A lot of Phillies fans seem to have gotten it into their heads that if the Phillies want Hunter Pence, they'll have to give the Astros Domonic Brown and more to make the deal happen. In fact, the other night, I heard one radio caller go so far as to say (with the full assent of the host) that Ed Wade would be fired by Houston's new owner if he traded Pence for Brown, and so the Phillies would need to add Singleton and Cosart to the package. This caller also made the common claim that if Brown ever develops into a player as good as Pence is already, the Phillies will be thrilled.
That opinion is basically the opposite of the truth. If the Phillies trade Brown to Houston for Pence, then it will be the Astros who will have robbed the Phillies blind.
I'll concede that Pence is a better player than Brown right at this moment. And yes, Pence has two more arbitration years remaining before he reaches free agency. He'll probably only make $20-25 million or so in those two years, which is a decent bargain.
It doesn't matter. Brown is still more valuable, because:
- Pence isn't that great. I would rank him at around the 75th percentile of starting MLB rightfielders. That's perfectly respectable, but it isn't worth going nuts over. His power is okay but not great, his speed is okay but not great, his defense is average, and his plate patience is below average. The only thing he's been excellent at this year is getting base hits (read: high BABIP), and that's probably a fluke.
- If Brown at his peak is equal to Pence today, the Phillies won't be disappointed, but they won't be thrilled either. Brown's max ceiling is a lot higher than Pence's current level. I mean, it isn't even close. Brown was ranked by a great many experts as the #1 prospect in all of baseball last year. His ceiling is becoming one of the top ten players in all of major league baseball. Pence isn't even one of top ten outfielders in major league baseball.
- Yes, Pence is under team control for two more years, but Brown is under team control for five more years, and two of those are pre-arbitration years in which he'll be making only $0.45 million per year.
- Pence is 28 years old. Brown is 23 years old.
If Ruben Amaro trades Brown for Pence straight up, then David Montgomery should fire Ruben Amaro. It would be that stupid of a move. Yes, it's possible (though unlikely) that Brown won't pan out. It's also possible (and somewhat less unlikely) that he'll never reach the level that Pence is at today. But his upside is so, so, so much higher than Pence's that the potential reward of keeping him overwhelms the risk. He simply has way more talent than Pence does and that's all there is to it.