After watching the San Francisco Giants acquire All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran and then take two of three games at Citizens Bank Park from the Phillies, Philadelphia general manager Reuben Amaro, Jr. knew he needed to upgrade a team that had lost its title as favorites to win the National League. All of a sudden, talks intensified between the Phillies and Houston Astros and outfielder Hunter Pence was sent north to don the Phillies’ pinstripes in exchange for four prospects.
The price is a lot to pay and will cost Philadelphia in the future, but Amaro, Jr. knows his team is built to win now. Not that Pence cannot help the Phillies in the future; The 28-year old outfielder is a two-time All-Star and is under team-control through the 2013 season. While he is not the kind of hitter Beltran is, Pence has hit 25 home runs in each of the last three seasons and is a career .290/.339/.479 batter. As he has entered the prime of his career this year, Pence is enjoying a career season, batting .308/.356/.471, career-highs in each category, with 11 homers and 62 runs batted in.
The key to this trade is that Pence provides a quality right-handed bat in the Phillies lineup. Philadelphia’s right-handed hitters with at least 100 at-bats this season are batting a combined .252 with a .313 on-base percentage. With the exception of switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, Philadelphia’s best bats come from the left side of the plate in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. As a result, the Phillies have struggled against left-handed pitching, batting .235/.306/.354 as a team against southpaws compared to .254/.327/.401 against righties. Pence is a career .290/.340/.492 batter against lefties and should help balance the Phillies’ lineup to make them less vulnerable to left-handed pitching.
While Hunter Pence certainly does not have the pedigree of Carlos Beltran, who was recently dealt to the Giants, he certainly will have a large impact in Philadelphia. On a team that has struggled hitting lefties on the mound, Pence provides a solid right-handed bat for manager Charlie Manual to place right in the middle of the lineup. The addition of Beltran may have shifted the power in the National League to San Francisco, but dealing for Pence makes it a very close call as to who the favorite is to win the National League. Both teams have the two best starting rotations in baseball, Philadelphia with a 2.98 ERA and San Francisco with a 3.20 ERA. Meanwhile, the Giants have baseball’s most effective and deepest bullpen (2.81 ERA), featuring three lefties while the Phillies do not necessarily know what they will get from their bullpen (3.44 ERA) on a consistent basis. While neither lineup is dominating, Philadelphia certainly has the advantage there, especially with Pence providing a quality right-handed bat.
Both franchises have indicated their desire to win now in the last few days, respectively sending prospects for a player who has been an All-Star multiple times. After meeting in the National League Championship Series last season, the arms race for a World Series berth has continued between the Giants and Phillies this season. While the Atlanta Braves do have a very good team this season, the two favorites in the National League reside in San Francisco and Philadelphia. The Giants have staked their claim to NL supremacy with the acquisition of Carlos Beltran. The Phillies answered by trading for Hunter Pence. The move that works out better will determine the National League’s best team.
The San Francisco Giants have scored 373 runs this season, the third-fewest in the major leagues. They rank 24th in hits (849) and slugging percentage (.360), 26th in batting average (.241) and 27th in on-base percentage (.306). They have scored only 15 more runs than they have allowed. In comparison, the Boston Red Sox have scored 136 more runs than they have allowed. While the Philadelphia Phillies’ vaunted rotation gets more publicity, the Giants pitching staff has baseball’s lowest team ERA (3.09), batting average against (.228) and on-base plus slugging percentage against (.639). Knowing that he can put his pitching staff up against anyone’s in the majors, San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean needed to address one of the gaping holes in the Giants’ lineup to defend their World Series crown and fend off the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are three games behind them in the National League West. With the acquisition of Carlos Beltran, who will bat third in the order, Sabean did just that, immediately upgrading a weak order and making the Giants the favorites to win the NL pennant.
Beltran instantly becomes the Giants’ most dangerous bat in the lineup. The switch-hitting outfielder is a genuine star, a five-time All-Star who has won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers in his career. He has enjoyed four seasons with at least 25 homers and 25 steals. He had a 40-home run year in 2006. In 22 career postseason games, he is a career .366/.485/.817 hitter with 11 home runs and 19 runs batted in, including his .435/.536/1.022 batting line with eight homers, 14 RBIs and six stolen bases in 12 games with the Astros in the 2004 playoffs. Beltran adds an air of legitimacy to the San Francisco lineup, a potential Hall of Famer with a postseason resume that can only help the Giants in October.
At 34 years old, Beltran is quietly having another good season. He leads the NL with 30 doubles and is batting .289/.391/.513. No Giant has reached 10 home runs yet this season, and as a team, San Francisco has hit only 66 round-trippers. Beltran has hit 15 this year, playing in spacious Citi Field for the Mets. Only one Giant, Aubrey Huff, has driven in at least 40 runs this season. Beltran has 66 RBIs of his own. Beltran should help ease the burden on Pablo Sandoval (.298/.344/.485, nine HRs, 36 RBIs), Nate Schierholtz (.283/.325/.439, seven HRs, 37 RBIs), Cody Ross (.252/.341/.367, seven HRs, 30 RBIs) and Huff (.239/.294/.362, nine HRs, 47 RBIs) in the middle of San Francisco lineup immediately.
