The MLB trade deadline just passed and unless we here reports of something that was consummated just minutes before 4 PM ET, it looks like the biggest splash on the final day of the July trading extravaganza was made by the Philadelphia Phillies. Not because of whom they acquired, as in past years, but who they cut loose. As expected, the Phils dealt Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers and more surprising—although rumors had been building the past few days—was the Hunter Pence trade with San Francisco. TheSportsNotebook breaks down the trades from the standpoint of the three teams involved, including the impact on this season’s NL West race…
*Pence is the biggest name in all this and given he’s only 29 years old and was the Phils’ big deadline acquisition from a year ago, I was surprised when his name started popping up in the past couple days. But the more you think about it, the more you realize that Philly’s signing of Cole Hamels to a lucrative contract extension, on top of the huge contracts already given to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon, meant that something had to give. The Phils might be filling Citizen’s Bank Park, but they aren’t the Yankees and can’t take on every contract. Something had to give and with Pence due $13 million next season, he was what gave.
*San Francisco’s offense isn’t exactly loaded with high-priced offensive talent, so Pence is a significant upgrade here, one I think is even better than their trade for Carlos Beltran at this time a year ago. The Giants have Pence under club control in 2013 and he’s the kind of bat that can make the difference in an NL West race and in the playoffs.
*The price the Giants paid in prospects was fair and Philadelphia will be able to replenish a farm system stripped dangerously bare. Keith Law at ESPN.com, a minor league expert, opined that catcher Tommy Joseph is already a good bat with good plate discipline, although defensively he might need to be moved elsewhere. Starting pitcher Seth Rosin is at Class A and throws in the high 90s, certainly someone with the talent to try and harness. And Philly got big-league talent, in outfielder Nate Schierholtz. He’s the kind of role player who might have fit in Frisco if they had better everyday talent around him, but not the kind of impact bat they had to get. From the Phils’ standpoint, he’s acceptable for keeping the seat warm in the outfield while they continue to develop younger players.
*The Dodgers’ deal for Victorino isn’t quite as exciting on either end, but there is potential. Los Angeles currently plans to play Victorino in left field, which makes sense on the surface, given Matt Kemp’s presence in centerfield and how unproductive Dodger left fielders, led by Bobby Abreu have been. While Abreu always gets walks, and has a respectable OBP, he doesn’t hit anymore—not just for power, he doesn’t hit period. And he’s a huge defensive liability. But on the flip side, while Victorino is a terrific defender, the fact he’s not going to play centerfield eliminates some of his value. That could change if the Dodgers decide that Kemp’s hamstring is better served in left and letting Victorino patrol the middle, but he would have been a better fit in a place like Cincinnati where the need for a pure centerfielder was much more apparent. Then let’s consider that Victorino is going to be a free agent in November, and this is a clear short-term move.
*But on the flip side, I’m not as impressed as ESPN’s Law is regarding the package Philadelphia got back. While the analyst knows much more than me about minor league talent, its Law’s own descriptions that leave me less than enthralled. Ethan Martin is a 23-year-old pitcher who’s yet to impress , with a 93-97 career record, problems with his control and a good curveball being the only calling card. If you take the optimistic view he might become a decent seventh-inning reliever. Then Josh Lindblom is said to have a decent fastball and a decent slider, but no true “out pitch.” Again, a seventh-inning man if all goes well. Now if both Martin and Lindblom both hit their potential you can credibly argue that two decent setup guys are a good return for an outfielder you probably couldn’t afford to re-sign anyway. And from that standpoint, I understand the Phils’ logic and maybe this was the best they could do. But I’m still far from dazzled on either end of the deal.
Now on to the short-term impact on the NL West race. While San Francisco clearly got the better player, Los Angeles made such a huge defensive upgrade that for two months the impact of Victorino might be equal to or better than that of Pence. I still believe San Francisco’s going to win the division, but I believed that when I woke up this morning and neither deal was done. Because of the defensive impact and how ill-equipped the Dodger outfielders were to play in a big park, I think Los Angeles got marginally closer to their archrival.
If San Francisco does indeed win the NL West anyway—or gets a wild-card spot and wins the one-game playoff, Pence is much more likely to put his mark on a playoff series. This is the type of player, with his mix of patience, power and ability to make consistent contact, can become an NLCS MVP and no one would think twice about it. So while the Dodgers made greater strides toward getting to the postseason, the Giants made a bigger stride toward winning once they get there.