IF YOU'VE BEEN watching any of baseball's postseason, particularly the World Series, none of the following headlines will catch you as surprising:
"Hunter Pence, With Quirks in Personality and Play, Spurs the Giants."
"M-V-Pence: Veteran's play, example leading Giants."
"Keeping Giants' Hunter Pence off base would help Royals reach Game 7."
Hunter Pence, the former Phillie and soon-to-be Sports Illustrated cover boy, had the San Francisco Giants on the cusp of winning their third World Series championship in 5 years (and second since he joined the team two summers ago) entering last night's Game 7 in Kansas City.
As the last headline suggests, Pence has been fairly good at getting on base in the Series. How good?
In the last 10 years, only five players (minimum 15 at-bats) have bested Pence's .500 OBP in World Series play: David Ortiz, .760 in 2013; Jayson Werth, .645 in 2008; Sean Casey, .556 in 2006; Jermaine Dye, .526 in 2005; and Lance Berkman, .516, 2011.
Going into last night, Pence was hitting .323 with an .868 OPS in 15 games this postseason. He had hit safely in 14 of 16 games during the playoffs, putting together one of the best October performances of the last decade.
If you're a Phillies fan and you are still reading this, congratulations, because we understand it cannot be easy. When you factor in what the Phillies gave up to bring Pence to Philadelphia in the first place and then what they got back when they traded him away just a year later, well, you might be better off clicking away or putting this newspaper aside and watching a Halloween horror movie marathon.
On July 29, 2011, the Phillies were 27 games over .500 and had the best record in baseball but felt the need to bolster their lineup by addressing the vacancy in rightfield, where Werth had been in the previous three-plus seasons. So they gave up their best hitting prospect (Jon Singleton), their best pitching prospect (Jarred Cosart), threw in another pitcher (Josh Zeid) and a player to be named later (Domingo Santana) in order to pry Pence from the Houston Astros.
A year and 2 days later, the Phils' front office decided it had seen enough of Pence, jettisoning him to the Giants for catching prospect Tommy Joseph, pitching prospect Seth Rosin and outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
Schierholtz and Zeid, throw-in types in both trades, basically cancel each other out. Rosin, who turns 26 next week, wasn't rated too highly in the Phils system when they decided to leave him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft; he was plucked away last winter only to return in the spring to have an average season that saw him demoted to Double A in June.
The heart of the trades pits Cosart-Singleton-Santana against Joseph . . . and it's hardly an even swap.
Cosart, 24 and now with the Marlins, went 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA in 30 starts in his first full big-league season. Singleton, 23, hit .168 with 13 home runs in 95 big-league games with the Astros. Santana, 22, hit .296 with a .858 OPS and 16 home runs in 120 games at Triple A Oklahoma City. None of the three would have a difficult time finding a job on the 2015 Phillies.
Joseph, 23, meanwhile, isn't on the radar with spring training 3 months away.
Joseph's 2014 season at Double A Reading ended a little more than a month after it began. He homered five times in 21 games but a wrist injury limited him to 27 total games in 2014 after playing in just 36 games in 2013.
Joseph, who has also battled concussion injuries in the last two years, has played a total of 91 games in 2 1/2 seasons since joining the Phillies organization.
Grading a trade 2 1/2 years later is a lot easier to do in retrospect, and part of you had to admire general manager Ruben Amaro's "all-in" mentality when he made the first deal 3 1/2 years ago.
But while critics certainly have the gift of hindsight, baseball operations people are paid for their ability to evaluate talent. Such evaluating means having foresight.
Coupled with the Cliff Lee-to-Seattle trade, the two Pence deals add up to a trifecta of franchise-crippling trades.
Unlike Shane Victorino, who was also traded on July 31, 2012, Pence was not a pending free agent whom the team had to move to get something of value back at the trade deadline. The Phils could have held onto Pence that summer and then sent him to the highest bidder via trade that winter instead.
Just as with Lee in the winter of 2009-10, Pence was under contract for the following season.
Lee, arguably one of the top half-dozen pitchers in baseball at the time, was due to make $9 million in 2010. But since he had to be moved to restock the farm system - a farm system that would be emptied again when the team went on to make trades for Roy Oswalt and Pence in the next 19 months - the Phils quickly sent him to the other side of the country for the forgettable package of Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez.
Pence, 29 at the time and entering his last year of arbitration, ended up making $13.8 million with the Giants . . . or about $4 million more than the Phillies paid Marlon Byrd and Delmon Young, combined, to replace him in the last two seasons.
Pence, who ended up signing a 5-year, $90 million contract extension in San Francisco 14 months after leaving the Phillies, hit .289 with an .842 OPS, .357 OBP, 28 home runs, 94 RBI and 94 runs scored in 155 games in Philadelphia.
Young, his first replacement, hit .261 with a .699 OPS, .302 OBP and eight home runs in 80 games in 2013. Byrd, who received a 2-year deal last winter, hit .264 with a .312 OBP, .757 OPS, 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 71 runs scored in 154 games in 2014.
Byrd, though, is also 6 years older than Pence. He'll turn 38 next summer.
The Phillies could effectively replace Pence (who effectively replaced Werth) with the righthanded power of Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, who is likely to command a contract in the neighborhood of $100 million this winter. It would be an effective way to address a problem that didn't have to exist in the first place.
The great irony that is the Phillies' revolving door in rightfield is that they has had to spend millions on veterans in the last 2 years because they do not have any ready-made replacements in their farm system. Longtime farm director Marti Wolever took a hit for the minor league system's talent dearth last month, when he was fired after 22 years with the organization.
But misfiring badly on the Pence and Lee trades has played an integral part in the Phillies' demise, too.
If Wolever was held accountable for suspect top draft picks in the last decade, what about the people inside the front office who thought Pence was worth the bounty of the organization's top prospects, only to drastically change their opinion 12 months later?