Those of you who've read this blog for a while may know that one of the hats I wear around here is as a reluctant semi-defender of Ed Wade's legacy as General Manager of the Phillies. It's not that I don't think he had faults. Clearly, he did. But the fact remains that when he became GM, this team was very bad, and when he left, it had become pretty good. That doesn't happen unless you have some good qualities in addition to your bad ones. He did inherit some assets (Schilling, Rolen, Rollins, and Abreu) but he also added a great many more (Burrell, Utley, Hamels, Myers, Madson, Victorino, Ruiz, Gavin Floyd, Michael Bourn, Jim Thome). Most importantly, Wade was never - not once - taken for a ride in a prospects-for-veterans trade, despite immense fan pressure at times to pull the trigger on a number of trades that would have turned out to be catastrophes. That, more than anything that Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro would do later, is the reason why the present-day Phillies have gone to four straight postseasons. He wasn't known as a statistically minded GM, but he acquired many high-OBP hitters. Aside from middle relievers (for whom he had a bizarre fetish), he never signed anyone to a disastrous contract, and some of the contracts he did negotiate were absolute windfalls for the team - just look at this team's payroll throughout its current run of success, in which a prime Chase Utley averaged under $15 million per year and a prime Jimmy Rollins averaged under $8 million per year. As assistant GM under Lee Thomas, it was reported that he personally lobbied for Bobby Abreu's acquisition (for Kevin Stocker, unbelievably) and he remained Abreu's biggest defender for years to come - it's no coincidence that Abreu wasn't traded until the first year of Gillick's tenure. In short, there are a lot of positives that need to be weighed along with the negatives, yet are often forgotten by Phillies fans.
So why am I bringing all this up now, almost six years after Wade was fired? Well, there are a lot of folks in this town who want the Phillies to trade for Hunter Pence. And there are a lot of folks in this town who think this will be easy because "Ho ho ho, all we have to do is offer that idiot Ed Wade some garbage!" It's a terribly old joke now, but its lack of humor or originality doesn't seem to be stopping many people from repeating it.
Well, maybe they'll stop if they understand that it has no basis in fact. I don't know where people got the idea that Ed Wade was some kind of an easy mark in trades, but the fact is that the Phillies have never ripped him off. The Phillies and Astros have made two major trades since Wade became the GM in Houston, and in both cases, it is at least arguable that Wade got the better end of the deal.
Now let me step back and be clear about something. When I say that the Phillies have never ripped Wade off, that doesn't mean that Wade ripped the Phillies off. Trades are not necessarily zero-sum affairs. It's very common in sports to see trades that help both teams, and every once in a while you even see some trades that hurt both teams. Clearly, things have worked out pretty well for the Phillies, and if Ruben could hop into his hot tub and travel back in time to reverse either of the two trades, he wouldn't do it. But that isn't what the ho-ho-ho-ers are saying. They seem to think Wade can be persuaded to make a deal that not only helps the Phillies but doesn't even require the Phillies to give up any value at all. Don't count on it.
The first of the two trades came on November 7, 2007, when the Astros sent Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett to the Phillies in exchange for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary, and Mike Costanzo. Lidge had been a nearly unhittable strikeout machine in 2004 and 2005, but struggled (mainly, it seems, because of bad BABIP and HR/FB luck) in 2006, and was only so-so in 2007. He had one year of arbitration eligibility left before he would hit free agency. Meanwhile, the Phillies had begun 2007 with a 39-year-old Tom Gordon as their closer, but Gordon got hurt and they had been forced to move Brett Myers from the rotation to the pen to fill the role.
You know what happened with Lidge. He had a tremendous 2008 as the Phillies' closer, blew zero saves all year long, received a three-year extension, and recorded the final out of the World Series. Myers was able to move back to the rotation and, after a terrible stretch early in the season that got him sent to the minors, finished strong and played an important role in the postseason. A huge win for the Phillies, right?
