The Philadelphia Phillies may not be involved in the pennant race in their own division but they’ve certainly inserted themselves into the NL West chase. A few days after inking starting pitching Cole Hamels to a mammoth extension the Phillies parted ways with two thirds of their outfield, sending last year’s deadline acquisition Hunter Pence to the San Fransisco Giants and franchise mainstay Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Both players have had very down seasons and are well below the WAR pace they had last season, which allowed the Giants and Dodgers to get them at discounted prices. The best prospect exchanged in either deal was a 21-year old catcher named Tommy Joseph, whom the Giants parted with to get Pence. Joseph was ranked the #2 prospect in San Fransisco’s system before this year but he didn’t have a future with the Giants, who hope to have Buster Posey manning the back stop for the next decade. Ethan Martin, a former Dodger arm that went to Philly, has some potential but he doesn’t project to be a special talent.
The Giants and Dodgers are undoubtedly hoping that the classic change of scenery uptick in production, which I believe I mentioned 10 times in the past two days, happen with these two now that they have escaped an odd Philly lockerroom. Pence seems to have the most chance to do that because he’s a little bit younger than Victorino and this is the first season in his career that he’s (probably) not going to finish with at least a 3.2 WAR.
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He’s been a very consistent player, fluctuating between a 3-5 win player since Houston called him up in 2007. Pence hasn’t been particularly bad this season, either, at least offensively. He’s got a .271/.336/.447 line and an above average wOBA .339. What has lowered his overall value from all-star caliber to fringe everyday guy this year has been his decline in baserunning (he’s only got four steals so far) after stealing 11-18 bases a year from 07-10 and his extremely sharp decline in fielding; once one of the better right fielders in the game (he had a 12.2 UZR/150 in 2008), Pence is now one of the very worst right fielders in the league (he has a -12.5 UZR/150 right now) with shrinking range and a tiring arm.
Pence can probably be a 2-3 win player for the Giants going forward – he has one more arbitrating year left before he can hit the market – and he can be a very good hitter for them right now. That said, Pence’s days as an all-star caliber player are probably over if he doesn’t recover the baserunning and fielding elements of his game, which is generally not how age works. In a vacuum, though, this is certainly an upgrade for the Giants and even though his poor defense will be an issue in that ballpark, hit bat should provide enough value to render that moot.
Will it be enough to keep the Giants, currently 1.5 games up on the Dodgers (and three up on the Diamondbacks), at the top of their division?
Los Angeles stood their ground on deadline day when they got Victorino. Victorino is still a pretty useful player, even if his on-base percentage has stooped to merely average ranks this year. He stole 24 bases for the Phillies this season and is still an OK fielder, though we’ll have to see how in fares in left field, a position he’s only played 63 games at during his career. The pop that Victorino showed last year has dissipated but if he can up his on-base and be a threat on the basepaths he will be a nice rally starter for Matt Kemp and Han-Ram to drive in. Even he stays at his current pace (he’s a two win player through 101 games), he’ll be better than the lefty field options the Dodgers had before: Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Bobby Abreu (since designated for assignment).
Adding Pence was a good move for them but it was more or less equaled by Los Angeles when they landed the Flyin’ Hawaiian. San Fransisco still has inherent advantages with their pitching staff, especially since the Dodgers weren’t able to land Ryan Dempster, but the Dodgers made a big splash in adding Hanley Ramirez and they also added the talented, if inconsistent, Brandon League to help their bullpen depth. And don’t forget about the Diamondbacks, who opted against trading Justin Upton and instead made smaller moves (like swapping Ryan Roberts for Chris Johnson, essentially). I think the Dodgers have to be the favorites to take the division crown now but that won’t make this race any less interesting. And you can give the Phillies a tip of the cap for that.