For the last few months, the narrative in Philadelphia has been that the Phillies need to pick up a right-handed bat, specifically one that plays corner outfield.
Yet never has the name Melky Cabrera been mentioned. Instead, the choice du jour has primarily been Hunter Pence. The thoughts are he is only 28 years old and that he is the right-handed power bat needed to protect Ryan Howard. He is a strong defensive corner outfielder and is under club control for two more years, so he can replace Raul Ibanez next season.
Recently, though, the thought process shifted to consider the acquisition of New York Mets All-Star Carlos Beltran. Beltran is a switch hitter, so he fits the tab for right-handed power. However, at 34 he is older and only a rental as his contract expires after the season.
The upside is that he should cost less to acquire and would be exactly the type of hitter to protect Howard that fans feel the Phils are missing. Furthermore, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has reportedly been aggressively pursuing Beltran.
If the past is any indication, what Amaro wants, Amaro gets.
So here comes the curveball.
Apparently, Amaro and the Kansas City Royals have exchanged names and are in serious talks about a deal involving Melky Cabrera. Now Melky doesn't exactly appear to be an imposing name to any Phils fan who watched him suffer through a rough season on the Atlanta Braves last year.
But Melky has bounced back strongly this year, is a switch hitter and has defensive flexibility. Melky would likely come much cheaper than either of the other two and would still be under contract with the Phillies next season for about a million dollars, so he provides financial flexibility as well.
So the question remains, what is the best option for the Fightins? Should they get the rental in Beltran, pay more to get a solid corner outfielder in Pence for a few years or go in the bargain bin and get a solid but unspectacular Melky? A closer look at their season numbers should help provide some clarity.
*sOPS+ is the batter's OPS relative to the league average for that split. Anything over 100 is above average, anything below 100 is below average, and 100 is exactly average.
After looking at the numbers, the answer seems pretty clear. If the Phils are looking for the best player to get right now, then Carlos Beltran is clearly the answer. He provides the most value against southpaws and is hitting right-handers just as well as Pence.
In fact, he can even be expected to improve some against lefties as he is suffering from a little bit of tough luck right now on balls in play.
The numbers are not as kind to Hunter Pence. It shows he has been incredibly lucky against righties as he is hitting over .400 when putting the ball in play. That simply is not something he can sustain, no matter how well he keeps making contact. Sooner or later, the ball will start finding gloves.
But more concerning is that he does not appear to be the right-handed power bat everyone thinks he is. He is just about an average hitter when it comes to facing portsiders. Most of his damage is against righties. That simply will not be a deterrent for teams bringing in a lefty specialist late in games. The Phillies will be paying for a right-handed bat who can mash lefties and end up with only an average hitter in those situations.
Melky, on the other hand, is putting up numbers very similar to Pence against lefties. He too is just about league average. Against righties, while not as dominant as Beltran and Pence, he has been a very good bat nonetheless.
He is capable of playing all the outfield positions and is a very experienced postseason veteran. While he may feel like he has been around forever, Melky is only 26 years old and may be just hitting full stride as a ballplayer.
So this is the decision the Phillies face.
Get the best player available but risk trading prospects to your division rival, get Pence who is a good player but will likely cost the most in both money and prospects or get the solid Melky Cabrera who, in costing the least of the trio to acquire, will save the farm system while providing nearly identical production to Pence against southpaws.