Four consecutive playoff appearances, a doubling of the payroll and a couple of favorable trades have just added to Ed Wade’s reputation in Philadelphia as a whipping boy. I was as surprised as anyone that Wade got another GM position, but if I looked at it honestly, perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Houston was a team with payroll limitations, they probably wanted to build from within, they weren’t in a terribly different spot than the Phillies were during Wade’s tenure. He did put together a decent team, ultimately failing to end a playoff drought, but many of his pieces are still in place. If you are among those who give all the credit to Mike Arbuckle, I suppose I don’t have a great argument for that, but the point is, Wade is not the blithering idiot that many perceive him to be. He hasn’t done a great job in Houston, but 160 million dollar payrolls tend to make people better GMs, and Wade has never had that luxury.
The truth is, a Hunter Pence deal may be Wade’s only chance to save his job. Houston is under new ownership, they’ll be looking to possibly clean house, they want to further cut some fat from the payroll, so if Wade is going to stick around he’s going to need a blockbuster package for Hunter Pence. The good news for him is that it appears a bidding war may be at hand.
The supply of hitters was thin to begin with and with Carlos Beltran going to another NL contender the Braves and Phillies are both feeling a sense of urgency. Not only have the Giants improved, but the Braves just struggled in a series against the Pirates and put Brian McCann on the DL. The Phillies lost 2 of 3 to the Giants sending the Phillies fan base into a level of panic that I didn’t even know existed. I’ll save another rant on the Phillies fan for now, perhaps until after they play four more in San Francisco, but I’m sure even Ruben Amaro realizes he’s not in the best bargaining position. Add to all that the news that Astros would like to complete a deal by today and it’s likely someone is going to pull the trigger on a very sweet deal for the Astros, regardless of Ed Wade’s involvement.
Of course with the increased interest in Pence there comes the inevitable backlash. Pence strikes out too much. He doesn’t hit for enough power. He’s just an average outfielder with a flashy arm. He’s been unusually lucky on balls in play this year. I’m not making that last one up, there are stats for such things. People are setting themselves up for an “I told you so,” moment if Pence hits .175 in the NLCS and one or more of the would be traded prospects develop. You just hope that Amaro has the deal in the proper perspective. Hunter Pence wouldn’t have won that game for the Phillies last night. If there is a problem, and I’m not sure there is, it is more likely that the players the Phillies are already committed to are not good enough.
I’m still in favor of a trade for Pence assuming the deal is within reason. What is within reason? I’d certainly give up the Cosart/Singleton package. They are too far away to be worried about. Single-A pitchers, regardless of how highly they are regarded have a very low success rate. Cosart has flashy stuff, but he’s far from unhittable. He’s 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. For reference, Cole Hamels had a career WHIP in the minors of 0.95. His ERA in 200 minor league innings was 1.43. That’s a super prospect. That’s approaching can’t miss. Cosart is all projection, and if you listen to the doubters like the ones that have started popping up for Pence, a lot of people think the Phillies’ so-called “Baby Aces” are nothing more than a bunch of guys who project to be 3rd or 4th starters.
And, you could say the same with Singleton, though at least he’s uncommonly young for his level, but he’s still a projection guy. If the deal includes those two prospects and Domonic Brown, then I think you’ve gone too far. Pence can’t make that much of a difference. The re-tooling, if this team is not good enough, would have to come in the off-season. If you were talking Brown and maybe a single prospect for Pence, then I’d be really tempted, because I see in Brown a guy that should still be in AAA. I see a guy who needs to make adjustments and I see a guy who isn’t an instinctual baseball player.
I’m not going to be able to sit here and wait to see if a deal happens today, so let’s just set the stage. What if the Braves get Hunter Pence? What if the Phillies get Pence? I hate to use an advanced stat here, but according to WAR, Hunter Pence would only make the Phillies a couple of wins better over the course of an entire season than they’d be if they played Dom Brown. And, the same would go for the Braves. Is there a difference between winning 98 and 100 games? Not really, all this is boiling down to a projected NLCS. Pence would put the winning bidder in a better position to advance, but only marginally. Will Hunter Pence win or lose the NLCS for the Braves or Phillies? No.
The Braves fate is probably more tied to the health of Brian McCann and Chipper Jones. Or perhaps whether their bullpen can continue with their abnormal workload. I’d say the Phillies will be more reliant on Placido Polanco coming back healthy. Putting him back into the 2-hole instead of Michael Martinez would have more of an impact than switching in Pence for Dom Brown (especially if Mayberry continues to have some success in his platoon role).
What the fans want, and this drives me crazy, is a sure thing. They want to believe that if the Phillies trade for Hunter Pence then a World Series is guaranteed. They can relax, I guess? But, there are no guarantees and honestly if you told me right now the Phillies were going to win the World Series that would take all the fun out of the next few months. I’d be happy they won, but what’s the point? Do you walk into a movie theater and ask someone to tell you how it ends? If you want to be someone who is terrified of the Giants, or if you want to be a doom and gloom person, settle in for a long ride, because what if the Phillies do trade for Pence and then go out to SF and lose 3 of 4? Are you shutting off your TV for the rest of the year? Get some perspective.