The San Francisco Giants’ starting rotation and bullpen forms the deepest and most dominating pitching staff in the majors. However, a porous offense made a repeat trip to the playoffs, let alone a second consecutive World Series championship, a question. The Giants have found the answer to some of their offensive woes in Carlos Beltran. Beltran’s talent as a hitter and his postseason pedigree should immediately pay dividends for San Francisco. While he cannot transform the Giants offense overnight, he becomes the San Francisco’s most dangerous hitter, a power threat in the middle of the order who should help ease the pressure on the rest of the Giants offense. Now that the San Francisco lineup finally has a dynamic bat in the middle of the order, the Giants have to be considered the favorites to repeat as NL Champions. Carlos Beltran will have a massive impact on the San Francisco lineup, one that may just well push the Giants over the top again towards a World Series championship.
On July 31, 2004, the New York Mets traded Scott Kazmir, ranked the No. 12 prospect by Baseball America before the 2004 season, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for pitcher Victor Zambrano. At the time, the Mets were in fourth place in the National League East, eight games behind the Atlanta Braves. With a record of 49-54, the Mets were 8.5 games behind the San Diego Padres in the NL Wild Card Race.
The Mets would finish that season with a record of 71-91, finishing 21 games behind the Houston Astros in the NL Wild Card race and 25 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. However, more importantly, they mortgaged the future to try and win during a season in which their playoff chances were slim. Zambrano ended up making only three starts for New York that summer, going 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.286 WHIP in 14 innings. He lasted parts of just two more years with the Mets, finishing his tenure in Flushing by going 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.493 WHIP in 39 games, 35 of them starts. He never threw another pitch in the major leagues after the 2007 season.
Scott Kazmir made 117 starts for Tampa Bay from 2005 through 2008. He went 45-34 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.351 WHIP. Kazmir threw 689.2 innings in that span, averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings and striking out 2.39 hitters for every walk. Even though he has not been the same pitcher since then, Kazmir could have been an important part of New York’s rotation during those years. The 2006 Mets were a game away from the World Series, losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. The ’07 and ’08 Mets blew huge divisional leads late in September to miss the playoffs in both years. With Kazmir in the rotation during those years, the Mets may have been able to win a World Series in 2006 while also at least making playoff appearances in ’07 and ’08.
The 2011 New York Mets have been an interesting story. David Wright and Ike Davis have played in only 39 and 36 games, respectively. Chris Young was 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts before going down with an injury. Ace Johan Santana has yet to throw a pitch this year, and the Mets have gotten almost no production from $16.5 million per year man Jason Bay, who is hitting just .237 with a .320 on-base percentage, .336 slugging percentage, four doubles, six home runs and 28 runs batted in in 65 games. Stories have swirled about the Mets’ financial troubles, due to owner Fred Wilpon losing millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. Wilpon also criticized star players Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran in a May issue of The New Yorker.
Yet, even with the things that have not gone the Mets way, New York has overachieved throughout the first half of the year. A monster year by Reyes (.354/.398/.529, 22 doubles, 15 triples, 3 homers, 32 RBIs, 30 stolen bases), who is leading the NL in hits, batting average, triples and runs, as well as a bounce-back year from Beltran (.285/.377/.503, 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 58 RBIs) has helped the Mets offense rank fifth in the NL in runs (399), third in batting average (.262) and second in on-base percentage (.333). Combined with a very good bullpen and an above-average rotation that features R.A. Dickey (18 starts, 4-7, 3.61 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 2.23 K/BB ratio in 114.2 innings) and pleasant surprises Jonathon Niese (18 starts, 8-7, 3.88 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, 2.63 K/BB ratio in 111.1 innings) and Dillon Gee (14 starts, 8-3, 3.76 ERA, 1.195 WHIP, 1.76 K/BB ratio in 88.2 innings), the Mets are in third place in the NL East, with a record above .500, at 46-45.
The Mets are actually closer to a playoff spot right now than they were in 2004 when they traded for Zambrano. New York may be 11 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in the NL East, but they are 7.5 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card race. However, the Mets cannot make the same mistake they made in 2004. The Braves own the fourth-best record in baseball and it is unlikely that the Mets can chase them down, even with Wright, Davis and Santana returning from injuries in the second half of the season. The Mets must look to the future and trade away as many high-priced veterans as they can to rebuild a farm system that is widely-regarded as one of the 10 worst in baseball.
New York should do whatever possible to get minor league talent for Beltran, starting pitcher Chris Capuano (17 starts, 8-8, 4.12 ERA, 1.354 WHIP, 2.90 K/BB ratio in 102.2 innings), closer Francisco Rodriguez (42 games, 2-2, 3.16 ERA, 23 saves, 1.406 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB ratio in 44.2 innings) and relievers Jason Isringhausen (38 games, 1-0, 3.14 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, 1.62 K/BB ratio in 28.2 innings) and Tim Byrdak (39 games, 1-0, 3.91 ERA, 1.478 WHIP, 2.55 K/BB ratio in 23 innings). Beltran, Capuano, Isringhausen and Byrdak are all in the last years of their respective contracts, while Rodriguez has a $17.5 million option for next year if he finishes 55 games. Trading away those veterans would also free up money for the financially-troubled Mets to re-sign Reyes this offseason, who will most likely be seeking a contract worth over $100 million. Even though Reyes is in the final year of his deal, the Mets should look to keep him unless they get an offer that blows them away, as Reyes is the face of the franchise and his style of play is important for much-needed ticket sales during the rest of the season.
By becoming “sellers” at the trade deadline, the Mets are saying goodbye to their chances in 2011. However, trading for minor league talent will allow the Mets to establish a young supporting cast around Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson has a great opportunity to increase payroll flexibility and replenish New York’s farm system within the next three weeks. The right decision to surrender this season will make the future look that much brighter.