The Hunter Pence Trade: A Look at What the Phillies are Giving Up

Lottery ticket.

WholeCamels has already handled the trade overview and some follow up thoughts, FuquaManuel collected the smorgasbord of viewpoints on the deal, and the rest of the gang has been at it in the comments (thankfully the taco pal deal was reversed when Eric Simon failed his physical), so I figured it's my turn to step up to the plate. We know what Hunter Pence is bringing to the table, and we've read enough about these prospects the past few days to have an idea of what the Astros are getting. But as someone who follows the minor leagues pretty closely -- and I know a lot of our readers here are as crazy as I am in this regard -- I want to take a chance to climb on my soap box and bid a proper adieu to Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, and Josh Zeid (and, of course, Mr. To Be Named Later).

So check below the jump for a breakdown on what the Phillies are giving up, how this compares to the other blockbuster packages Ruben Amaro has put together, and some final wrap up thoughts. And as a heads up, Monday morning's prospect roundup will include some thoughts on Domonic Brown, as well as a look at the reshuffled top ten prospects in the system.

The Rundown: What the Astros are Getting

Jarred Cosart, RHP, Lancaster JetHawks

An athletic, 6'3", 180-lb. right hander who received a $550,000 bonus as a 38th round pick back in 2008, Cosart checked in at #2 in the offseason prospect rankings (behind only Brown). This is what I had to say about him:

The only thing keeping everyone from truly wild enthusiasm regarding Cosart is the fact that he's only managed to throw 95.2 pro innings up to this point due to various injuries. That's certainly a red flag, but the upside here is so substantial that I had to bump him to #2 on the list. Cosart has a true plus fastball, with reports having him touching as high as 98 on the gun, and his curveball is already a plus pitch as well. His 2010 performance was excellent -- 9.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.38 HR/9, 59% GB, 2.47 FIP -- and he's athletic to boot, which will help him maintain his mechanics. At this point, the Texas flamethrower needs two things: (1) to hone his change up; and (2) to stay healthy and log innings.

The absolute best news about Cosart's 2011 is that he's managed to stay healthy, doubling his total innings thrown in pro ball by tossing 108 frames so far on the year. And despite the increased workload, there haven't been reports of any real diminution in his raw stuff -- he's generally parked his fastball in the mid-90s, his curve flashes as the same plus pitch it did previously, and his change up, while a work in progress, is reported to be coming around. Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus has repeatedly said that Cosart's arsenal was the second most impressive at the Futures Game (behind only Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, who may be the best pitching prospect in baseball at this point).

That being said, the numbers don't exactly match the stuff. Cosart came into 2011 having absolutely ripped up both the Gulf Coast League and the South Atlantic League to the tune of 9.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.28 HR/9, and a 56% GB, but this year, he hasn't even come close to matching those numbers in a league (the Florida State League) where the average hitter is putting up just a .262/.332/.385 batting line. The right hander's strikeouts are down to 6.6 per 9 innings, his walks rate is up to 3.6 per 9 innings, and while his home run rate (0.58 HR/9) and ground ball rate (52%) are still solid, the overall result is a 4.00 FIP. Spotty command as a result of a bit of a herky jerky delivery may be the culprit, but with Cosart's athleticism (he was recruited to both pitch and play the outfield at Missouri), one would think that his mechanics could successfully be smoothed out with some coaching. Still, it's a definite area for concern.

Simply put, Cosart is a lottery ticket. Like any prospect, he could flame out without making an impact in the majors; the questions about his mechanics, and his somewhat spotty injury history, could shuttle him off to the bullpen; or everything could click, and he could develop into a true, front-of-the-rotation ace. It's that last possibility that obviously enticed the Astros into asking for him as part of the package, and it's why I would rank him as the second best prospect in the Phillies' system (behind Singleton, and before this trade, of course). An ace is the rarest commodity in baseball, and if you have a chance to add a guy with a legitimate chance at developing into one to your system, you jump at it (see, e.g.the Mets and Wheeler, Zack). Even if Cosart's chances of actually developing into a front-end starter are, say, in the 10% range, that upside makes him a worthy co-centerpiece of this deal.

