Is it Pence day?

People in Houston believe Hunter Pence played his last game as an Astro Thursday. (Dave Einsel/AP)

The Astros flew from St. Louis to Milwaukee late Thursday night and Hunter Pence was still a member of their traveling party. 

That could change Friday.

There are strong indications a Pence trade will happen Friday, with Houston enamored by the increased bidding war for their 28-year-old outfielder. People in Houston believe Pence played his final game as an Astro on Thursday.

A baseball source told The Inquirer that Pence is Ruben Amaro Jr.'s No. 1 target. The Braves are heavily involved. Houston can pit the division rivals against one another in bidding. They are selling at the peak of Pence's value.

In past deadlines and winters, Amaro has snagged his man. It could take a huge bounty of prospects to emerge with Pence -- and it will probably mean overpaying. But if it's prospects Amaro deals in, his goal of winning a World Series in 2011 is not negatively affected. 

Any package, it appears, begins with the organization's top two prospects: First baseman/outfielder Jonathan Singleton and righthander Jarred Cosart. The Phillies were interested in Carlos Beltran, but once the asking price rose to a top pitching prospect, talks were not serious. That's because, the source said, Phillies president David Montgomery would not allow a top prospect to be dealt for a rental player.

What is still unknown is whether Domonic Brown is involved in these talks. The Phillies are reluctant to move him, but will if the price is right. Houston is said to be prioritizing younger talent like Singleton (19) and Cosart (21). Another one of the Clearwater "Baby Aces" could be included.

Pence is making $6.9 million this season and has two years of (costly) arbitration remaining. If the Phillies do include four solid prospects in a package, it's possible salary relief could come from the Astros, much like it did last season in the Roy Oswalt trade. Houston could pay the approximate $2.2 million remaining on Pence's deal so the Phillies do not exceed Major League Baseball's luxury tax threshold.

Pence is hitting .300 for the first time since his rookie season, but that is largely due to a staggering .370 batting average on balls in play. The league-average BABIP is around .300, which means Pence has been the beneficiary of substantial luck this season.

But he provides an immediate upgrade in the outfield, and if Brown is not included, the Phillies have their 2012 outfield configuration already solved.

Check the Phillies Zone and all day for updates.

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