There was not enough space in Thursday's Inquirer to detail all of the possible outfield scenarios for the 2013 Phillies, so one was prioritized: Trading Hunter Pence.
When the Phillies acquired Pence last July, he represented everything an aging contender was looking for. He was under 30, batted righthanded, and more than two years away from free agency.
Pence is having a fine season. I used that word in Thursday's story, and many have taken umbrage to that. I didn't say "good" or "great." It's just "fine," because an .834 OPS ranks 13th among National League outfielders. That's decent. His on-base percentage and slugging percentage rank second on the Phillies. He leads the Phillies with 16 home runs. That's good. His numbers with runners in scoring position are lacking. His fielding is suspect at times.
It all equates to a confusing player who is making $10.4 million in 2012, turns 30 next April and will make close to $15 million in 2013. Beyond that, he will seek superstar money once he reaches free agency for the first time.
Is he a player the Phillies want to commit to long-term?
That's a hard question to answer, and few officials have given an indication for either direction. It's why I floated the idea of trading Pence in Thursday's story.
The Phillies surrendered three Top 10 prospects for Pence last July. Jonathan Singleton ranks as Houston's No. 1 prospect; Jarred Cosart is No. 2 and Domingo Santana is sixth -- all according to Baseball America. Would Pence fetch a similar package now? No. He is one year closer to free agency.
But he still has a year of arbitration remaining, no matter how expensive it may be, and that raises his value in the trade market this July. The Phillies will seek a bounty for Cole Hamels if they attempt to trade him. But Hamels can land only so much because the acquiring team knows he is a rental player.
Pence could be worth more.
So why not take the $15 million you would spend in 2013 on one outfielder (Pence) and spend it on two? Shane Victorino's terrible season could make him more apt to accept a shorter-term deal to stay in Philadelphia. Why, you ask, would the Phillies want him? Well, he's still solid defensively and it's clear the impending contract situation has affected his play. Maybe the next deal relieves pressure.
Pence could possibly fetch a decent third-base prospect or a younger outfielder. The free-agent market is flush with outfield options like Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Nick Swisher, Carlos Quentin, Cody Ross, and Delmon Young. Pair one of them with Victorino and maybe you could spend between $15 - $20 million on two outfielders in 2013. If Pence stays, it's much more expensive. Plus, now you've restocked with possibly two decent prospects in return for Pence.
Andre Ethier's recent five-year, $85 million set the bar for a 30-year-old outfielder with a career .844 OPS. Pence has a career .829 OPS and would probably command just as much, if not more, when his time arrives. Again, is that a commitment the Phillies are willing to make?
If not, they should trade Pence when his value is at its highest. And that is right now.
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