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Trading Pence Painful But Vital First Step for Astros

Hunter Pence is gone, but the franchise is all the better for it.

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10:  U.S. Futures All-Star Jarred Cosart #31 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: U.S. Futures All-Star Jarred Cosart #31 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Last night the Astros traded Hunter Pence for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid and another player to be named later.

This trade is going to hurt the franchise. It is going to shed a significant amount of people who watched the Astros for the simple reason of catching a glimpse of  Pence. But don't worry, because they will be back in two, three, or four years time when the Astros will be scrapping at the top of the NL Central.

Remember in all of this, the team is already historically bad. They will certainly lose 100 games in 2011, for the first time in franchise history, and doing exactly the same thing they have been doing to get themselves into this mess will not get them out of it. That is Einstein's definition of madness.

Without Pence they might be even worse. As deficient as he is as a middle of the order cornerstone bat, he will still be badly missed. But the only reason he was anywhere near untouchable was for marketing purposes, easy charm and solid social media interaction with the fans. He should be a good player on a very good team.

Barring a nightmare scenario for the Astros where exciting young talent fails to materialise into on-field success, they should win this trade hands down. Ruben Amaro Jr charged into negotiations determined to get what he wanted, Pence.

He may blossom in that lineup, surrounding by Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but sometimes you can judge a trade on what the experts on the other side are saying. Bill Baer, a writer I respect immensely said:

However, it does appear that the Phillies overpaid in acquiring Pence.

He says that Pence's ISO has been dropping significantly, and even this year his numbers have started to tail a little bit, despite the high batting average. Since May 1st Pence has been out-hit in basically every meaningful category by Carlos Lee. That's right, Carlos Lee. Compare Lee's slash line .313/.363/.495 to Pence's .297/.344/.424 you see that Lee has one more home run and five less doubles. Perhaps that says as much about Pence's ceiling as the rejuvenation of El Caballo. 

I think the one thing that might color fans perceptions of what we got is how every single rumor, especially from Jon Heyman suggested that Singleton and Cosart on their own were not good enough to get Pence, and it has been repeated so often in the last few days, that fans have started to believe it. Heck I'm disappointed not to get Brown because I think with a few minor adjustments he might be better than Pence next season, but I'm also excited to see J.D. Martinez debut this evening at Miller Park. 

All of yesterday's rumors about Domonic Brown and a third team was just bunkum on the part of Heyman. This has all made him look a little silly. 

Singleton and Cosart could be high-impact guys in two or three years. They are not perfect, and there are a few things you could nit pick about them, but they are still the best prospects in the Astros system right now. Keith Law said in one of his chats that he had doubts Cosart could stick as a starter, and at 19 there is much doubt as to what Singleton actually profiles as. But that is only a minority of nay-sayers. 

Cosart has a 93/94mph fastball, which touches 98mph, an excellent curveball, a raw changeup and a chance to be a future ace. I'm slightly worried by his drop in K rate and rise in BB rate at A+ Clearwater this season, and his arm action has a faint whiff of the 'inverted W' that often leads to pitching injuries, but he is still only just turned 21. Most high school pitchers do not do what Jordan Lyles did. Cosart is likely to be assigned to AA Corpus Christi and could be on the big league club starting in 2013. 

The Astros have no one in the system anywhere near close to the majors who can pull the franchise out of the hole they find themselves in. Dallas Keuchel, JD Martinez and Jose Altuve might have very tidy major league careers and prove a lot of people wrong, but they will not lead the Astros to any pennants without some serious help.

By Sunday Ed Wade should have assembled a decent cache of prospects to rejuvenate an improving but paper-thin system. He can clear the team of most payroll obligations barring the year and a half left on Carlos Lee's contract and the $7m Brandon Lyon is stealing from the Astros.

If Wade wants to move Michael Bourn, Wandy Rodriguez or Brett Myers today or tomorrow he may have to drop his asking price, as the Reds, who were rumored to be going hard after Bourn yesterday, seemed to back away from the steep asking price. He might have to accept hefty second-tier prospect packages for both Rodriguez and Bourn. However If Wade could steal Mike Minor and Tyler Pastornicky from the Braves, two players that could slot straight into the Astros team now, I would sing Wade's praises to the heavens.

Coming into the trade deadline I thought myself very dispassionate until I saw Pence hug his teammates goodbye. It made me realise that despite knowing this is absolutely the best move for the franchise, I was very sad to see Pence go. I have followed his career as intensely as anyone, from his gigantic performance in 2007's Spring Training, to his callup two months later, right through every major league game he has played. 

Tip your cap to him and move on. Because we all need to. 

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.