Well, it appears that it has finally happened. The Phillies have been linked to Hunter Pence for the better part of the last 2 months, with Charlie Manuel openly campaigning for a righthanded batter. In the last few days, talks intensified, rumors began to fly wildly, and the deal has finally concluded. According to reports, the Phillies are parting ways with 1B prospect Jon Singleton, RHP Jarred Cosart, and 2 PTBNL, neither thought to be major prospects. As I start writing this, hopefully we get names and I can update it. I’m going to try and tackle this trade from both sides, just as I did the Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee deals the last two years. There are 2 sides to every trade, and its normally never as simple as “Team A won and Team B lost”. There are tons of variables here, so lets address them one by one. If you want to simply react and say “this sucks” or “this is great”, feel free to use the instant reaction post here. I’d hope that if you come here, you’re interested in what I have to say, so I’ll give it a go.
First off, Astros fans who find my site, welcome. You were here last year after the Oswalt trade, I’ll provide you with plenty of information on the guys you just got.
We’ve created profile pages for the guys:
If you want to see what we’ve written specifically about Cosart and Singleton, check out these links:
That should give you a start.
Before I discuss the players dealt, I wanted to take this space to make a few quick comments that I hope people take a moment to read. Baseball is a strange game. With over 100+ years of data available, the way we look at the game, especially over the last 10 years, has changed. We can now figure out how much actual value there is in drawing a walk, how valuable a home run is, how valuable a starting pitcher is relative to a reliever. We can figure out lots of things. The one thing that we still can’t figure out is how MLB players will develop. Scouts get paid a lot of money to be right, to know what an 18 year old kid will become, and even they miss more than they hit. Every year we fall in love with a new crop of prospects, hoping to see them turn in to superstars, and the reality of the game of baseball is, most of those guys never make it, let alone become stars. I started this site back in 2006, and at the time, I thought I had a pretty good idea about prospects. Since then, a lot of my theories on prospects have evolved, and more importantly, I realized that no matter how much research I do, no matter how good I think I get at studying prospects, I’m going to miss on a ton of guys. The pros, the guys at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, Perfect Game, they have even more resources than me, and they miss all the time too. Its the nature of the game. Figuring out how a player with little or no big league experience is going to develop is really really difficult.
Going along with that train of thought, its easy here to get attached to prospects. Hell, I run a website devoted to Phillies prospects. We start talking about these guys before they are even signed, then we follow them and hope for the best. Over the last 3+ seasons, many of the Phillies prospects we’ve fawned over have been traded: Carlos Carrasco, Adrian Cardenas, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Kyle Drabek, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar, and now apparently Jon Singleton and Jarred Cosart. You never want to see these guys go. I, along with Gregg, Dave and others here, have spent a lot of time writing about these guys and thinking about these guys. But its part of the game, and when you have a very aggressive major league team, with a very aggressive general manager, this is going to happen. I recommend everyone take a huge deep breath and then soak everything in before reacting strongly one way or the other.
What the Phillies Got
Hunter Pence, RF (Age 28)
For as much gnashing of the teeth as I’ve done in recent days on twitter about Pence, he’s a good baseball player. From 2008-2010, he showed consistent power. For his career, he sports a 6.7% BB rate (walks as a percentage of plate appearances) and an 18.1% K rate (strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances), while posting an ISO of .190, a respectable number for sure. He stole 18 bags in 2010, and figures to steal around 10-12 this year. This season, his home run rate is down but he’s on pace for 30+ doubles. Defensively, he looks goofy in rightfield, especially when he runs, but advanced metrics (the Fielding Bible) rate his defense as above average, and he has a strong accurate arm. He turns 29 in April, so he’s still in the middle of his peak, and he is athletic, even if it looks weird, so I’m not worried about him falling off a cliff. His BABIP is high this year, .370, but he sports an above average .326 BABIP for his career, and one year variances like that are not uncommon. He’s been very consistent, very durable, and should provide a solid contribution across the board. He’s not a superstar, everyone knows that, but if he maintains his level of production from 2008-2011 for the next few seasons, that’s all that will be asked of him. The one negative, outside of the fact that he doesn’t have one blow you away tool, is he is going to get really expensive. He qualified as a Super Two, and beat the Astros in arbitration this past winter, winning a $6.9M salary. If he goes to arbitration this winter, he will surely get more than $10M, and he would then have one more year of arbitration remaining. I think its reasonable to assume the Phillies will try and lock him up to a 4-5 year deal with backloaded money to help the Phillies add more pieces this winter. Welcome to Philadelphia, Hunter.
