Hunter Pence

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.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: