Tuppence

So obviously the big news last night was that the Phillies traded for Hunter Pence, the best player still on the market. I’m of mixed feelings.

First off, Pence (who was alternatively the Braves’ top target or not on their radar at all, trade season being what it is and all) makes the Phillies appreciably better, and they didn’t need the help. He could have been an asset for the Braves. On that front, it’s a disaster.

On the other hand, though, he’s not an elite hitter, being more of a complementary guy. (Of course, it’s the Phillies, so he’ll probably hit .370 the rest of the way.) And the Phillies paid a very dear price to get him, two of their best prospects plus some other stuff. It’s easy to make the argument that this was an overpay — scarcity made Pence out to be some savior, but he’s not, and bowing to the Astros’ demands in this was probably not the wisest idea. Word is Braves GM Frank Wren is flat-out refusing to include any of the Braves’ top four pitching prospects — Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado, and Mike Minor — in any potential deal.

Now, in recent days Wren would be absolutely right to do this. Used to be you had to give up grade-A prospects to get a good player in a deal, but recently we’ve found that this isn’t necessary — if you hold the line, often a team will be forced to make a deal for subpar players (see Gonzalez, Adrian). Why give up these high-ceiling guys if you don’t have to?

I do wonder, though, why Wren insists on keeping all four of these guys. I’m totally on board with naming Teheran untouchable, and it would probably be smart to hang on to Vizcaino too, but Delgado and Minor are the very definition of prospects you trade to help the major league team. They’re good enough to be desirable for another team, but probably not so good that you’ll be kicking yourself three years down the line for having let them get away. And if you’re not going to trade them, what are you going to do with them? Assuming they all make it, there’s not enough room of the major league roster to use all of them, even if some are converted to relief. At the same time, the cupboard for hitters is bare in the Braves’ system right now — Freddie Freeman is the last gasp for position players until Edward Salcedo is ready, which could be years. Eventually you’re going to have to trade a pitcher for offensive help.

I understand, too, the idea that if you want to trade these guys it should be for a superstar. Here’s the problem with that: Superstars don’t get traded. For one, the teams that have them are usually good, and thus are buyers, not sellers. Whenever a superstar is traded there are usually extenuating circumstances, usually involving an attitude problem or money. Either the star is in the final year of his contract and the team wants to get something for him, in which case he’s not worth a top prospect; or the team is in financial trouble and needs to slash payroll (which is very rare — witness the Dodgers, a team for which it’s an open question whether they’ll make payroll each month; you haven’t heard their players mentioned much in trade rumors). In any case, that mythical MVP-caliber bat that puts the Braves over the top is simply not out there right now, and if you wait for him you might find that Mike Minor is in his second year of arbitration by then and not quite so desirable a chit anymore.

So I dunno. I hate the Phillies, but you have to give them credit — every time trade season comes around they identify the best player available and put all their efforts towards landing him. They do this even when they’re the best team in the league by leaps and bounds, which is why they stay the best team in the league by leaps and bounds. (It helps to have money in this endeavor, but still.) The Braves, on the other hand, usually content themselves with being “good enough” and make improvements on the fringes, if there. I’m all for hoarding prospects, but the idea that the Braves will be better than the Phils in five years isn’t all that comforting anymore. The Braves have a chance to win now, and prospects are a renewable resource. I’m not saying gut the farm, but you have to put some effort into improving the team, don’t you?

I’ll hold off on making final judgment until the trade deadline has passed, but the odds of the Braves making any kind of impact deal lessen with each passing hour. Most likely they’ll end up with Coco Crisp or somebody then scratch their heads when the Giants eliminate them in four games again. Sigh.

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