Jonathan Singleton, 1B-L, Lancaster JetHawks

Appropriately enough, the 6'2", 215-lb. Singleton checked in at #3 in the offseason prospect rankings, just behind Cosart. Here was his writeup:

In last year's rankings, I tried to temper my own personal excitement for Singleton, reasoning that: (a) he was an 8th round pick with only 100 pro at bats; and (b) the offensive bar is very high for first base prospects. Well, the big lefty had shattered that logic by his second week in Lakewood, dominating the circuit before wearing down physically in the season's second half. All told, his .288/.392/.477 full season debut was highly impressive, all the more so considering his age (he didn't turn 19 until after the season) and his precocious approach at the plate (13.8% BB, 19.7% K). A bat like that will play anywhere, but the thinking now is that Singleton is athletic enough to try his hand at the outfield, which can only help his stock.

Like Cosart, Singleton's 2011 has been something of a mixed bag. The organization tried to tweak Singleton's swing, leading to an underwhelming .266/.356/.357 line through the end of May, and an ankle injury spurred the club to scrap the outfield experiment for the time being. From the beginning of June onward, the big slugger has seemed to regain his stroke, hitting .299/.418/.458 and walking as many times as he's struck out (36). The end result is a current .284/.387/.413 line with really solid plate discipline (14.6% BB, 22.0% K) -- and keep in mind, as mentioned above, that this is a league that's currently hitting .262/.332/.385 on the whole.

As one might expect, scouting reports praise Singleton's advanced approach at the plate, and the power potential is obviously there. With an organization like the Astros, who play their home games in cozy Minute Maid Park, it's reasonable to think that Singleton could handle left field; he's not going to win any Gold Gloves, but he's spry enough that he's not going to be Pat Burrell in the outfield, either.  If he winds up staying at first base, he obviously needs to really mash to bring a lot of value to the table, with the offensive demands only being a bit less strenuous if he's ultimately able to hack it in the outfield.

So Singleton's really a bat only player, but with that said, I really, really believe in the bat.  Hitters with his plate discipline and power potential project as middle-of-the-order staples, and while midseason 2013 is probably the earliest major league ETA I can envision, Singleton has the potential to be a .300/.400/.500 hitter at his peak if it all breaks right. He's 19 right now and posting a wOBA that's 23% better than league average despite the slow start, so for all of the hand wringing about his "down" year, I don't think there's a ton of reason to be unduly worried. As WholeCamels said in the Pence piece linked above, prospect attrition rate is brutal, but Singleton may be as "safe" a prospect as a bat only 19-year old in High A can realistically be.

Josh Zeid, RHP, Corpus Christi Hooks

A 10th round pick in 2009 out of Tulane, the 6'5", 210-lb. Zeid checked in at #20 in the offseason prospect rankings:

On one hand, it's tough to read a lot into a 23-year old dominating Low A in a relief role. On the other, Zeid impressed in the Arizona Fall League, and reports have him moving consistently into the 93 to 94 range with his fastball out of the bullpen, so there's some back of the bullpen potential here. In 107.1 innings for Lakewood, the Tulane product posted a line of 9.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.59 HR/9, 45% GB, and a 2.85 FIP, and followed that up with a 12:1 K:BB in 14 AFL innings. The 6'5", 210-lb. righty only pitched 106 innings in his college career, so he strikes me as something of a late bloomer who could move quickly as he gets more innings under his belt.

Obviously encouraged by Zeid's showing in the AFL, he organization double jumped him to Reading and inserted him into the starting rotation, and the results were anything but pretty: 6.0 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, and 1.32 HR/9, and a 5.24 FIP. Shifted back to the bullpen at the very end of June, Zeid has excelled in the role he'll ultimately have, running up a 24:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 innings since. His absolute best case scenario is probably as a 7th inning guy, so he's not nearly on the same level as the other two names in the deal, but he's got a legitimate shot at a major league career.  Zeid was a ways down the Phillies' organizational depth chart among relievers (behind at least Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, and Michael Schwimer), but he could potentially be a nice asset for the Astros during his cost-controlled years.

