Breaking down Hunter Pence’s last day as an Astro, and previewing J.D. Martinez’s first.
Hunter Pence took a drink from the cooler in the middle of the fifth, picked up his glove and trotted back out to his position in right field, just as he had every game that he played during his Astros career.
But as soon as Pence had arrived to his spot in the outfield, manager Brad Mills walked to home plate to talk to umpire Tim Timmons. Soon, Jason Michaels sprinted out to right field and yelled something to his teammate, and Pence immediately started his trot back to the dugout.
The two shook hands as they passed, and just like that, the rumor mill that has had an excruciating presence in the Astros’ clubhouse for the better part of a week stopped churning — at least, for now.
It was soon to be official: Pence belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies after being traded for four players: first baseman outfielder Jonathan Singleton, right-hander Jarred Cosart, right-hander Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. Pence arrived to the dugout, hugged his teammates goodbye and retreated to the clubhouse. He stuck around until after the game and, wearing street clothes and ready to hit the road, he faced reporters for the last time as a Houston Astro.
“It’s tough to really explain,” he said. “I don’t know if I can. It’s emotional because I love these guys and I don’t feel like bailing on them. I’m going to miss them. I love them.
“I’m an emotional guy. We’ve gone through a lot together. This has been one of the toughest years — the most adversity I’ve ever been a part of. We’re all in this together. I just want the best for everyone. I think ultimately, that’s what this is going to end up being.
“I think every competitor at the highest level wants to be in a pennant race, wants to win World Series. I’m pretty lucky now that I get to jump on board with one of the best teams and have the opportunity to do that.”
Most of the feedback I’ve heard from you all tonight has been mostly along the lines of “Why? Why? Why?” (I’m imagining clutched chests, pulled hair and heads banging against walls as well.) This trade can be explained many different ways and spun even more ways. But the facts are really pretty simple, and it comes down to this: The Astros have been losing for the better part of six years. They are in the process of getting younger and less expensive. Hunter Pence is in the process of getting older and more expensive. The Astros are in major rebuild mode. They need to continue to build their farm system and load it with future talent. There was one player on the roster who could bring in the players necessary to springboard that blueprint for the long-term success the Astros dream of: Hunter Pence.
Major League franchises cannot win without, first and foremost, players they scouted, drafted, signed and developed themselves. The second thing they can do is grab the good young players from other organizations, which requires giving up your most talented, most established and — in many cases, such as this one — most popular player.
The Pence situation is incredibly unique. Yes, he is a terrific hitter. And a two-time All-Star. And only 28 years old. But his best asset — the one that made contenders drool and gave the Astros the upper-hand — is that he still has two years of arbitration-eligiblity left. For general managers, that’s baseball gold. Pence is going to cost a fortune in arbitration in each of those two years, yes. But his new team has control his contract — owns him, if you will — through 2013. That was a huge factor, and why the Astros’ asking price was so high (and rightfully so).
By the time the Astros are in a position to win again, Pence will be making free-agent money and would probably be too expensive to keep. Is it fair? No. Was the decision to trade him the right one? Sadly, yes.
Will the players the Astros got from the Phillies pan out? I have no idea. But they look pretty good from the outset, especially the two centerpieces of the deal — Cosart and Singleton. Cosart, who will report to Double-A Corpus Christi, was the Phillies mid-season No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who ranks the pitcher as No. 37 on the top-50 MLB prospect list.
Here’s what Mayo has to say:
“When healthy, the 2008 Draft pick has electric stuff, with one of the better fastballs in the Minors and a very good curve. He’s lean and projectable and he’s got good command of his stuff, though his changeup, as with many young pitchers, is behind the other offerings. The bigger issue has been staying injury-free. In 2009, it was his back and shoulder. Last year, his season ended at the end of June with a bad elbow. He’s healthy now and has moved up to Clearwater.”
I emailed Mayo for up-to-the-second analysis, and he offered: “He’s come a long way with his changeup and his command is very good. Top of the rotation potential.”
Mayo ranked Singleton, headed for Class A Lancaster, as the Phillies No. 2 prospect and No. 38 among the top 50 in all of baseball:
“The 2009 high school draftee had an extremely productive first full season, being named the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Major League prospect. He should hit for average and power and has a good approach at the plate.”
Zeid, 24, owns a 2-3 record and a 5.65 ERA in 21 games, including 11 starts, for Double A Reading this season. As a reliever, Zeid (pronounced Zide) has posted a 2.25 ERA (4ER/16IP) in 10 games. Originally a 10th round pick of the Phillies in 2009, Zeid will report to Corpus Christi.
(In Baseball America’s mid-season revised top 50 rankings, Singleton was listed at No. 41; Cosart, No. 43.)
Earlier on Friday, a colleague and I quietly discussed why in the world J.D. Martinez had not moved up to Triple-A Oklahoma City yet. He has been absolutely blistering the ball at Double-A Corpus and really has shown there’s not much more at that level he needs to do to prove he can play.
A couple of hours later, it became pretty obvious: Martinez is, like his buddy Jose Altuve, bypassing Triple-A all together and joining the Astros.
Martinez’s position and role has yet to be determined and we’ll know more from Mills when we convene at Miller Park on Saturday. But make no mistake — the addition of Martinez could shake things up a bit. Martinez has played nothing but left field all season and has very little experience in right. So let’s not assume he just slips into Pence’s old position.
If Martinez continues to be a left fielder, they have to do something with Carlos Lee. He’s been playing a lot of first base as Brett Wallace’s playing time dwindles, and it will be interesting if Mills continues that pattern. Jason Bourgeois, who has been thriving as a starter — hitting third, no less — is also making a good case to continue playing every day, and probably will.
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