’t be worthy of future bids. Phillies fans should enjoy watching him — he’s about as awkward as a good player can be — and if he gets hot at the right time, then he’s certainly capable of making a difference come October.
But there’s a lot of downside here. The Phillies are up to a $170 million payroll now, and they just shed their two best prospects without getting a superstar in return. With the farm system drying up, it could be extremely expensive for the Phillies to field a contender in 2013 and beyond.
Plus, the Phillies may well be replacing the wrong corner outfielder with the trade. Raul Ibanez’s bat has been pretty good since a horrible April, but he’s still a big liability defensively. Domonic Brown has also looked pretty shaky with the glove, but he does offer quite a bit more athleticism than Ibanez and his bat only figures to get better.
At least the Phillies did keep Brown out of the trade talks. Next year’s Brown-Shane Victorino-Pence outfield should rank as the best in the NL East. And shedding Ibanez’s $11.5 million salary will make Pence’s easier to swallow.
So, the 2011 Phillies are a better team now than they were 24 hours ago. But I think they were good enough 24 hours ago to win the pennant. My feeling is that they simply didn’t get better enough to justify the loss of the prospects. Other opinions may vary.