There are trades made out of desperation. There are others done in retaliation for a rival’s move, which may fall into that same category. Still others are done for the sake of a shake-up, perhaps a moribund team looking for fresh blood.
Then there are those that just fit in every way imaginable.
Such is the case with the biggest move of the trade deadline period so far, Hunter Pence to the Philadelphia Phillies for three prospects and cash. For the Phillies, sporting the best record in baseball but with one notable hole, it represented the best way possible for them to fill that hole. To Houston, in dire need to upgrade its minor league system and find some payroll relief, it killed two birds with one stone.
Everyone knows that the Phillies own the best rotation in baseball (San Francisco can make an argument based on some numbers, but the star power in the City of Brotherly Love is unmatched). However, the offensive attack has been decidedly mediocre at times.
One team that knows this fact all too well, and just how much Pence can help, is the Red Sox, who got a glimpse of these two scenarios in visits to Philadelphia and Houston in the last month. The Phillies took two of three in a matchup of the top two teams in baseball in terms of record, but they managed just nine runs in the process. Boston then swept Pence’s Astros, but the right fielder was 6-for-12 with a home run and four RBIs.
In the series at Citizens Bank Park, it was pitching, pitching and more pitching. And yes, that extends to the bullpen. While Philadelphia has been in on San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell, the need for help on that end was less pressing. Nobody expects Brad Lidge to look like he did in his heyday, but at least he is back, as is Ryan Madson, who was disabled when Boston came to town. In their stead, Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes have been fantastic. Could the bullpen be better? Perhaps, but that’s not the move that Philadelphia needed to make. Its relief corps has been good enough.
Pence is the perfect fit, a high-energy guy with the ability to spread out a lineup that often dropped off a shelf after the big guns had their turn; the Phillies’ No. 5 spot, where Pence is penciled for Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, has posted a collective OPS of .696 this season. Pence’s is a solid .828, even after a recent slump.
It was like that last piece of a puzzle you find overturned on the edge of the table, throw it into the empty hole and admire what you’ve accomplished. That move was simply not there for Boston. They may have had the prospects that Houston wanted. Maybe there was a time when they were willing to give them up. But the need for a massive upgrade in right field was overblown.
Sure, J.D. Drew’s season has been a disappointing one. Yes, Mike Cameron is gone and Darnell McDonald still comes to the park with an average below .200. And yes, Josh Reddick will come back down from his lofty perch. In fact, he already has, going 1-for-12 with six strikeouts in his last four games.
But because the needs are greater elsewhere, and because the rest of the offense is so darn good, the Red Sox can afford to mix and match at a position. Pence would have been an upgrade, but there may be many days where his impact is negligible. A 2-for-4 effort with solid defense, the kind he gave many times in his years in Houston, would just be a small part of the process for a team that has scored in double figures better than once every four games over the last two months or so.
In Philadelphia, where low-scoring games are more prevalent, it could be the difference between a one-run loss and a one-run win.
This move was not a desperate one. The Phillies were not answering another team’s trade. They are not in need of a shake-up. They had a hole, and they found a perfect way to fill it. Just ask the Red Sox.