Everybody is waiting for the Philadelphia Phillies to go into fire sale mode. And since the trade deadline is fast approaching and the team is still facing a double-digit deficit in the NL East, that time could come very soon.
If the Phillies do decide to sell, they'll have quite a few players to offer needy contenders. Cole Hamels will be Philly's biggest trade chip if the organization fails to sign him to an extension in the near future, and you can rest assured that he will be traded if a deal can't be struck.
As far as bats go, the Phillies could end up moving free-agent-to-be Shane Victorino. Former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins could go too.
So could Hunter Pence.
It's more of an idea than a rumor at this point, as the Phillies haven't really sent any signals that they're willing to trade Pence, who is under contract through next season.
But according to ESPN's Jayson Stark, there's definitely interest in Pence around Major League Baseball.
"He's attracting as much interest as anybody they have," said one executive, "maybe even more than Hamels."
Stark mentions the Pittsburgh Pirates as a possible fit for Pence, which makes sense given their known interest in Justin Upton (B/R has the latest on him all in one place). Other contenders that could use a good bat in right field include the Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants and maybe the Texas Rangers.
Naturally, actually trading Pence is complicated. Stark outlined the various dilemmas facing the Phillies pretty well in his report:
[Pence] can't be a free agent until after next season, so this is the optimal time to move him. But he and Carlos Ruiz are their only productive right-handed bats. And if they deal Pence and Shane Victorino, it would mean having to reconstruct their entire outfield by next Opening Day. So if the Phillies have a rough week, they'll almost certainly listen on Pence in the days before the deadline. But they'd need a major haul in return to pull the trigger.
Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer also chimed in on the Pence dilemma. He's more or less in favor of the idea of trading Pence, noting that he could fetch a more impressive haul of prospects than Hamels and that the Phillies could take the money saved by trading Pence and spend it on two outfield spots instead of just one.
All around, pretty interesting stuff. It's not out of the question that the Phillies could take all this into consideration and then deal Pence at some point in the next 10 days or so.
It's either that, or they could realize how valuable Pence is and hold on to him for the rest of this season and all of 2013.
Pence is not in the same boat as Victorino. There's no pressure on the Phillies to trade him because he's about to become a free agent, nor is there any pressure on the Phillies to take what they can get for Pence because he's having a poor season.
This is because Pence is actually having a pretty decent season. He entered Friday's action hitting .277/.344/.470 with an .814 OPS, 17 home runs and 57 RBI (h/t Baseball-Reference.com).
That .814 OPS is a far cry from the .954 OPS Pence posted after he came over to the Phillies from Houston last season, but it's right in line with the .828 OPS he posted when he was a member of the Astros last season.
The four seasons before that, Pence averaged an OPS of .817. So don't call Pence an underachiever. His numbers are right about where they should be this season.
In fact, it can be argued that Pence has overachieved this season. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out of the lineup for virtually the entire season, there was a lot of pressure on Pence to come through with clutch hits.
To that end, he did pretty well, hitting .275/.343/.466 with 13 homers and 42 RBI while Utley and Howard were absent.
Utley returned on June 27. Howard returned a few days later on July 6. Since June 27, Pence is hitting .288/.347/.485 with four homers and 15 RBI. As MLB.com noted on Friday, Pence has been money with runners in scoring position since Utley's return. He's collected nine hits in 20 at-bats in such situations.
Basically, what Pence has done with Utley and Howard back in Philly's lineup is pick up where he left off last season. He's a different player with the two of them in the lineup.
As long as their bodies don't betray them (fingers crossed, Phillies fans), Utley and Howard are going to be back in Philly's lineup next season too. So will Pence if the Phillies choose to keep him. It's not crazy to think he could put together a monster year.
It's also not crazy to think that the Phillies will be able to contend in 2013, a notion that a lot of people seem to have already disregarded due to the team's struggles this season. Even if they fail to re-sign Hamels, they'll still have Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in their rotation, not to mention the underappreciated Vance Worley. Ruben Amaro will have holes to patch elsewhere, but he's not looking at a complete rebuilding job even if he jettisons Hamels and Victorino at the trade deadline.
Should the Phillies trade Hunter Pence this season?
Amaro should only deal Pence this season if he thinks the Phillies are doomed in 2013, in which case he should deal every other tradeable asset he has at his disposal. If Amaro doesn't think the Phillies can win in 2013, then he should get the ball rolling on a rebuilding phase right away.
I think we all know this isn't going to happen. Even if they do make some deals in the next 10 days or so, the Phillies should still have enough talent to contend in 2013. Or at least, that's what the organization will peddle to its sizable fanbase.
Either way, keeping Pence around is of paramount importance to the team's chances next season. If his fellow sluggers stay healthy, the Phillies could make this 2012 season nothing more than a bad memory.
And if things don't work out, hey, there will be a trade deadline next year too.
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