Astros Wisely Accept Phillies Offer

The Astros finalized a deal Friday night sending all-star outfielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies, along with $1 million in cash, for RHP Jarred Cosart, 1B/OF Jonathan Singleton, and two players to be named later. One of the PTBNLs turned out to be Josh Zeid, a reliever from Double-A Reading, while the other isn’t considered to be a major prospect per Ken Rosenthal, who broke the story.

The Astros didn’t have to deal Pence right now since he is under team control for two more years. However, his value has never been greater, since he can impact three playoff races. Most available players are half-year rentals or are under contract or control for one more season. Pence was also about to get fairly expensive for the Astros, who, as a rebuilding team did not need to carry a $12-15 mm player that didn’t help accomplish their goals. Pence might have been the face of the Astros franchise, but that was more indicative of the status of the organization than anything specific to his set of skills.

Though he isn’t truly a differencemaker, or an offensive savior for any interested team, the perception of his abilities around the league likely exceeds his actual production. Combine these ideas and the Astros should have been able to extract a great return for a good, not great, player. In getting Cosart and Singleton, they took on some risk (Cosart’s durability, Singleton’s lack of position), but there is a very good chance that they acquired a package equally as good as the return on Roy Halladay.

Marc Hulet wrote earlier in the week that the Phillies original offer that included these two top prospects was too good for Houston to pass up. To quote the maven himself:

The package being offered up for Pence is almost as good as the one that the Toronto Blue Jays received when they traded Roy Halladay to the Phillies.

Prior to the 2011 season, I ranked Singleton and Cosart Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on the club’s top-10 list behind outfielder Domonic Brown. With pitcher Jordan Lyles graduated to the Majors for Houston, the two Phillies prospects would rank Nos. 1 and 2 on the Astros’ 2012 top-10 list.

The Astros farm cupboard was so bare that Cosart and Singleton vaulted to the top of the prospect list. They now become part of a rebuilding process that seems to be moving in the right direction based on the organization’s drafting over the last couple of seasons, as well as their international scouting. Word even has it that the Astros kept asking the Phillies for more of their top prospects, though that ploy was rebuked. Ed Wade may have made some questionable moves in the past, but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t currently steering the Astros in the right direction.

In Cosart, 21 years old, the Astros now have their top pitching prospect, who will report to Corpus Christi. Though the Phillies had a veritable rotation of ‘baby aces’ in the system, Cosart was always considered to have the highest ceiling. There were also some serious concerns about his durability and maturity, leading some to speculate that he may turn out to be a major league reliever. His stuff is great, with a mid-90s fastball, a potentially knee-buckling curve, and a changeup still in development.

His numbers in the Phillies system weren’t very impressive this year, but that was in part due to fatigue. He has never pitched this many innings before. Though it may seem strange to acquire a player and immediately shut him down for the year, the move might be the most prudent for the Astros.

Singleton, a 19-year old first baseman the Phillies tried in left field, was the best hitting prospect in the system before being dealt. Injuries derailed his development in the outfield and he was moved back to first base permanently this year. The Astros could try their hand at assessing his outfielding prowess, but it might make more sense, long-term, to play him at first base. He has the bat to handle the position, with tremendous patience for such a young hitter. The power is there, and will develop over time, but in looking at his underlying skills it is easy to see why many are bullish on his prospects.

Zeid is a 24-year old reliever from Double-A reading with decent but not awe-inspiring numbers. He was a tenth round pick in 2009, and will be more of a project. However, he has a decent upside the Astros can work with, and is perfectly acceptable as a complementary piece in a trade netting two of the top prospects from another system.

The Pence saga has finally come to an end, and while the Phillies got the player they had targeted for quite some time, the Astros brought back two of the top prospects in the game. With potentially three other players to trade over the next 48 hours, Ed Wade might finish the 2011 season with a very respectable farm system after all.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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