By Bud L. Ellis
The word “pence” is defined as multiple pennies, but just one “Pence” would enrich the Atlanta Braves’ pursuit of a World Series title.
As the trade deadline approaches, cyberspace and talk shows buzz with the rumor du jour. Wednesday, chatter concerning the Braves and their dire need for a right-handed injection of offense centered on Hunter Pence, the Houston Astros’ right fielder who finds himself currently mired on baseball’s worst team.
The Astros’ disastrous season is no fault of the 28-year-old, who is enjoying another stellar offensive campaign. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder entered Thursday sixth in the National League in batting average (.316), eighth in doubles (24) and RBIs (61), and a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen-base attempts. With 11 home runs on the season, he would rank fourth on a Braves team that’s scuffled for runs all season.
Atlanta began play Thursday five games ahead of Arizona in the NL wild-card race, and 4 ½ games behind Philadelphia in the NL East. It’s nearly a given the Braves will be in the playoff hunt through September, but their hopes of playing deep into October may hinge on the ability to add one more stick to a lineup that has underachieved through most of 2011.
Here is a penny for your thoughts: Pence fits. He wouldn’t be a rental, not hitting free agency until after the 2013 season. He is arbitration eligible the next two years and figures to get a nice boost from the $6.9 million he’ll pull in for this season. Still, with the financial flexibility the Braves will enjoy this offseason, coughing up the $10 million or so Pence likely will command next season won’t be a problem.
Nate McLouth, who will not be back in Atlanta in 2012, is slated to earn $10.6 million next season (his deal will be bought out for $1.25 million). The Braves’ Double-A foreign-exchange student, Kenshin Kawakami, is in the final year of a three-year, $23-million deal and likewise will be off the books. Certainly the Braves will again try to move Derek Lowe in the offseason, the right-hander slated to earn $15 million in 2012.
The big question is what it would take to entice the Astros to deal Pence. Houston seeks to slash its $69 million payroll down to $60 million, so Pence can be had for the right package. And as we all know, the Braves have the young pitching to make just about any deal they want.
Any conversation surrounding Julio Teheran or Arodys Vizcaino should end with Frank Wren hanging up the phone. Randall Delgado? Perhaps he is untouchable as well, but maybe the depth of young pitching in Atlanta’s organization makes him a potential target. Lefty Mike Minor looks expendable given the youth of Atlanta’s rotation, the emergence of Brandon Beachy and the likely arrival of Teheran into the rotation by opening day next season, but being a southpaw amid a stable of talented right-handers may lead the Braves to keep the Vanderbilt product.
Options abound, and the Braves find themselves in a very intriguing position. They have plenty of great pitching at the major league level and a ton of talented young minor-league arms – not just the four mentioned above, but several other pitchers a notch below Teheran and Company. Atlanta can sit back and do nothing as July 31 passes, content to hope Dan Uggla’s good work the past three weeks and Jason Heyward’s strong game Thursday at Colorado are signs the offense finally will fire on all cylinders as the stretch drive commences.
Do nothing, and the Braves figure to be in the mix as September draws toward October. But the ring is the thing, and the price separating a trip to the playoffs and a World Series appearance just might be one Pence.
Follow me on Twitter: @bud006
Tags: Derek Lowe, Houston Astros, Hunter Pence, Trade Targets
Posted in General, Roster Moves | No Comments »