What the Phillies Gave Up
Jon Singleton, 1B – Singleton has become something of a lightning rod this season. After his blazing hot start last year, he “slumped” in the second half of the season yet still finished near the top of all Phillies prospect lists. I ranked him 3rd in the Phillies system heading in to this season, and if you clicked the links above, you can see everything I’ve written about him. After getting off to a slow start, he also dealt with an ankle injury, which led the Phillies to move him back to first base. Some were quick to say this meant the experiment “failed”, but I think his outfield experiment ended because the team didn’t want to put any more stress on his ankle. After a rough May, Singleton rebounded and hit .322/.464/.494 in June, and he’s hit .303/.410/.545 in his last 10 games in July. What people seem to miss with Singleton is that he is the youngest player in the Florida State League, yet he’s not only held his own, his numbers are all above average. The average batting line for all players in the Florida State League this year is .262/.332/.385, and that includes guys who are 23, 24, 25 and older. For the season, Singleton is at .282/.386/.411. Yes, I’d say he’s more than holding his own. He turns 20 in September, and he was the Phillies best position player prospect by a wide margin now that Dominic Brown had graduated. He could still stick in LF if given the chance, especially if he remains in Houston, whose home park features a very shallow left field that was manned for many years by road cone Carlos Lee. People were quick to downgrade Singleton, but he’d be age appropriate in the New York Penn League, 2 levels below where he is now, and he’d probably be putting up video game numbers. Context is everything, and I am legitimately sad to see him go. Best of luck, Jon.
Jarred Cosart, RHP – Just like Singleton, Cosart has generated plenty of divergent opinions this year. I ranked Cosart the #4 prospect in the system heading into this season, one spot behind Singleton. You all know the story, but for Astros fans who don’t, the Phillies took Cosart in the 38th round of the 2008 draft from your home state and signed him for $550,000 on deadline day, buying him out of his college commitment. When he’s been healthy since signing, he’s shown ridiculous raw stuff, consistently sitting in the 94-97 range, holding his velocity deep into games, and he commands the pitch well. He compliments his fastball with a sharp curveball that is a swing and miss pitch, and a developing changeup. Cosart’s number 1 issue heading in to this season was his durability, as he missed a big chunk of time in 2009 and then half the season in 2010. This season he has not had injury worries, and he’s thrown 108 innings in 2011 after throwing just 95.2 innings in 2009 and 2010 combined. But with the excellent raw stuff, the results have not matched this season. Cosart has struck out just 79 in 108 innings (6.58 per 9) while walking 43 (3.58 per 9). Both of those numbers have gone in the opposite direction, as he walked just 2.02 per 9 last year while striking out 9.75 per 9. The biggest question scouts have concerns his delivery, which features a lot of effort and moving parts. If he can simplify his mechanics and remain healthy, he has legit #1 starter potential. Best of luck, Jarred.
Josh Zeid, RHP – A tenth round senior sign in 2009 for $10,000, the Phillies got their money’s worth, as Zeid posted solid numbers in both 2009 and 2010 before earning a promotion to Reading to start 2011. The Phillies tried Zeid, a hard throwing righty, as a starter this year, but the results were not promising and he was moved back to the bullpen, where he’s posted a 2.25 ERA in 16 IP with 24 K and just 2 BB. His biggest strength is his fastball, which will sit 93-94 in relief, and he creates good deception with his delivery. His slider is his better secondary offering and he does throw a changeup, but he won’t need it as much as a reliever. At 24, he was fast tracked to Reading, and I assume that Houston will use him in relief, so he should make it to the big leagues in a year or two and could be a fine 6th/7th inning reliever. Best of luck, Josh.
Jayson Stark reports the Astros will take the final PTBNL from a list of players at Low A Lakewood. I can almost guarantee Jesse Biddle will not be one of the names on the list.
