Bile Scott, writing in the comments yesterday, put forth the following: I still don’t understand why you dump Pence at the deadline last year. He was under team control for another year so instead of going to arbitration with a solid RF, you get Young and platoon unproven pups in left? It makes no sense!
Agreed. Pence had one year remaining on his contract (arbitration eligible) and is 29-years-old (30 in April). At the time of the trade, he was the youngest, most durable and reliable projected everyday player for the Phils in 2013.
True, the Phillies had to sell at the deadline last season, and trading Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton, each in the final year of their contract, made sense. But why move the youngest controllable starter when you still expect to compete the following season?
Prospects. Eh. It’s not like either of the minor leaguers the Phillies got for Pence – Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin – are can’t-miss players. Both are highly regarded, but, as is the case with all prospects, there are no guarantees. The Phils are still in win now mode (I think), so trading a 30-year-old everyday player with one year left on his deal for prospects, well, it doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Money. Who cares? It’s not yours. Pence avoided arbitration with the Giants by signing a one-year, $13.8 million deal, which is certainly at the high end* of what he would have gotten from the Phils, whose only spending limit is $178 million– the luxury tax threshold for 2013. Right now, the Phillies’ current payroll stands at around $156 million (plus around $10 million for player benefits that gets factored into luxury tax calculations). That leaves them about $12 million under the threshold, or, in other words: roughly a Hunter Pence under the threshold.
*He likely earned himself a $2 million, “thanks for those pre-game sermons” bonus in San Fran
Having Pence this season would have made no difference to the construction of the rest of the team, as it currently stands. Yes, the Phils now have substantial flexibility, something they undoubtedly planned to, um, do something – anything at all – with this winter. But they didn’t. So, unless you’re an owner, applauding the $10 million or so they saved is foolish. And even John Middleton is going to be shaking his DAMN head when he watches Young try to catch a slicing looper.
Upgrades. Not really. Obviously, the Phils tried to do more with the money, but missed on available players – either via trade or free agency – such as the Uptons, Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and others. They failed to sign any impact hitters, instead settling on 900-year-old Michael Young, controllable Ben Revere (thumbs up there), and the anti-Semitic Delmon Young. They spent on pitching, sort of: Mike Adams ($5 million), Chase Utley hater John Lannan ($2.5 million), Aaron Cook ($1.6 million) and Chad Durbin ($1.1 million). None of those names, except for maybe Adams, jump out at you, but they bolster a bullpen that needed bolstering.
It all comes back to the lineup, though. The Phillies are certainly no better there than they were last season. Young is a minor upgrade over Placido Polanco, but the outfield now consists of John Mayberry, Dom Brown, Darin Ruf, Ben Revere, Laynce Nix and Delmon Young. That’s terrible for a supposedly contending team.
Pence certainly has his issues – he’s a lousy fielder, frustrating hitter, and owns a strip of land between home plate and shortstop – but he’s not as bad in the field as Young, and his stats are better than Young’s across the board. Even Swisher, who just signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Indians, and who some thought could have been the upgrade in the outfield, didn’t have much better numbers than Pence in 2012. Oh, and he’s three years older. I have no idea if the Phils ever seriously considered signing Swish, but he at least had the type of power numbers (24 home runs, 93 RBIs) that the Phillies were likely looking for.
Some would argue Pence had the worst season of his career last year– a rarity for a 29-year-old. Yet he still finished the season with 24 home runs, 104 RBIs and was credited by his Giants teammates as being a clubhouse leader in their run to their second World Series championship in three years. Not bad.
And that’s what I keep coming back to: If nothing else, Pence is reliable. He’s played in over 150 games, and hit over 20 home runs and 25 doubles every year since 2008. In four of those five seasons, he’s driven in over 80 runs, including 91, 97 and 104 in each of the past three seasons, respectively. Those aren’t necessarily All-Star numbers, and Pence’s on-base and slugging percentages are mediocre, but he’s a plus corner outfielder, still in the prime of his career, and would have been under contract in 2013 at an amount that would have allowed the Phillies to remain under the luxury tax threshold while making the “upgrades” they did this winter.
So, yeah, trading him was stupid.