The MLB trade deadline is coming up very very soon, and contenders around the league are browsing the shelves to identify potential improvements. The Giants have already landed Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals have already landed Edwin Jackson. The Indians have already landed Kosuke Fukudome. And several other players may still end up on the move, including Heath Bell, Ubaldo Jimenez and Hunter Pence.
Hunter Pence. He's turned into quite the popular target. With Beltran off the table and few other high-profile outfielders on the market, Houston's Pence is getting attention, and he's getting the most intense attention from the Phillies. You can monitor how the story's developed right here, and the Phillies have reportedly already had a substantial offer turned down, which our own Grant Brisbee discussed here. But still, the Phillies haven't been deterred, as they continue their pursuit.
Several reports on Friday suggest that the Phillies will do whatever's necessary to bring Pence into the fold, and one particularly eye-opening report comes from ESPN's Jayson Stark. I won't spoil the surprise:
The Phillies then offered to include their right fielder, Domonic Brown. But the Astros, according to one team that spoke with them, would prefer to spin Brown elsewhere for multiple prospects than take him themselves.
Stop right there. It's one thing for the Phillies to (reportedly) offer prospects Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton. It's quite another to offer Brown. A number of tweets from normally reputable people on Friday have supported the idea that the Phillies may be willing to lose Brown to gain Pence.
And if they did that, that would be crazy. Nevermind who else they might include. It's absolutely critical to understand that not everything we're reading right now is true. It's possible that the majority of what we're reading right now is false. Some things are trial balloons, some things are misunderstandings, and some things are outright lies. But still, given that caveat, it's worth discussing why losing Brown to get Pence would be a big mistake, just in case this is actually being considered.
This is a very simple argument. The first point is that, while Pence is good, he is not great. Grant already tackled this, but look at what Pence has done. For his career, he's posted an .818 OPS in what's considered a hitter-friendly ballpark. He's always been good, but he's been the exact same hitter since he broke in, and at 28, he probably won't reach another level. Defensively, he's fine, but he's a non-elite right fielder with a strong arm. Throw in the fact that he's durable and runs decently well, and you have a quality overall package that falls short of being terrific.
The second point is that Brown is at least acceptable now, and could become great. He's 23 years old, with a slightly above-average OPS. Baseball America ranked him the No. 4 prospect in baseball before the year, and he's throttled all the upper levels of the minors. He's also a palatable defensive corner outfielder who should improve and who runs pretty well, rounding out a valuable collection of tools.
And the third point - maybe the biggest point - concerns cost and team control. Pence may draw an eight-figure salary in 2012, and is due to become a free agent after 2013. Brown's going to be dirt cheap for the next two seasons and isn't due to become a free agent until after 2016. You don't want to end up in a situation where you're over-weighting an uncertain future over a more certain present, but the most valuable assets in baseball are young, team-controlled talents, and Brown is one of them, while Pence is not - at least not to the same degree.
This is not an original argument. I am not the first person to argue against trading Brown to get Pence, nor will I be the last. But it's a popular argument because that would be a dangerous trade to make. There are no guarantees in baseball, of course. Brown may not develop any more than he has. He may get worse. He may get injured. But the same things apply to Pence. Replacing Brown with Pence now may provide a slight upgrade for the rest of the season, but it would probably not be substantial, and it could come at a considerable future cost.