The Player to be Named Later?, Lakewood BlueClaws

All we know at this point is what Jayson Stark has reported: the Astros "will choose (the) player to be named later from a list of players in low A ball" and that he "won't be a top prospect".  It will be interesting to see exactly how the phrase "top prospect" is interpreted, but it seems safe to say that Jesse Biddle will not be on the list, and I'd be shocked if Domingo Santana is either. Neither right hander Lisalberto Bonilla (subject of a recent Fanshot here) nor outfielder Zach Collier (written about here) are top prospects, but would be tough players to lose. Two names I'll throw out at random based on nothing but my own conjecture: outfielder (and 2008 1st round pick) Anthony Hewitt, and hard-throwing reliever Lendy Castillo. Obviously we can't pass final judgment on the deal until the PTBNL is known, but it doesn't sound as if it's a guy who's going to drastically tilt the scales.

* * *

How Do Amaro's Blockbuster Packages Stack Up?

Ruben Amaro has now made four blockbuster deals where he's flipped prospects for an established major leaguer: Cliff Lee (#1), Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and now Hunter Pence.

If we're ranking the packages given up, the haul that Alex "Jedi" Anthopoulos got for Doc was clearly the best: Kyle Drabek, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball at the time; Michael Taylor, fresh off a .320/.395/.549 season split between Reading and Lehigh Valley; and Travis d'Arnaud, a catcher with good defensive tools and a solid approach at the plate.  It's all the more impressive under the circumstances (i.e., Halladay had asked for a trade and could use his no trade clause to essentially choose his team).

I honestly think I'd rank the Cliff Lee (#1) haul next, at least based on what we knew at the time. Carlos Carrasco looked like a mid-rotation starter ready to step into a major league rotation within a year; Lou Marson looked like a potential starting catcher who could post an above-average on base percentage (albeit with no power); Jason Donald had superutility upside; and Jason Knapp, while a long ways away, was a fireballing right hander who had front-of-the-rotation potential. Aside from Carrasco, it obviously hasn't worked out the way it was supposed to for the Indians, but that was nonetheless a decent group of prospects at the time (if a bit underwhelming for a year-and-a-half of Cliff Lee).

I put the Cosart/Singleton/Zeid/PTBNL package next, if only by the slightest of margins. There's more upside here than in the haul the Indians received, but the key cogs haven't even made it to Double-A yet, so the return is certainly not without risk. With the obvious caveat of "given what we knew at the time," I'd probably have preferred the relative safety of the Lee package, which still had considerable upside in the shape of Knapp.

Last is the package that Amaro surrendered for Roy Oswalt (and the cool $11 million): J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose, and Jonathan Villar. Happ looked like a league average, perhaps slightly above, starter who had just under 5 years of team control left; Gose was a lottery ticket with great tools but some serious statistical red flags during his Age 19 season in High A; and Villar was a solid defensive shortstop with some raw hitting ability but a hacktastic plate approach. To this day, I'm still puzzled as to why Wade sought this specific package as a return for the clear best starter on offer at the 2010 trade deadline.

* * *

Final Thoughts

I'm a believer in the idea that it's misleading to go back and look at a trade 10 years later and pronounce a winner -- like most other aspects of this great game that we love, there's a ton of luck involved in who stays healthy, how prospects develop, etc.  If Cosart and Singleton reach their ceilings, people will obviously be bemoaning this deal a decade from now; if they flame out, as often happens with prospects, people will hail it as a huge win, a no brainer upgrade from the daring Ruben Amaro. In either scenario, the assessment will be (as I said above) misleading: it may sound like a truism, but remember that Ruben Amaro and Ed Wade are making this trade on the basis of what they know now, and really, I think that's the best way to judge the deal.

With that said, I'll agree with WholeCamels that this isn't a particularly great deal, but it's not the end of the world. Certainly, there's a happy medium to be found here between the WIP blowhards who finally get the gritty right handed bat they've been craving (and therefore love the deal), and the people thinking that this is, as WholeCamels said, the Hindenberg Disaster (and therefore loathe the deal).

The bottom line is this: what Amaro has traded away is two guys with, say, a 10% chance at being bona fide franchise cornerstones, and while those odds aren't bad for the Phillies, I personally am not sure if the decent -- but far from earth shattering -- lineup upgrade that Pence represents is worth the potential downside risk, though your mileage may vary. It could very well work out this time around, but in my mind, these are generally the sort of trades you want to avoid making when your odds of making the playoffs sit at 99.1%. But what's done is done, so now we'll just have to sit back, try to relax, and watch Amaro let it ride.

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