With the news of Hunter Pence being traded to the Phillies last night, the Phillies became the clear favorites to win the World Series, though they were already favorites. Pence is a 3-4 win player and has been so in each of his five seasons, and while that’s not stud territory, that’s certainly an improvement over what they have. The Phillies seem to making a poor decision by demoting Domonic Brown instead of benching Raul Ibanez, but either way, Hunter Pence will increase the Phillies chances of winning.
During a Twitterbate (?) with our own Jake Humphrey last night, we discussed the price the Astros paid for Pence, with him arguing the Astros paid entirely too much for only a decent player. While the Phillies did trade their top two prospects, both Jared Cosart (possible reliever) and Jonathan Singleton (fixed at 1B, thus needing to mash) have their issues, the common one being that they are only in High-A and have a long way to go before making the majors. The two prospects, however, are top 50 prospects, and that’s a lot to give up ($16 M of value for Cosart and $23 M for Singleton if we put him in the top 50, which most have him on the outside looking in) for a guy who will neither be cheap nor a franchise-caliber player. Jake responded, “If we have given up Vizcanio/Delgado, people would be sh!tt!ng,” in order to give a comparison between the two teams. This brings me to my main point in this post--the Braves are not in the same position as the Phillies.
No two teams are ever in the same position, and the Phillies and Braves are no different. While they appear so because they are both challenging for the NL East crown and a World Series and are the two best teams in the NL, they are not in the same positions. Let’s start with the outlook for this season. The Phillies have the three best pitchers in the NL other than a guy named Clayton Kershaw, and they are far superior to what the Braves have. Each of those pitchers have an fWAR already over 4 and total 14 wins between them, and the best the Braves can muster with any trio is 7 total. That’s a seven-win difference. Now, the Braves have more depth with Lowe around 2 wins and Beachy with 1, and the Phillies have Vance Worley at 1.5, Oswalt at 1, and various other guys. The Braves depth is excellent for a full-season competition, but when it comes to the playoffs, you want the Phillies’ studs.
And that’s what the Phillies are going for--a championship. Sure, the Braves are as well, but the Phillies are going for broke … because they have to. While the Braves have many building blocks in the early to mid-20s, the Phillies key players are mostly in their 30s or are closing in on them. Their window for contention is essentially the next 2-3 years, but the Braves’ window is closer to the next 6-8. Ruben Amaro has decided to take full advantage of his situation, and he’s putting developing the farm system way down on his priority list. Amaro knows he has a special opportunity, and he’s giving himself the best chance to take advantage.
The Braves, however, have to be more careful. While they still have a relatively good chance to win the World Series, they can’t really go for broke. Their players are good, but they aren’t in the prime playing years. And the Braves have to understand their team situation for the future. While they have tons of pitching now, it won’t be that way forever. After next season, Lowe and Hudson could be gone, and Jurrjens could be gone the year after. At that point, you’re left with Hanson, Beachy, Teheran, Delgado, and Vizcaino/Minor, and the rest of the Braves starting prospects are either far away or a tier below all of those guys. Yes, the Braves could sign someone to fill out the rotation, but even in that scenario, you are expecting most of these guys to work out or stay with the team, which is probably a bad assumption. Unfortunately, these are really the only guys the Braves can trade, and the Braves need to be careful how they use them.
This brings us to the relative value of prospects for each team. The Braves prospects are close to the majors and are a key part of the organizational plan in the very near future, and the Phillies prospects are far away and may be a part of the plan in the future. Add in that the Phillies are in a better position for a World Series, and you can see the difference in value of the prospects between the two teams. While there may be an empirical value of generic top 50 prospect A, context has to be taken into account. The relative value of those prospects for the Braves is a little bit higher than normal for the Braves, and it’s a little lower than normal for the Phillies. The Phillies should have been more willing to give up their prospects.
Even the value of the possible playoff victories for the teams is different. I’ve often wondered how much a “playoff win” is worth. We know a “regular season win” is worth about $5M, but what about a “playoff win”? It has to be higher, but I wonder how much higher. Do the teams make the same amount of money during playoff games, and even if they do, what is it worth to get a few percentage points more on the other team for the extra World Series games? What about keeping a full house in that stadium? Would Braves fans respond with sellouts in the way Phillies fans do? Either way, you can’t ignore playoff value when evaluating these trades, and I don’t know if it’s the same for every team.
Listen, the Braves and Phillies are both in position to win the World Series, and they both should try hard to win. But they aren’t in the same position. The Phillies are essentially in a position where the future be damned, but the Braves can’t do that, not when those prospects are so integral to their success. The Phillies prospects are simply too far away to really have them in the plans. Now, did the Phillies give up too much regardless? That we can debate, and I don’t have a problem at all with the arguments Jake was making. I think Pence gets discredited because he’s not a star, but you tell me how many 3-4 win players that most teams have. Jake thinks that those prospects are still valuable, and although he didn’t say this specifically, I’m betting Jake is also thinking the Phillies are going to need those prospects in a few years because of that contention window I was talking about. Reasonable people can disagree, but I think we really need to look into the team-specific situation to make full sense of the trade.