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Three Years Later: Revisiting the Hunter Pence Deal

July 29, 2011 will go down as a day that will live in infamy for Phillies fans. July 29, 2011 was the day the Phillies mortgaged the future for a false messiah. It wasn’t Hunter Pence‘s fault. Pence did not force Ruben Amaro to trade Jared Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid, and eventually Domingo Santana for him. When it became clear that Pence was not the savior the Phillies had been hoping for, Pence did not force Amaro to trade him for a sub par return. Hunter Pence was the golden calf from the Bible. And we are going to be paying for it for a long, long, long time.

2011 was a good year to be a Phillies fan. It was not a question of “if” the Phillies would get to the World Series, but who would they play. Ticket prices on the secondary market were going for as much as $40 for a random Tuesday night game. Philadelphia had “Phillies fever”. But what the Phillies did not have was a solid right fielder. All season long the Phillies had gone with a platoon of Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr, and a call-up named Domonic Brown. The team needed more consistency from the position, and a player who preferably could bat from the right side to protect Ryan Howard. Enter the Houston Astros.

The Astros were beginning a rebuilding period in 2011, and had former Phillies GM Ed Wade at the helm. The Astros hottest commodity was a 28-year old right fielder named Hunter Pence, and he was everything the Phillies needed. Pence batted from the right side, was under team control through 2013, and was one hell of a player. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro could almost taste that World Series championship, and was willing to do anything to get the one missing piece. We didnt know it then, but three years later it is clear. The Phillies trade for Hunter Pence was the baseball version of the Herschel Walker trade.

If you trade for four prospects, you are happy if two of them reach the majors. Ed Wade’s parting gift to Houston (before he was fired) can certainly be deemed a win for the Astros as all of the players the Astros received have reached the majors. Jonathan Singleton became the first player in major league history to sign a long term extension before seeing a pitch in the majors. Jared Cosart is the Astros number three starter. Zeid is pitching out of the bullpen, and Santana made his major league debut earlier this month. When Ruben Amaro traded for Hunter Pence it was thought that he was setting up the Phillies to be a dynasty, but in reality he was setting up the Astros to be just that.

The anticipation for Pence’s first game was high. Ticket prices reached $75 for the cheapest ticket on the secondary market, and the actual game against the Pittsburgh Pirates was an after thought. The 28-year old two time All Star played as advertised in his 2011 season with the Phillies. In 54 regular season games Pence had a slash line of .324/.394/.560. The former second round pick hit 11 home runs, and drove in 35 RBI while primarily batting fifth in the order. It was looking as if the price the Phillies had paid for Pence was worth it, and then it happened.

October 7, 2011 the window closed. Hollywood could not have scripted a more fitting ending to a storied run. Phillies slugger Ryan Howard ruptured his Achilles to end the game, the season, and the good times. The Phillies had lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional series. Ace pitcher Roy Halladay pitched a gem, but ended up taking the 1-0 loss. It would be the last time Roy Halladay was dominant. The window had closed, but no one wanted to believe it.

Howard would start the season on the disabled list, leaving a lot of pressure on the savior Hunter Pence. Pence played ok, but the right fielder could not pick up the slack that was left in the absence of Ryan Howard. In 101 games for the Phillies in 2012 Pence had a slash line of .271/.336/.447. He managed to smash 17 home runs, and drove in a respectable 59 RBI, but he just wasn’t enough. Facing a 45-57 record Phillies GM Ruben Amaro decided to sell. The player he bought so high on a year earlier, was sold low.

Rather than pay Pence a projected $13 million in 2013, and then be forced with the decision on weather to sign him to a long term contract, the Phillies decided to move the former All Star right fielder. The Phillies traded Pence to the San Francisco Giants for Nate Schierholtz, Seth Rosin, and Tommy Joseph. I wouldn’t take any of those players over Cosart, Santana, or Singleton. It was a bad deal then, and it is a bad deal now.

The center piece in the trade was Tommy Joseph. A right handed hitting catcher who scouts said would be a good hitter at the Major League level. During his tenure with the Phillies Joseph has dealt with injuries. The former second round pick has dealt with concussion problems that could force him from behind the plate. When he’s not injured, he’s playing just ok. He’s had just 78 at-bats this year for AA Reading, and is currently on a rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Phillies. He has yet to reach the majors, but is only 23.

Tommy  Joseph was the center piece of the Hunter  Pence trade to the Giants

Tommy Joseph was the center piece of the Hunter Pence trade to the Giants

Could Tommy Joseph amount to a productive Major Leaguer? Of course! But the Phillies traded away three of the their top 10 prospects to acquire Pence in 2011, and when it came time to trade him away they received one decent prospect, a fledgling right fielder in Schierholtz, and a minor league reliever in Rosin. What hurts even worse is when you look at the Phillies problems this season.

It is no secret that the Phillies would love to get rid of former MVP Ryan Howard, and his hefty contract. It sure would be nice to have Jonathan Singleton there to replace him. When Cliff Lee went down with an elbow strain injury the Phillies replaced him with David Buchanan. The Phillies thought so highly of Buchanan that they left him unprotected for the Rule-5 Draft. He went undrafted. It sure would have been nice to have Jarred Cosart there to fill in for Lee. Instead of signing Grady Sizemore, who was released by the Red Sox, it would have been nice to be able to call up 22-year old Domingo Santana. This season at AAA Oklahoma City Santana has a slash line of .283/.365/.459. He has 13 home runs, and 55 RBI. He figures into the Astros plans for next season.

Ruben Amaro has proven one thing in his time as the Phillies GM. He can trade prospects for proven talent, but he has trouble when it comes time to trading proven talent for prospects. It started with the Cliff Lee deal when the Phillies received Tyson Gillies, JC Ramirez, and Phillippe Aumont. Next was the Pence deal, and then Amaro traded former All Star Shane Victorino for Ethan Martin, Josh Lindblom, and Stefan Jarrin.

Amaro is now in the same spot Ed Wade was in three years ago. The Phillies are in last place in the NL East with a 46-50 record and are ready to start their own rebuilding period. Just like in Houston, the Phillies have a very tradeable commodity in Cole Hamels. Hamels is 30-years old and is having a phenomenal season. The Phillies will not be good for a long time. Long after Cole Hamels is out of his prime. It would make logical sense to sell Hamels high, and replenish a farm system that has been decimated recently thanks to poor drafts, and poor trades. If the Phillies trade Hamels, they need to get receive a package similar to what they gave up for Pence. They need to make the fan base forget about the Hunter Pence trade of 2011.

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