While it would be nice if the Astros could keep Hunter Pence as a piece of the puzzle for the eventual new owner, the bottom line is they can’t. Pence is only signed through this year with two more arbitration-eligible years remaining. And if this last off-season’s arbitration process with Pence is any indication, he will probably get exactly what he is asking for. Which is more than Houston can realistically afford to pay.
Pence is currently making $6.9 million per year. With his performance over the last couple seasons and his numbers this season, he will be too expensive for the Astros and may end up being one of the hottest commodities this trade season. But is it necessarily a bad thing for the Astros to lose him?
Pence plays in an admittedly hitter-friendly park, but his stats are enough to raise a few eyebrows. He is currently batting .318 which ranks him fourth in the National League. He has hit over 100 home runs in his four plus years in the bigs. And he plays an above-average right field.
Yet even with the career-high batting average, Pence still ranks only 20th in OBP and 21st in slugging. What this tells me is that Pence is striking out far too often and potentially killing momentum. Granted, he does produce very well for the most part, but batting average doesn’t always give a clear picture of production.
Hunter Pence doesn’t even rank in the top 15 of outfielders league wide for WAR. However, many of the outfielders ahead of him come with pricey contracts. While Pence’s contract will be a little to rich for the Astros blood (regardless of what ownership is saying publicly), his contract would rate on the low end for a larger market club. This could be a win-win trade situation.
Because of the lack of true talent available on the trading blocks, Pence is pushed toward the top by default. Yet, even if he is not a top-tier talent yet, he still represents 3 Wins Above Replacement and is projected to have a season WAR greater than 4. Hunter Pence also represents youth. He is 28 years old and hitting his stride as a Major Leaguer. For a team looking for a right-handed bat with some pop, Pence could be a golden ticket to the post-season (I’m looking at you Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Cleveland).
On the other hand, the Astros have an opportunity to cash in on a desirable trade prospect that strikes out 20.5% of the time, good for 14th highest among all MLB outfielders and 8th highest among NL outfielders. They have a chance to avoid arbitration that could end up costing them upwards of $10 million for the 2012 season. They also have a chance to pick up prospects to help them in their continued rebuilding. A trade for speed and defense would go a long way towards rebuilding.
No, Hunter Pence is not the greatest outfielder to be mentioned in trade rumors, but he’s the best this season. His productivity outweighs his costs for many teams, just not the Astros. If Houston keeps Pence, they may be missing out on a golden opportunity to make their team better in the future.
Sell high as the traders on Wall Street alway say. Hunter Pence’s value likely won’t get higher than it is right now.