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.

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