The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies completed a trade last night that on the surface gives both teams, headed in entirely different directions, almost precisely what they need. The Phillies add a right handed bat to their lineup that offers an immediate and much needed improvement against left handed pitching, while the Astros now look to continue their rebuild phase with two new top ranked prospects and a reliever for organizational depth.

In many ways, the deal is Philadelphia’s answer to the San Francisco Giants acquiring Carlos Beltran, but between the quality of the prospects that the Phillies are giving up and questions surrounding the sustainability of their newest player’s value, the Houston Astros emerge as the trade’s clear winner. Here’s how it shakes out:

To Philadelphia:

  • Hunter Pence, RF
  • $1 million

To Houston:

  • Jonathan Singleton, 1B-LF
  • Jarred Cosart, RHP
  • Josh Zeid, RHP
  • Player To Be Named Later

For Philadelphia, the good news is that Pence, at the age of 28, and under team control until 2013, is putting up offensive numbers, getting on base more than 35% of the time and collecting a .365 wOBA with 11 home runs, that stack up to be the best he’s produced since his rookie year.

While that’s all well and good for Philadelphia’s playoff run, it also means that the Phillies bought Pence at the height of his value. The problem is that there are signs that this value isn’t sustainable. A mere 6.9% walk rate combined with a .370 BABIP, career low isolated power numbers and a career typical ground ball to fly ball ratio, suggest that Pence’s on base percentage is largely created by singles getting through the infield. Looking deeper into his numbers, we learn that Pence is striking out in almost 20% of his plate appearances, a career high.

I also mentioned that Pence is controllable until 2013, but it must be remembered that the right fielder is also a Super Two, meaning that the extra year of arbitration offers the Phillies no discount for his services.

For the Astros, Singleton (19 years old) and Cosart (21 years old) represent dramatic improvements over other prospects in Houston’s system. Both players are young, with an incredibly high ceiling, and well thought of by the scouting community. Keith Law and Baseball America ranked both prospects among their respective mid-season top 50, with BA giving them positive reviews.

Jonathan Singleton:

  • Uncanny balance and rhythym;
  • Solid pitch recognition;
  • Simple and compact swing; and
  • Great potential for raw power from hand, wrist and forearm strength.

Jarred Cosart:

  • 94-98 mph fastball, with good life;
  • Solid to average 77-79 mph curveball;
  • Still working on low 80′s changeup; and
  • Advanced command for age with lively stuff.

Josh Zeid, the third player coming Houston’s way, is more of a project, and is unexpected to make much of an impact at the Major League level.

Despite his rankings of the prospects involved, Law isn’t as high on the deal as one might expect.

Is this enough of a return for two-plus years of Pence at arbitration salaries? I’d call it a reasonable return, but not a great one, given the risk attached to both of those prospects. This deal easily could result in disaster for Houston, if Pence gets a few more fastballs in Philly and regains what he seems to have lost at the plate this year, and if the red flags on these prospects (especially Cosart) prove prophetic.

The red flags that Law writes of consist of a mechanical flaw in Cosart’s delivery and that Singleton’s defensive abilities at first didn’t transfer well during a trial in left field.

Nevertheless, the deal represents a bit of vindication and redemption for Astros GM Ed Wade, who many see as a lame duck executive on not only the worst team in the Major Leagues, but a franchise that’s about to be transferred to new ownership. Considering the less than impressive haul that Wade secured from the Phillies for Roy Oswalt a year ago, this trade becomes even more impressive.

Yes, Pence is still a valuable player and would have continued to be as the Astros rebuild, but the team wouldn’t have been ready to compete by the time their face of the franchise reached free agency. Moving him now, at the height of his value, brings back two of the top fifty prospects in baseball. It gives the Astros hope, and suddenly a bit of confidence as this year’s trade deadline comes to its conclusion, and Wade still has three more assets he could potentially move, most notably Michael Bourn.