Some more Pence-ive thoughts

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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.

Jeurys Familia’s domestic violence suspension to be announced today

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Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the announcement of Jeurys Familia‘s domestic violence suspension is expected some time today.

Familia was arrested in October following an incident at his home. Criminal charges were dropped in December. As we know, however, MLB’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced, let alone completed, before the leveling of league punishment. MLB has been investigating the incident for the past several months.

Billy Witz of the New York Times reported Monday that the suspension is “almost certain” to be lighter than the 30-game suspension Aroldis Chapman received one year ago. However much time Familia misses, the Mets are expecting Addison Reed to fill in at closer until he returns.

2017 Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

Let’s look first at the strengths. There’s Mike Trout, the undisputed best player in the game. That’s always a good start. I could bore you with a bunch of stats and historical comparisons here but we’re friends here and, let’s be honest, we don’t need or even want that. The guy is good, ’nuff said.

Indeed, I had an impulse to simply photoshop Trout’s head on this poster and be done with the entire Angels preview:

 

You could almost stop reading now and know what’s up in Anaheim this year.

But honestly, Trout isn’t the only strength here. The Angels have the best defensive shortstop in the league in Andrelton Simmons and a lot of other good defensive players as well, from Kole Calhoun in right, Cameron Maybin in left, Luis Valbuena at first (or wherever he’s slotted once he comes back from a hamstring injury) and Danny Espinosa at second. Their catching corps — Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez — are solid too. When you lack team depth and have pitching challenges like the Angels do, not kicking the ball all over the field is a good thing. The Angels have kicked the ball a lot in recent years but they’ll be pretty good with the leather in 2017, and that can make up for a lot of faults.

But I ain’t gonna lie, there are a lot of faults here.

Garrett Richards is back from a UCL injury that sidelined him most of last season. He didn’t get Tommy John surgery — he went with stem cell treatment — so the recovery time is lower. Still, it seems like a lot of guys who go the rehab route end up going under the knife eventually anyway, so everyone will have their eye on the Angels’ ace as the season goes on.

Beyond Richards the rotation is suspect. Matt ShoemakerRicky NolascoTyler Skaggs — also coming back from injury — and Jesse Chavez do not, as a group, strike fear into anyone’s hearts. I guess the hope here is that Nolasco’s pitching after he came over from Minnesota is more indicative of what he can do than what he did earlier in the year. Or, for that matter, for the past three seasons. If Richards is healthy he’s an ace. The rest of these guys are basically average at best.

The pen has issues. Cam Bedrosian had a fantastic 2016, but it was definitely a huge step up for him and may have been an aberration. closer Huston Street did not have a fantastic 2016, is recovering from a strained lat now and it’s fair to ask whether he’s got what it takes to close in the bigs anymore. Even if that’s too pessimistic an assessment, he’s missed a lot of time this spring. Andrew Bailey, like Nolasco, pitched well after coming to Anaheim last summer but poorly before that, with the poorly looking more like his true level than the well. Otherwise Mike Scioscia has a lot of young arms but not a lot of particularly good ones. Look for his bullpen to feature a cast of thousands.

As for the lineup: Trout is Trout. Albert Pujols is recovering from yet another foot issue. He still has old man strength and can hit some dingers, but he’s a shell of his former self and it’s fair to ask how many lower body maladies a guy whose primary value is tied up in power can tolerate. Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron are useful and predictable, even if they’re not game-changers. The Angels were 10th in offense in the AL last year. It’s hard to see them making a big leap from that level this year, even if they’re not likely to be too much worse either.

Ultimately, there’s not enough pitching here and there’s not a scary enough secondary or tertiary offensive threat behind Trout to make the offense difficult to deal with. If you play the Angels you’ll score some runs and you can pitch to everyone who isn’t wearing the number 27. That’s not gonna cut it in the AL West this year.

Prediction: Fourth place, American League West.