Astros outfielder Pence dealt to Phillies

Tim Brown

The Philadelphia Phillies countered the San Francisco Giants and made their play to hold off the Atlanta Braves on Friday, acquiring outfielder Hunter Pence(notes) from the Houston Astros for four players.

For the Phillies and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., it was a familiar path.

Needing to fill out their rotation a year ago, they went to the Astros – and former Phillies GM Ed Wade – and got Roy Oswalt(notes).

Today, with their offense less than dynamic and the San Francisco Giants having nabbed Carlos Beltran(notes), they turned again to the Astros – and their friend Wade – and got Pence. He cost the Phillies two players from A-ball – Jarred Cosart, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher, Jonathan Singleton, 19, an outfielder/first baseman – and two players to be named, according to sources.

Pence, 28, won't be a free agent until after the 2013 season. He'll play right field, alongside Shane Victorino(notes) in center and Raul Ibanez(notes) in left. Though a little rough defensively, Pence plays with abandon, has a strong arm and can hit.

He's batting .309 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs. He hit exactly 25 home runs in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and should improve on that as a regular at Citizens Bank Park and batting in an order with fewer soft spots.

The Astros believed they'd traded Pence on Thursday afternoon – perhaps to the Phillies – according to a source who said Pence was removed from the lineup before the game and told a trade was close. Shortly thereafter, Pence was told the trade had fallen through and he was back in the lineup. A day later, he was in right field in Milwaukee preparing for the bottom of the fifth inning when Jason Michaels dashed onto the field to replace him. Pence returned to the bench, hugged a few teammates, and disappeared into the tunnel.

The Phillies, eliminated by the Giants in last fall's National League championship series, rank second in the NL only to the Giants in team ERA. The offense, while superior to the Giants', still was given to dry spells, and the production out of right field – primarily from Domonic Brown(notes) and Ben Francisco(notes) – was below league average in most categories.

That led them first to Beltran, and in the hours after Beltran had been traded to the Giants, to Pence.

After a mediocre first half, when Chase Utley(notes) was on the disabled list, the Phillies' offense has shown life in July, the last two games against the Giants notwithstanding. In the month, Raul Ibanez has 20 RBIs, Utley has four home runs and eight doubles, Victorino is batting .357 and Carlos Ruiz(notes) .333.

Then along comes Pence, a career .300 hitter at Citizens Bank who's also batted .313 against the Braves and .294 against the Giants.

The Astros, whose 35-70 record is the worst in baseball, seem intent on a massive rebuild. Starters Brett Myers(notes) and Wandy Rodriguez(notes), along with center fielder Michael Bourn(notes), might also be available in trades.

In their yearlong effort to reshape their major league roster with Phillies' prospects, the Astros last summer received pitcher J.A. Happ(notes), shortstop Jonathan Villar and outfielder Anthony Gose for Oswalt. Happ is 4-12 with a 6.12 ERA for the big club and Villar, 20, is batting .234 at Double-A. Gose was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Brett Wallace(notes), who is playing first base and batting .272 for the Astros.

And, in the days after he was hired by the Astros in 2007, Wade dealt Brad Lidge(notes) and Eric Bruntlett(notes) to the Phillies for Mike Costanzo(notes), Geoff Geary(notes) and Bourn.

Now it might be time for Bourn, like Oswalt and Pence before him, to go, as well.

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