Phillies Would be Foolish to Trade Hunter Pence
There are also many who have suggested that Hunter Pence could be part of any sell-off that takes place if the Phillies continue to flounder toward the end of July.
Pence is eligible for one last round of salary arbitration this winter, and an estimated $15 million contract for 2013. Too much, some believe, for a non-All Star with a flawed swing and sketchy fielding.
Those in favor of trading Pence would argue that, as an arbitration-eligible commodity, he would provide a greater trade return than a player on the verge of free agency.
While each of the above points has some validity, there are two main reasons why the Phillies won’t and shouldn’t consider dealing Pence.
First of all, Ruben Amaro Jr. has been pretty adamant that he plans on contending in 2013 rather than rebuilding with prospects. The Phillies are locked into big money contracts with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon. It simply wouldn’t make sense to pair that veteran group with unproven youngsters if the goal is to remain a contender next summer.
And contending is not out of the question if the team’s high-priced core returns to good health and good production. If that’s the case, then a few bullpen additions along with a couple key spots in the lineup could be the focus of the team’s off-season.
The other big reason why the Phillies should stick with Hunter Pence is the fact that he is doing precisely what was expected of him when he was acquired from the Houston Astros last summer.
Offensively, Pence is performing quite well with respect to his career averages. Below is a comparison of Pence’s 2012 statistics to his first five seasons in the majors.
To summarize, Pence’s batting average is down, and his much-publicized struggles with runners in scoring position are legitimate this season. However, he is not receiving much credit for the fact that he is on pace for career highs in runs scored and home runs. His RBI total would be two shy of his previous career best.
Phillies fans were thrilled when Ruben Amaro Jr. snagged Pence at last year’s trade deadline. At the time, he was the perfect addition to a roster that needed another weapon to support Utley, Howard, Rollins, and Shane Victorino. The Phillies and their fan base loved the fact that he would be under team control for two more seasons at “reasonable” salaries ($11 million and $15 million respectively).
So, after a 2012 season in which all of those other Phillies veterans have contributed little or nothing while Pence has joined Carlos Ruiz as the team’s only source of offense, why is he suddenly such a popular source of criticism?
There’s no doubt he has some ugly mechanics at the plate and some Domonic Brown-like tendencies in the field. But, anyone who thinks that those two issues are new never watched Pence during his first five seasons as a pro.
The bottom line is that Pence was never brought to Philadelphia with the expectation of carrying a ball club. The nightmare that has been this Phillies season has seen Pence put in a role that has set him up to fail. He was not supposed to be the team’s clean-up hitter and leading run-producer. The fact that he will hit more than 30 homers while scoring over 100 runs and driving in nearly 100 more in a lineup that has been brutal at times is an indication that he is doing what the Phillies are paying him to do.
Plus, if Victorino is not a member of the Phillies beyond this season (highly likely) and the John Mayberry Jr. experiment is mercifully not extended to 2013, Pence represents the only returning member of the team’s outfield. If the Phillies are attempting to sneak through what seems to be a narrowing window of opportunity, Pence needs to join the veteran crew that will be in place next April.
The Phillies’ dismal season combined with the emotional time that precedes the trade deadline has convinced many fans that everyone must go. And realistically, there will be some long-tenured members of the franchise that will be moving on. The challenge for the team’s front office will be to recognize which players are still productive enough to be a part of what could be next season’s last go-round.
If Amaro considers the reasons he wanted Hunter Pence so badly one year ago, he will quickly realize that Pence has been worth the prospects and dollars that were sacrificed to obtain him.
And he will keep him in a Phillies uniform.
Grey Jersey: AP Dave Zalubowski
Blue Hat: Dave Maialetti