Giants get Pence in effort to keep pace with rival Dodgers
Not about to be out-done by their NL West rivals in Los Angeles, who acquired Shane Victorino earlier in the day, the Giants have acquired a Phillies outfielder of their own, bringing Hunter Pence to San Francisco for outfielder Nate Schierholtz, catching prospect Tommy Joseph and minor league pitcher Seth Rosin. Pence, who will remain under the Giants’ control in 2013, his final year of arbitration, will replace Gregor Blano as the Giants everyday rightfielder.
The Giants’ acquisition of Pence echoes the Dodgers addition of Victorino in that both veterans are in the midst of down years. The 29-year-old Pence has hit .271/.336/.447 this season, down from his career rates of .292/.343/.485 coming into this season. By comparison, Blanco, who will be 29 in December, has hit just .245/.337/.362. However Blanco adds competent fielding (Pence has been awful in the field this year) and speed on the bases (18-for-21, an 86 percent success rate). Factor in their disparate home ball parks (Citizens Bank favors hitters, AT&T favors pitchers) and one could argue that Blanco has been every bit as valuable as Pence thus far this season if not moreso. However, Blanco has hit just .194/.280/.254 since June 10 and didn’t crack a major league roster last year during his age-27 season. Pence is more of a sure thing -- and a solid piece for next year -- but he does arrive in San Francisco in the midst of a wicked slump that has seen him hit a Blanco-like .217/.278/.253 with just one extra base hit in 90 July plate appearances.
As for the players going to Philadelphia, Schierholtz is a 28-year-old slick-fielding fourth outfielder and contact-hitting lefty bat who will remain under team control for two more seasons. He’ll likely start in the empty Phillies outfield for the remainder of the season which will give the Phillies a good idea of what he can do at the plate in a friendlier ballpark, though the Phillies will likely try to push him to the bench this winter. Rosin is a 6-foot-6, 23-year-old righty swing man who has put up impressive peripherals for High-A San Jose this season but is not a significant prospect. Rosin spent some time as San Jose’s closer earlier this year, but was moved back into the rotation at the end of June.
The key player in the deal is Joseph, a 21-year-old catcher with power in his bat who has spent this year at Double-A, a prospect that the Giants could afford to deal with Buster Posey installed behind the plate in the majors. With Carlos Ruiz due to become a free agent heading into his age-35 season after next season (picking up Ruiz’s $5 million option for next year is a no-brainer), Joseph will compete with 22-year-old Sebastian Valle to serve as his replacement in 2014. Valle and Joseph are similar players in that both are bat-first catchers with power but poor approaches at the plate. Both have spent this season at Double-A and neither is having a particularly impressive season (Joseph is slugging .391, Valle has a .281 on-base percentage, both have an OPS south of .720). The Phillies' gamble here is that one of the two will pan out in the next two years. If not, the trade that brough Pence to Philadelphia from Houston last year could live in infamy in the City of Brotherly love.
The Phillies picked up Pence from the Astros at this time last year in exchange for their two top prospects at the time, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and right-hander Jarred Cosart. Pence hit .324/.394/.560 the rest of the way for the Phillies, doubling his homer total from the season’s first four months, the sort of performance the Giants are surely hoping for from Pence this year. However, he did little in Philadelphia’s Division Series loss and the Phillies now have only Joseph, Schierholtz and Rosin to show for those two top prospects. Singleton has hit .281/.396/.481 as a 20-year-old in Double-A this year, while Cosart, 22, was recently promoted to Triple-A.
Speaking of top Phillies prospects of recent seasons, Domonic Brown is reportedly on his way to join the Phillies as Pence’s replacement in rightfield down the stretch, an ironic turn given that the acquisition of Pence blocked Brown from the position last year. Rated the fourth-best prospect in baseball prior to the 2011 season by Baseball America and tabbed as Jayson Werth’s replacement in rightfield coming into that season, Brown had fallen out of favor in Philadelphia due to some poorly-timed injuries and his atrocious fielding. He got off to a rough start this season, but has hit .333/.389/.529 in Triple-A since the start of June. If Brown can finally establish himself in the Phillies’ outfield it will be one of the better, if somewhat unintended, outcomes of this trade for Philadelphia.-- By Cliff Corcoran