Hunter Pence is the lone representative for the Houston Astros at Chase Field this week for the all-star festivities (apart from Jose Altuve, who participated in Sunday's Futures Game). Two years ago in his first all-star appearance, he went alongside Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada, but this year it is just him. Frankly Tejada deserved neither of his selections to the team as an Astro, but even in a good crop of NL outfielders this year either Pence or Michael Bourn would have deserved an all-star berth in 2011.
The 28-year-old is enjoying his best season since his rookie year in 2007. However his BB% is ever so slightly down from 2010, and his K% for 2011 is much higher at 20.8. His ISO (isolated power) has trended downwards every season since 2007, and this year's success is mainly due to his .389 BABIP.
This and his patchy defense in right field may cause some to undervalue him (I am playing devil's advocate here). But thanks to his play-hard approach, goofy personality and social media prowess, Pence has enshrined himself as the fan favorite here at Minute Maid Park. I have received numerous (friendly) tweets everytime I mention a Pence trade rumor, and they usually go along the line of 'hey you can't trade Pence, he's my favorite player, I love him. The only reason I watch the Astros is because of him.'
That is what Jim Crane will have to contend with. Perhaps he will be really smart, make Ed Wade deal Pence before the deadline, and then heap the blame on Wade when he eventually takes control and keep his hands clean on the entire affair. He is not on the trade block and the team will not be forced into trading him unless they absolutely have to.
Pence made it clear to Richard Justice that he is more than content in Houston:
"It weighs on me that we're not winning. I feel I owe it to the Houston fans to do what I can to bring a winner here. I love Houston. I love Texas. I love the opportunity here. I'm a loyal guy. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to win. That would be a lot more satisfying. To turn it around for the guys who believed in me. That's my vision."
This could be a staged performance by the media savvy Pence, in a concerted effort with the Astros front office. Maybe they learned the lessons of last year, that allowing their most bankable asset to publicly scream he wants out is not the best way to improve his trade value, cough Roy Oswalt.
At this point media exposure cannot hurt Pence's trade value, undoubtedly high after his strong first half, even more impressive because he has achieved results in a near anaemic lineup. Behind him is a cleanup hitter who cannot hit home runs, a five-hole hitter shipped off to the San Francisco Giants not long ago, two sophomores in Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson that have yet to put everything together and even by Astros standards, garbage production from the catcher's position. The only reason Pence has anything close to 60 RBI this season is because Bourn bats in front of him.
Put him in a competent lineup and there is a good possibility that he produces even better results. The Boston Red Sox may want to add an arm rather than a bat, but you have to admit Pence would look good in their lineup, especially when you think about the amount of doubles he and the Green Monster could rack up together.
Any GM looking to trade for Pence will have to sign off, not only the package going the other way, but Pence's salary over the next two and a half years. Its sounds simple, but hanging the label multiple all-star will make this easier to accomplish.
Remember a front-office also has to sell this move to its' fan base. A few years back, this would have been no big deal, as fans would be falling over themselves to add a player of Pence's caliber mid-season for a few prospects. But nowadays the roles seem to have reversed and fans can get jumpy about giving away the 'next big thing'.
Having him on show in the All-Star Game can only help on both these fronts, especially for fans of AL teams that might not have had a chance to see Pence play much before. NL manager and Giants skipper Bruce Bochy should give him some playing time in the outfield since he did not participate in his all-star debut in 2009, giving him a brief chance to showcase his talents to the entirety of baseball.