MLB Trade Deadline: Phillies Overpaid for Pence
In 2010, Hunter Pence must have hit .345 with 43 home runs, 52 doubles, 125 walks, and 173 RBI. He also must have sucker-punched the official scorer’s child.
Otherwise, it would be hard to explain why the Philadelphia Phillies (along with some other teams) were so intent on acquiring him. The Phillies committed four prospects to acquire the former Houston right fielder, including pitcher Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathon Singleton, the 70th and 39th ranked prospects in the country according to Baseball America (pre-2011).
Now, Hunter Pence is a very solid player. He is above-average at every aspect of his game except for patience. And, in defense of Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., Pence represents a significant upgrade over 23-year old rookie Domonic Brown and is under team control through 2013.
But for two top prospects, as well as two additional prospects, the impact of a new player needs to be absolutely huge, such as transforming a borderline contender to a playoff team. The Milwaukee Brewers’ 2008 trade to acquire CC Sabathia in exchange for top prospects Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson and Michael Brantley is a great example of this. The Brewers were in the hunt, would have been on the outside looking in if Sabathia hadn’t come to Milwaukee and gone 11-2 with a 1.60 ERA in 17 starts.
Upgrading right field in Philadelphia is not that big of an impact – at least not in 2011. The Phillies are already the best team in the National League. They’re already the odds-on favorite to win the World Series. Unless Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee break each other’s left thumbs in a pre-game arm-wrestling match, the Phillies will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This trade doesn’t substantially change the likelihood of anything that could be influenced by the regular season.
Once you just get into the playoffs – anything can happen. Your odds of winning it all – whether you’re the 2001 Seattle Mariners or the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals – are basically one in eight, whether your right fielder is an established big leaguer or a roughly league average rookie. They aren’t exactly that, but in a small enough sample of five or seven games, anything can happen. Alex Rodriguez can go 1 for 14. Chad Ogea can pitch like Cy Young. That’s what makes October so great.
If the Phillies don’t win it all, it won’t have anything to do with any lack of production they might get from right field, but rather it will mean that their star-studded rotation imploded and Rollins, Victorino, Utley, and Howard all struggled mightily.
Look at the player they acquired to upgrade their outfield. Really look at him. This isn’t a big-time game changer. This is Hunter Pence. Pence owns a career on-base percentage of .339, 1 point lower than the immortal Roger Cedeno. In three full seasons, he has not eclipsed a .500 slugging percentage. He’s a good player. He’s not a game-changer.
You don’t trade top prospects for the Hyndai Elentra of ballplayers.