All the talk surrounding the Phillies, their trade deadline needs, plans and possible targets has been halted. For months, it’s been widely agreed that the Phillies were missing a right-handed bat in the heart of their order. Now, they’ve got their guy.
On Thursday evening, the Phillies pulled the trigger on a trade for outfielder Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros in exchange for a package of three minor league prospects and a player to be named later. It was thought that the Phillies were one of the front runners to acquire Pence in the coming weeks and days leading up to Sunday’s trade dealine. That race is now over and the Phillies are the big winners in the Hunter Pence sweepstakes by killing two birds with a big stone: they add a missing, key ingredient to their lineup and they were able to one-up Atlanta and keep Pence out a Braves uniform.
In exchange for Pence, the National League East leading Phillies will send back two of their top prospects to the Astros, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and pitcher Jarred Cosart. Both prospects are under 22 years old and both carry a lot of potential. The 19-year-old Singleton was hitting .282 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs for Class-A Clearwater, while the 21-year-old righty Cosart was 9-8 in 19 starts with a 3.92 ERA for Clearwater. Philadelphia also parted with Josh Zeid, a 25-year-old right hander who went 2-3 with two saves and a 5.65 ERA in 21 games (11 starts) for Double-A Reading.
Perhaps more impressive on the part of the Phillies is that landing a player of Pence’s caliber didn’t cost them outfielder Domonic Brown, who was thought to have been one of the centerpieces of a trade package going back to Houston.
With Pence on his way to the city of Brotherly Love, he gets the chance to make a difference in a pennant race. Pence, 28, is hitting .309 (the highest batting average among NL right fielders) with 11 homers and 62 RBIs. The Phillies have not replaced Jayson Werth to date. They didn’t find an adequate right-handed hitting substitute at the plate and they didn’t replace his defense out in right field. Pence brings that coveted right-handed prescence in the lineup (presumably he’ll hit behind Ryan Howard) and he brings a veteran defensive prescence in right field.
Beyond Pence’s capabilites and tools, perhaps the most important factor in this trade is that Pence does not arrive in Philadelphia as a three-month rental player. He’s under contract for the remainder of this season and for the next two seasons. If the Phillies opted to go the route of trading for Carlos Beltran, they would’ve not only had to part with upwards of three or four prospects, but then they would’ve had to play wait-and-see over the winter when Beltran hits the open free agent market. At best, the Phillies would’ve had a 50/50 chance at either keeping him or watching him leave, and it’s very likely Beltran would be just a rental as he’s certain to test the open market this coming winter. With Pence, there’s no such worries. He’s not a rental player or hired gun, and he’s under contract and will be a Phillies for next two seasons beyond this year.
The Phillies and general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. are making it an annual habit of making headlines via trades at the deadline. In 2008, looking for another arm to add to the rotation, they acquired Joe Blanton from the Oakland A’s. In ’09, the Phillies again made noise by adding lefty Cliff Lee from Cleveland. Both acquistions paid dividends, resulting in the Phillies making consecutive trips to the World Series. Last year, Amaro didn’t still either, adding Roy Oswalt from Houston.
So now it’s Pence who becomes the latest Houston Astros All-Star to be traded to the Phillies. Before Pence, the Phillies have had a few friendly dealings with the Astros, acquiring closer Brad Lidge in November 2007 and landing Oswalt last year.
Pence will make his Phillies debut for Saturday’s night game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, batting fifth and playing right field. Pence’s arrival could possibly mean the departure of Brown. Philadelphia needs to make a roster move and Brown might be demoted back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Once again, the Phillies have continued to always elevate their expectations. They did so by trading for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, then signing Lee as a free agent this past offseason. Those expectations aren’t likely to change with addition of Pence. Just this week, the Phillies’ lineup endured a couple of punchless and meager efforts thanks largely to the Giants’ one-two punch of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The Phillies not only lost both games but didn’t score an earned run in either game. Perhaps that was the final tipping point for Amaro, who felt just a little more urgency to go and get Pence balance the lineup and make it formidable again should the Phillies and Giants cross paths in say….October??
The present and the future is now for the Phillies. This shouldn’t be any secret. With their rotation (Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Oswalt and maybe even Vance Worley), it’s World Series and another parade down Broad Street or epic fail in Philadelphia.
Certainly, Hunter Pence will help their October cause.