Well, not exactly - it was a huge win in that it might have delivered the World Series, but it wasn't a win on a sheer objective value-for-value comparison. To this day, I don't think Phillies fans realize how good of a player Michael Bourn turned out to be. We remember him as a so-so prospect who was basically a designated pinch-runner as a rookie in 2007, and he really struggled in his first year in Houston while Lidge was having his perfect season here. But ever since then, Bourn has arguably been the best centerfielder in major league baseball. He's accumulated more WAR in that stretch than any other centerfielder - 1.2 ahead of Shane Victorino, who's in fourth place. He's an awesome defensive player, and according to Fangraphs, he's been the second-best baserunner in baseball behind only Elvis Andrus. Simply put, he's just really good.
To repeat, the Phillies would never want to reverse the trade. They had Victorino, so Bourn was expendable. Lidge filled a huge void in 2008 and performed tremendously. And the team won the World Series. All's well that ends well. Just don't go around thinking they didn't pay a price for it, or that Wade didn't make out like a bandit.
The second trade came last July 29, when Wade sent Roy Oswalt and several millions of dollars to the Phillies in exchange for J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose, and Jonathan Villar. There was a year and change left on Oswalt's contract, and he had made it crystal-clear that he wouldn't be returning to Houston afterwards. Also, since his contract had a mutual option year at the end, it would be impossible for the Astros to get draft pick compensation for him. This left them in a bind. Meanwhile, the Phillies were in a dogfight to get into the playoffs. They had already begun to turn their season around, having won five straight games after dropping to their lowest point of the season on July 21 at 48-46, but they were still 4.5 games out of first place in the East.
Again, it worked out great for the Phillies. Oswalt pitched very well, the team went on an absolute tear, wiped out the competition down the stretch, finished the season with the best record in baseball, and reached the NLCS before being upset by the Giants. But again, that doesn't mean that the Astros were fleeced. They weren't.
First of all, you need to keep in mind that Oswalt only had a year-and-a-third left on his contract. That's very valuable to a contending team like the Phils, but it really isn't that valuable at all to a rebuilding team like the Astros. Because of Oswalt's injury, he'll probably accumulate no more than 4.5 WAR in a Phillies uniform, and that's being optimistic. But even if he hadn't gotten hurt, he probably wouldn't have done any better than 6.5 over the full 1.33 years. In the grand scheme of things, the Astros just didn't give up all that much.
And they got good value in exchange. J.A. Happ should exceed 4.5 WAR all on his own before he hits free agency three years from now. He was ultra-lucky in 2009 and he really isn't anything special as a starting pitcher, but he hasn't been as bad this year as you might have thought (4.46 xFIP) and he's more valuable to Houston than Oswalt would have been. And in any event, the real prize in the deal was another centerfielder, Gose, who just last week was named by Baseball America as the 45th best prospect in baseball. He's currently in AA at age 20. His season's been up and down, but overall he's performed very well considering that he's one of the youngest players in the country at his level. When he was with the Phils, he didn't walk very much, but this year, despite having made what most experts consider to be the biggest jump in the minors, he's walked more than ever before, with 39 BB compared to 316 AB. He never had much power before either, but this year he's showing it for the first time, with 9 HRs, 5 3B, and 11 2B. He used to get caught stealing regularly despite having excellent speed, but he seems to have fixed that problem now, with 41 SB this year in 52 attempts. And he supposedly has the potential to be a great defensive outfielder, partly because of his speed and partly because he has a cannon arm - coming out of high school, more teams were interested in him as a pitcher than as a hitter because his fastball had been clocked at 97 mph. He might not be a "stud" prospect, but he isn't far from it. So while the Phillies may have no regrets about making that deal, neither do the Astros. (And yes, I know that Wade flipped Gose to Toronto for Brett Wallace, and that that may have been a big mistake. That doesn't change the fact that the Oswalt trade was good for Houston.)
Long story short: don't expect to get Pence for cheap. It's unlikely to happen. And if you can't get him for cheap, then it probably isn't worth it to get him at all - especially when you consider that Pence's improved performance in 2011 appears to be fueled by a BABIP of rather dubious trustworthiness. The guy just isn't that great of a player, his market value is at an all-time high, and in all of the Phillies' past dealings with Ed Wade, he's been able to extract real value from them in exchange for players whose market value was lower than Pence's is now.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that you trade with Wade only at your peril, but you do have to watch your step. If you like to mock Wade's history of trades with the Phillies, you need to go back and relearn the facts, because all you're doing is inviting the Phillies to shoot themselves in the foot.