Hunter Pence is not a great Major League Baseball player.
Our analysis must follow from that fact ... but first, I suppose, I should try to establish the fact.
I'll start with this: Hunter Pence has played three full seasons, 2008-2010. In those three seasons, Pence ranked 43rd in Major League Baseball with 10.8 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR).
Is 43rd great? That depends on where you draw the line. But Pence has never scored 100 runs in a season, or driven home 100. He's not on the golden road to Cooperstown.
His hitting stats have ticked up slightly this season, but FanGraphs doesn't like Pence's fielding or his baserunning, so he comes out 57th in WAR.
Yeah: 57th. Without even counting pitchers.
Maybe FanGraphs ain't fair to Pence's various skills, but the guy's not going into the Hall of Fame and he really hasn't delivered on the promise he showed as a rookie in 2007.
He's good, but he's not great. Which doesn't mean he's not useful. Hunter Pence is somewhat better (for now) than Domonic Brown, and he's a lot better than Raul Ibañez. A year from now, when Ibañez is (finally) gone, Brown can take over in right field with Pence shifting to left, and the Phillies will have a crackerjack outfield. It probably won't be a great outfield but, like Pence, it'll be good.
The Phillies are better with Pence than without him, both this season and (especially) next. That's not really in question.
Singleton's a young (19) 1B/DH/LF type who certainly wasn't going to ever play first base for the Phillies, and probably won't play left field for anyone. He can hit, though. Did I mention that he's young?
Cosart's not as young. Last year, he blew away the South Atlantic League, striking out nearly five times more batters than he walked. This year, he's been just decent in the Florida State League, striking out less than twice as many as he's walked. Maybe it doesn't mean anything. But it's a hiccup, at least.
Entering this season, the Phillies' top five prospects were Domonic Brown, Jonathan Singleton, Brody Colvin, Jarred Cosart and Trevor May.
You know about Brown, Singleton and Cosart. Brody Colvin's a Class A pitcher who's taken a small step backward this summer (statistically, anyway). May is a teammate of Colvin's, and has taken a step forward this summer (statistically, anyway). Then there's Sebastian Valle, a Clearwater teammate of both Colvin and May, who's established himself as the Phillies' Catcher of the Future. Though in his case, the Future is probably two or three years away (which is fine; he just turned 21 and Chooch has a .356 career OBP).
Brown was a Grade A prospect, and still is (if you consider him a prospect). None of the others were Grade A prospects, and still none of them are. Singleton's still the best of them, while May might have passed Colvin and Cosart this summer.
I've got a couple of them.
The first is that the Phillies did not trade -- and the Astros did not trade for -- a truly outstanding, can't-miss prospect. The Phillies traded for a couple of Florida State League players who will probably reach the majors but might not do much more than that. Singleton and Cosart are both too far from the majors to say more than that.
The second is that the Phillies, for all their considerable resources, can go to this well only so many times. Two years ago, the Phillies traded Carlos Carrasco and Lou Marson to the Indians for Cliff Lee. A few months later, the Phillies traded Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d'Arnaud to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay. A year ago, the Phillies traded Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar to the Astros for Roy Oswalt. Now they've traded two more of their best prospects for Hunter Pence.
Each of those moves made the Phillies better, in that moment, and that paragraph should serve as a stirring tribute to the Phillies' scouts and their player-development personnel, as the organization couldn't have made all those deals without a wealth of minor-league talent. The wellspring is going to dry up eventually, though; it's hard enough to accumulate that much talent, but doing it again is nearly impossible.
And what happens when the well is dry? Ruben Amaro is going to have to figure out a new way to win. Or be willing to lose for a year or two. Because while he's obviously quite accomplished at spending gobs of money and trading oodles of prospects, it's not clear what will happen when he can do just one of those things, or neither of them.