Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hunter Pence Should Be the Top Trade Target for the Philadelphia Phillies

While the Philadelphia Phillies will be looking for bullpen help at this summer’s MLB trade deadline, as they do most seasons, but their biggest weakness is their offense.

After being a feared lineup before last season the team’s offense has sputtered. They went missing in the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants and this season are 18th in all of baseball in home runs (81, a shame in their supposedly hitter’s ballpark), 19th in OPS (.700), 21st in batting average (.248) and 22nd in slugging percentage (.379).

The man they should target is Hunter Pence, an outfielder with the Houston Astros.

Outfield is the position that the Phils could upgrade and Pence is a righty, which will help balance their lefty-heavy middle of the order (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez).

Pence is enjoying a great year. He has 11 home runs this year and 61 RBI and those totals would be third and second-best on the Phillies right now. His .318 average would lead the team and he’d also be in the top few in on-base percentage (.359) and OPS (.843).

This season the Phillies have mostly used a right-field platoon of Dominic Brown and Ben Francisco. Combined those two have hit 11 home runs and only 47 RBI. Add John Mayberry Jr.’s 24 RBI and that total just eclipses Pence’s total by 11. And none of those three are hitting above .243.

It isn’t just his hitting that makes Pence the perfect fit in Philly though. He’s a good fielder who has never committed more than six errors in a season, has a career fielding percentage of .986 when playing right field (he spent some of his rookie season in center field) and has a good arm. Pence also has good speed and runs the bases well (he would be fourth on the Phillies with seven steals and he hasn’t been caught stealing yet).

His contract situation is also suitable. He’s making a manageable $6.9 million this season and, more importantly, is signed through 2013. He won’t just be a rental player.

Having Pence would also let Brown develop on his own pace better this year with less pressure, as the rookie looks has struggled this year after missing the beginning of the season due to an injury.

The Astros should be sellers at the trade market, owners of the worst record in MLB (30-63). Word from Houston’s management is that they aren’t terribly interested in trading Pence, but that’s not to say the Phils don’t still have a chance to swing a deal.

Philadelphia and Houston are familiar trade partners. Astros General Manager Ed Wade previously held the same position with the Phillies, and he has swung some nice deals with his old employer. Before the 2008 season he sent Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett to the Phillies and both played big roles in helping the Phillies win the World Series that year. Last season Wade shipped long-time Astro-ace Roy Oswalt to Philly.

It’s not like the Astros haven’t received anything in return either. The Lidge trade netted them Michael Bourn, a speedy centerfielder who is enjoying a career year with a .287 batting average, 60 runs, seven triples and 35 stolen bases. In exchange for Oswalt Houston received J.A. Happ, a solid middle of the rotation guy.

And while the Phillies farm system has been depleted over the past few years with trades for Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Oswalt they still do have some young talent that would be available to move.

Brown came in the season as the Phillies top-ranked prospect. He would be a major-league ready prospect that the Astros could slide into the lineup immediately. Another young player on the Phillies major league roster that could interest the Astros is starting pitcher Vance Worley. He is 5-0 this season with a 2.15 ERA filling in for injuries on the pitching staff. When Oswalt and Blanton come back off the DL however he will most likely be the odd-man-out.

Other prospects that interest teams are first baseman/outfielder and slugger Jonathan Singleton (currently blocked at first base by Ryan Howard), catcher Sebastian Valle and pitchers Brody Colvin, Jarred Cosart, Jesse Biddle, Trevor May and Phillippe Aumont.

Pence may cost the Phillies more than some of the other available outfielders on the market—Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick and Jeff Francoeur—would. But look at those names. None of them have been more consistent throughout their careers than Pence. Francoeur leads those three in career batting average (.267) but doesn’t come close to Pence’s (.292). Their power numbers this year aren’t even that much different from Pence. Willingham and Francoeur have 12 home runs while Ludwick has 11 and all three have fewer RBIs.

Also, are any of those three really that much better than Dominic Brown? Pence is a significant upgrade, but the other three don’t improve the position that much more to merit making a trade.

The Phillies championship window is getting smaller and smaller with guys like Howard, Utley, Rollins, Halladay and Lee all in their 30’s. Now is the time to take advantage of their talents by adding equally talented players to the roster to complement them.

Pence fits the bill. All other options are just cheap substitutes.

Photo Credits.
Hunter Pence: AP Photo/Dave Einsel
Dominic Brown: AP Photo/Tom Mihalek

Hunter Pence video diary. Video from YouTube.

Monday, July 4, 2011

MLS All-American Starting XI

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Independence Day is the USA’s birthday and a great opportunity to celebrate being an American.

Not all the best American soccer players play in MLS, and not all the best players in MLS are American. So in honor of this great nation here is a starting XI of the best American players in MLS so far in the 2011 season.

The list features one goalie, three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards. To be eligible for this list the player has to be eligible to play for the United States Men’s National Team.


Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake

Goalie is a position of strength for Americans, and MLS has its share of talented American keepers. Rimando is at the top of the class.

Compared to other goalies that have played in 10 or more games, the 5’8” net minder is third in winning percentage (43%), second in save percentage (79%), second in goals against average (0.64) and second in shutouts.

He missed a few games due to his inclusion with the USMNT in the Gold Cup, but with Rimando in net RSL is one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league. They currently have allowed only nine goals all season.


Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles Galaxy

At 6’4”, Gonzalez towers over the opposition and he uses his size and strength to his advantage. He is the defensive centerpiece for the Western Conference-leading Galaxy. The team has allowed only 15 goals against—second in MLS—and is first with a plus-10 goal differential.

Because of his height Gonzalez can also be used in set pieces in front of the goal, registering one so far this season.

Jay DeMerit, Vancouver Whitecaps

He was the high-profile signing for the Whitecaps for their inaugural season and, when healthy, provides great leadership for one of two expansion teams.

The captain, as he has his whole career, is aggressive and a fighter and that rubs off on his teammates. The key for him is to just stay healthy, playing in only 10 games due to a groin injury. Still, when he plays he makes an obvious impact on the game.

Tim Ream, New York Red Bulls

National team duty is the only way the Red Bulls can get this promising prospect off the field.

Since joining the team as a second-round draft pick last year, Ream has played every single minute of every possible game he was active for. No injuries, no substitutions and no suspensions; the only reason Ream has missed time this year is because he was taken away to play with the USMNT in the Gold Cup.

Durability is not his only special trait. Ream has a great calmness on the ball and plays with much poise out of the back. He is a crisp passer and his ability to successfully begin the transition from defense to offense is not only perfect for the possession-obsessed New York Red Bulls, it is rare amongst most American centerbacks.


Benny Feilhaber, New England Revolution

The 26-year-old made a huge splash in the league when he was signed by the Revolution in April. Attendance at New England games has increased thanks to Feilhaber’s presence, but that is the only thing that has improved about this club.

In the seven games he’s played in he has played every single minute. He has two assists this season, his first coming within his first 12 minutes of his debut. He’s an offensive-minded player and he has helped the struggling Revolution do a much better job of moving the ball around and push the ball up the field.

Brad Davis, Houston Dynamo

Brad Davis may be the best-player you haven’t heard of. The midfielder is a master of setting his teammates up. He has tallied 12 assists the past two years, finishing third in MLS last season, and already has nine this season, first in the league. He has two goals of his own this season as well.

He doesn’t get the headlines, he doesn’t get the individual accolades but Davis is very good on the wing and does a lot to help his team get a victory. The number of assists he produces on a yearly basis is quite impressive.

Jack Jewsbury, Portland Timbers

The 30-year-old midfielder is having a career year. As captain of the expansion Portland Timbers, Jewsbury has already tallied six assists (tied for fourth in the league, second-highest total of his career) and four goals (tied for a career-high).

Portland is not high in the standings, but they are a competitive team—especially at home—and it has to do with Jewsbury’s emergence from role player to the main man in the middle of the field.

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake

The dreadlocked one has been a mainstay in the Real Salt Lake lineup now for the past four years. He serves as the team’s captain and is tenacious on the defensive end of the field.

It’s hard to imagine there being a 50-50 ball or a tough tackle that Beckerman has ever shied away from. He maintains a positive attitude and has a strong will to win. He is the heart and soul of Real Salt Lake and a big reason for their transformation into one of, if not the most well-rounded team in MLS.

He hasn’t lost a step this season.

Brek Shea, FC Dallas

Always recognizable for his long blonde hair, Shea’s play has been just as noteworthy this season. He has a tremendous amount of talent and this year he is doing a good job showcasing it.

Currently he is one of four players tied for the league lead in goals scored (8). He has four goals in his past four games and is taking up the slack left behind by injured 2010 MVP David Ferreira. He also leads the league with four game-winning goals. He also puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses, taking 42 shots this season, sixth in the league.

Shea’s dominance on the field has helped FC Dallas climb the standings to second place in the Western Conference, sitting only one point behind the Galaxy. He’s an early candidate for league MVP.


Charlie Davies, D.C. United

Every American soccer fan’s favorite story, someone it seems like everyone is rooting for, Charlie Davies is making a remarkable comeback for his first action on the pitch since that heavily-publicized car accident in October of 2009.

He is tied for the league lead in goals (8), even though he has only started eight games and played in 14. While his speed still may not be at the same level it was pre-injury, Davies is fast enough to get behind defenses and really cause trouble on the offensive end of the field.

For most, it has been fun to watch Davies resurgence. A number of his goals have come from the penalty spot rather than in the run of play and he still is not quite ready to make his return to the USMNT, but Davies is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets for D.C. and is enjoying a very good first season in MLS.

Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy

Donovan is not only the face of the Galaxy, not only the face of MLS, but he is also the face of American soccer. His play on the field this year is once again top-notch and the perennial MVP-candidate is making another run for the trophy this season.

In only 11 games (missing time with the USMNT in the Gold Cup) he has eight goals, also one of four players tied for the league lead. He is the team’s captain, longest tenured player, and its leader. His team has the most points in the entire league and with no National Team matches coming up he should be on the field for the remainder of the Galaxy games, creating goals.

He’s a versatile player, which allows him to slide up as a forward in this starting lineup. He only has one assist this season, which is unusual for Donovan, but with more games and more time to get acclimated with his teammates he should improve on his assist number.


Kasey Keller, GK, Seattle Sounders; Todd Dunivant, D, Los Angeles Galaxy; Chad Marshall, D, Columbus Crew; Robbie Rogers, M, Columbus Crew; Jeff Larentowicz, M, Colorado Rapids; Teal Bunbury, F, Sporting Kansas City; Chris Wondolowski, F, San Jose Earthquakes