Okay, so I am writing this without knowing the last player to be named later. That could change my opinion of the trade. But for now, I neither love nor hate this deal. As I discussed above, prospects are a really tricky proposition. On this site, I expect the “regulars” to be pissed, because we’ve grown attached to both Singleton and Cosart. I expect some people who didn’t know who Singleton and Cosart were 2 weeks ago to be pissed, because that is their nature, even though they don’t know who the players are. Personally, I wish the Phillies could have held on to Singleton. As I outlined above, I think his stock is still very very high. He has excellent plate discipline, he has a pretty good eye, and his power will come. I expect that when he is fully developed as a prospect, he’ll hit 25-30 HR a year with plenty of walks. Any team would want a player like that. He does have red flags. If he is limited to 1B, then the requirement for his bat is obviously sky high. He’s struggled with LHP, but that’s not uncommon for prospects in the minors, and sometimes (Chase Utley comes to mind) it takes a few years in the big leagues before you really get comfortable with lefties. Singleton leaves a very pitcher friendly league in Florida and heads to a launching pad in Lancaster in the Cal League, and I expect him to be fine. Cosart is a really tough call. If you assured me he would remain healthy and he could smooth out his delivery even more, I’d say he should have been untouchable. But he’s had arm issues, and his delivery still has a lot of moving parts/effort. Its a special arm, but its not a risk free arm. In fact, no pitching prospect is risk free, no matter how clean/messed up their mechanics are. He could put everything together and turn into a star. Or he could blow out his arm and never bounce back. Pitching prospects, and pitchers in general, are very risky, and that is something I’ve stressed over and over again. If everything goes right for Singleton and Cosart, the Astros may end up with more value than the Phillies. Zeid could provide the Astros a few years of middle relief, but it won’t provide premium value. Over the next 3-4 years, Pence is going to accumulate somewhere between 11-15 WAR, assuming he doesn’t get hit. That is a ton of big league value. Cosart and Singleton could each provide that to Houston before their free agency years. Or both could flame out and never make it. We know Hunter Pence has made it. We know hes not a star, but we know that he’s going to help the current big league team.
One final thing I want to address, because I know it will be brought up in the comments. This trade does not “shorten the Phillies window” to win. If the Phillies had traded Domonic Brown, it wouldn’t have shortened the window. Yes, the Phillies have an extremely high payroll, and yes, it won’t go up forever. But the Phillies are also printing money as a franchise, and they aren’t dialing back the payroll any time soon. The Phillies system was just recently ranked 5th overall by Keith Law, based on players who had been promoted and are no longer eligible. Losing 2 of our best prospects is going to hurt, and if the PTBNL are painful, it could hurt more. But the Phillies just splashed out $375,000 for 11th round pick Tyler Greene, who was a 2nd round talent in the draft. Every year the Phillies draft well, they sign interesting guys, and a few years later, those guys are coveted all around baseball. Singleton was drafted in the 8th round of the 2009 draft and signed for a modest $200,000. Scouts/evaluators didn’t make much of it at the time, and I was out in front in hyping him up heading in to 2010. Now he is one of the signature pieces of this deal. Cosart, a 38th round pick, was signed for $550,000. The Phillies know how to find talent. They will sign a number of draft picks in the next few weeks and help to replenish what they’ve just lost. Meanwhile, they have improved their big league roster, allowing another legitimate run at the World Series ring. Next year, they will still have Dominic Brown for the minimum. Neither Singleton nor Cosart figured to help the big league club directly until 2013 at the earliest. By that time, a lot could have gone wrong (or right, to be fair) and their value could have been greatly altered.
In the short term, the Phillies win this deal. Pence will have accumulated plenty of value (barring injury) before Singleton and Cosart arrive. Its in the Phillies best interest to try and sign Pence to a nice deal now and avoid his potential arbitration windfall. He fills a need in the big league lineup, which will hopefully come at the expense of Raul Ibanez. Could the Phillies have done better pursuing another option like Carlos Quentin or BJ Upton? Possibly, but there is no way to know what would have been required to get those guys. If we know one thing, its that Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn’t want to be left standing without a chair when the music stops. So he got his guy, the big league team got better, and the farm system took a hit, for now. I have every confidence that the system will be fine though, and I think this trade will work out for the Phillies. If the final PTBNL turns out to be a meaningful guy it could impact my analysis, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Update 11:09PM –> I added an update above, Jayson Stark says the 4th player will be a PTBNL from the Low A roster. As I mentioned above, I can almost guarantee Biddle will not be on the list of players, so don’t panic.