Last night, the Philadelphia Phillies recalled right fielder Hunter Pence from their major league affiliate in Houston, sending back four minor leaguers to the Astros: pitcher Jarred Cosart, outfielder Jonathan Singleton, reliever Josh Zeid and a player to be named later.
I think this is good news for the Mets.
Now, on one hand, this trade makes Philadelphia better for the next three seasons. The righthanded hitting Pence, under team control through 2013, helps balance a lefty-heavy Phillies’ lineup that is batting just .237/.308/.356 against lefthanded pitching this season. He is also a boost to an offense that has been merely average. And with Raul Ibanez’s contract expiring after this year, Pence and Domonic Brown can fill in Philly’s outfield corners for the next two seasons and maybe even beyond. All that is good for Philadelphia.
But on the other hand . . . Hunter Pence is not one of the ten best players in baseball. He isn’t one of the twenty best players in baseball, or one of the thirty best players. In fact, per Fangraphs’ count, over the past three calender years, Pence is the 38th best position player in baseball. By Baseball-Reference’s count, Pence has been the 109th best position player in baseball over the past three seasons. As in, since 2009, there are 108 position players — not pitchers and position players, but just position players — who have provided their team with more wins on the field than Hunter Pence.
And the Phillies just traded Jarred Cosart, a 21-year-old pitcher in Advanced-A ball named the #43 best prospect in baseball by Baseball America this month . . . and Jonathan Singleton, a 19-year-old first baseman/outfielder, also in Advanced-A ball, named the #41 best prospect in baseball by Baseball America this month . . . and Josh Zeid, a Double-A reliever armed with a good slider but having a down year . . . and one more prospect to be named later . . . for that Hunter Pence. Arguably the 109th best position player in baseball.
This isn’t to diss Pence, who is a good-if-crazy-eyed player. He’s hit 25 home runs three seasons in a row and has led the NL in outfield assists twice (2008 and 2009) and is leading again this season. He’ll help the Phillies win games down the stretch and in October. But he’s not a great player, and the Phillies just sent a package of prospects to Houston worthy of a great player. They sent off two of their top five prospects, and probably four of their top fifteen prospects. That’s the sort of group you trade for a couple years of Manny Ramirez, not for a corner outfielder with a career .339 on-base percentage.
It’s worth pointing out that 23-year-old Domonic Brown, whom the Phillies will now send back to Triple-A, has a .335 on-base percentage this season and an OPS well over .900 in the minor leagues over the past two seasons. It’s possible that Brown might have outhit Pence down the stretch anyway, although without balancing the Phillies’ lefthanded problem.
The Phillies have made themselves a bit better for the next two or three seasons — at the price of two players who could make them much better in 2013 or 2014. Prospects are prospects, and Cosart and Singleton may never see the big league. If the Phillies win it all again this season, it will be worth the cost.
But I think this is good news for the Mets, Braves, Nationals, and Marlins, because looking ahead to 2013:
- The Mets have $45 million dollars on the books for three players — Johan Santana, Jason Bay, and David Wright, plus $15 million to re-up Wright.
- The Phillies have $82 million dollars on the books for four players — Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee — plus a few options (Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco) here and there. Most of these players will be 33 years old or older.
- The Mets have 12 players who A.) have played big roles on the major league team this season and B.) will be under team control and 30-or-younger in 2013. (Josh Thole, Ike Davis, Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Jason Pridie, Lucas Duda, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Pedro Beato and Bobby Parnell.)
- The Phillies have eight players who A.) have played big roles on the major league team this season and B.) will be under team control and 30-or-younger in 2013. (Hunter Pence, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Michael Martinez, Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo, David Herndon and Kyle Kendrick.)
Hold on. The Phillies have carried Michael Martinez, a 28-year-old Rule 5 utility-man batting .218 with a .580 OPS on their roster all season. Has anyone explained this? Because it looks like Ruben Amaro Jr. trying to win a bet with someone. “Hey, 20 bucks says you won’t pick a random guy out of the Nationals’ system and keep him on the roster all season, no matter how bad he plays.” Is there any other explanation? Is Martinez a versatile enough defender to justify his .580 OPS?
- The Mets now have two prospects on Baseball America’s top 50 mid-season prospect list (Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler), four on Baseball America’s top 100 pre-season list (Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, Caesar Puello, and Wheeler), and four on Baseball-Prospectus’ top 100 pre-season list (Mejia, Flores, Harvey and Wheeler).
- The Phillies have no prospects on Baseball America’s mid-season list, two on Baseball America’s pre-season list (Brown and Brody Colvin), and two on Baseball-Prospectus’ pre-season list (also Brown and Colvin).
- The Mets, Braves, Marlins, Nationals and 25 other teams don’t owe Ryan Howard, the 20th best first basemen in baseball this season, $125 million dollars over the next five years.
- The Phillies do owe Ryan Howard, a 31 year old who ranks 16th among first basemen in OPS this season, $125 million dollars over the next five seasons.
The 2013 season doesn’t start for 21 months, and a lot of things can happen between then and now. There’s a lot of crystal-ball gazing here, and the Phillies are certainly in good shape this season — selling plenty of tickets is a good method to ensure things continue to go your way. Also, the Braves look to be in good shape, especially with Heyward, Freeman, and all their young pitching. But the future is certainly starting to look better for the Mets, who, by the way, are on an 84 win pace this season with a bad pitching staff and a Reyes-Beltran-and-the-scrubs offense. The Hunter Pence trade helps the Phillies, who are running away with the division in 2011, right now. But 2012 and 2013 are still very much up for grabs, and things slowly seem to be tipping towards the Mets. They certainly have been this week.