Astros did right thing in dealing Pence
Ed Wade did the right thing.The easy thing? Negative. The popular thing? Lord, no. But the right thing? Absolutely. This is a message delivered conceptually, of course. Nobody ... not Wade, not the scouts and certainly not me ... can tell you with any sort of certainty that Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton will be stars and that Astros fans will one day look back on what transpired Friday night -- the night franchise face Hunter Pence was shipped to the Phillies for Cosart, Singleton, Josh Zeid and a player to be named later -- as the birth of better days. Maybe this package, from A to Zeid, will someday rest alongside the likes of Grady Sizemore-Cliff Lee-Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon or Elvis Andrus-Neftali Feliz-Matt Harrison-Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Mark Teixeira or, dare I say, Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen and be remembered as a Trade Deadline triumph. Or maybe it'll be more like Carlos Beltran for Mark Teahen, John Buck and Mike Wood and rest alongside the Trade Deadline duds. If we're playing the percentages, bet on something somewhere in the middle. But without access to the aftermath, all we can do in the present tense is critique the concept, rate the rationale. And if you read my previous thoughts on the Pence trade proposition, you know where I come out on this one. Moving Pence now -- emotionally difficult as it might be -- is the right move.
It's the right move because the Astros are on pace to obliterate the franchise loss record, with even fifth place in the National League Central looking like a rumor.It's the right move because their top three farm teams are more than 50 combined games under .500, an indication of the talent level therein. It's the right move because Pence, due two more years of arbitration, is probably going to command upward of $25 million over the course of 2012-13 -- a time when the Astros ought to be going young and cheap. It's the right move because sometimes in sports, as in life, the hardest thing is the right thing. In no way am I dismissing the emotion involved here. Because even in an abysmal season for his team, Pence represents so much that's good about the game. He won't be outworked or outhustled, and he got to the big leagues through good, old-fashioned Texas grit. But Pence is at his peak, both in terms of his age and his value in the trade market. Wade, whose own standing with this organization is tenuous given the pending ownership transition, was rightfully opportunistic at a time when Pence's value will never be higher. Perhaps Pence is, indeed, the right-handed power bat Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been craving since Spring Training. The thought of Pence rounding out a lineup that supports the most dangerous starting staff in the game is obviously an appetizing one for the Philly faithful. Yet Pence, even in the midst of his best season in the big leagues, has his faults, to be sure. He has an .882 OPS at Minute Maid Park, but just a .768 OPS away from it. His .356 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage are solid, but not what you'd consider elite. Pence looks best in perspective. He was clearly the rose of a thorny lineup, for one, and that adds to his appeal to Astros fans. As for opposing GMs, well, in an era of pitching prominence, at a time when right-handed power is at a premium and at a Trade Deadline with little in the way of impact talent, a guy like Pence -- especially given the status of his contractual control -- stands out. The Astros suddenly had a hot commodity on their hands, and there was no sake in letting sentimentality getting in the way of good business. Now, did Wade get enough for Pence? Way too soon to tell. And it'll be too soon to tell for a long, long while. Trades of this nature take at least several years to evaluate, sometimes more. And considering the two principle pieces in this deal are both in Class A ball, the jury's going to be in deliberations for the foreseeable future. All we can say for sure is that in Cosart and Singleton, the Astros hauled in the most highly rated prospects in the Philadelphia system -- a system Wade and company are obviously familiar with thanks to the Roy Oswalt negotiations a year ago and the Brad Lidge trade two and a half years before that. The Lidge trade netted Michael Bourn, who might well be the next asset sent packing for prospects. The Oswalt trade brought in J.A. Happ, Minor League shortstop Jonathan Villar and center fielder Anthony Gose, who was then flipped to the Blue Jays for Brett Wallace. The early returns on that series of swaps are hardly overwhelming, but, again, it's best to judge these things over time. For now, Astros fans, the best advice at this juncture is to read about Cosart's electric stuff and Singleton's projectable power and hope for the best, but, naturally, be patient with the process. The Astros are smart to be acknowledging not only their place in the standings this season, but their realistic contention hopes in 2012. They were right to dangle Pence at a time when his trade value is at its peak and his production is getting them nowhere. Wade did the right thing, conceptually. Here's hoping the results are as strong as the reasoning.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.