Should The Astros Take The Phillies' Proposed Deal For Hunter Pence?

The Houston Astros are not good. If they met talent in a bar, they might have a fling because of the whole "opposites attract" thing, but talent would quickly dump them and look for other talent, maybe with a better car.  The Astros do have a couple of good players who could be a part of the next good Astros team (Jordan Lyles and Bud Norris), and good players who will not be a part of that future contender unless they're signed to lucrative extensions (Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn). 

While it might make sense for them to trade Bourn or Pence for prospects who could help in the future, there's certainly no rush. Pence is arbitration-eligible for 2012 and 2013, and Bourn is around for 2012 as well. There's room for an offseason trade or even some long-term extensions. 

But there was a minor stir, then, when Jayson Stark wrote this:

So it's believed the Phillies structured a deal (for Hunter Pence) around their best hitting prospect, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, and their best pitching prospect, Jarred Cosart -- both of whom are playing for Class A Clearwater -- plus another second-tier pitching prospect.

Those are some mighty fine prospects. Singleton is a 19-year-old first baseman in high-A, and he's showing advanced patience and power for a teenager. Cosart was ranked the 70th-best prospect in baseball before the 2011 season, and while he hasn't been as lights out as he was last year, he has youth on his side, and scouts have always loved his potential.

This is how trades are supposed to work:

Should be good from 2011 through 2013 Will not be good in 2011, but could possibly be good in 2013 and beyond
The Philadelphia Phillies The Houston Astros
Hunter Pence Jarred Cosart
Jonathan Singleton

A perfect match, all around.  I'm not saying the Astros will be good that soon, just that enough can change in two years to make any franchise a contender. It took three seasons for the Tigers to move from 119 losses to the World Series, and that's as extreme of an example as you'll find in history. And if a multi-year deal isn't in the plans for Pence and the Astros, this is probably going to be one of the better trades they'll be offered.

And should the Astros plan on a huge, multi-year, $100 million contract to make Pence the center of their franchise?

2007 24 108 17 .322 .360 .539 .899 129
2008 25 157 25 .269 .318 .466 .783 105
2009 26 159 25 .282 .346 .472 .818 116
2010 27 156 25 .282 .325 .461 .786 113
2011 28 98 11 .307 .354 .467 .821 130
5 Seasons 678 103 .290 .338 .479 .817 117
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/28/2011.

Those are nice stats, if a little inconsistent. One version of Pence is worth a ton of money, and another one probably isn't. There's another chart that might help explain why this season and his rookie season were better than the ones in between:

Year BAbip
2007 .377
2008 .301
2009 .308
2010 .304
2011 .367
5 Seasons .326
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/28/2011.


A hitter has some control of his BAbip -- much more than pitchers do -- so this isn't to guarantee that he's been lucky. But if you think the bookend BAbips are indicative of Pence's true talent level, you're thinking that he's a historically unusual hitter on par with Ty Cobb, Rod Carew, and Ichiro. Maybe that's the case. That's pretty danged unlikely, though.

This might be the best season Pence has in a while. He'll still have a lot of trade value in the offseason, but it's not a good gamble for the Astros to assume he'll have this much value at the 2012 trade deadline. 

Should the Astros take the Phillies' proposal? It's hard to say without a) knowing the other proposals they're fielding, and b) if the Astros plan to make Pence the fan-friendly cornerstone of the future, as wise as that may or may not be. But it sure looks like a pretty sweet deal from where the Astros are in the success cycle, and there's more than a decent chance that they'll look back in a couple of years and kick themselves if they don't take it.

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