What to talk about this weekend? Hmm… What indeed? Did you guys see that Hunter Pence was held out of the Astros lineup last night? I wonder if he’s in trouble or something…what? Oh. Trade deadline. Well, the baseball season is like a war (bonus simile!) in that it consists fo many battles designed to push the Here we go…
The Hunter Pence Trade is like Operation Market Garden
Let’s get this out of the way first: Hunter Pence is a good player. Earlier this year, I made the mistake of discounting Pence’s contributions, specifically what had been excellent defense at an outfield corner. Since he debuted in 2007, Pence has never been worth less than 3.0 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs. This year, he’s enjoying his best offensive season iof his career in a year where offense is down around the league. He’s also under control for another two seasons. So when the Phillies got him, they got a very good player who will be a strong part of their outfield for the near future.
They did, however, have to pay a steep price for him. Jarred Cosart is considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, although there remain legitimate questions about his ability to hold up as a starter. Meanwhile, Jonathan Singleton is a huge power prospect at 1B, though he had nowhere to play on a team that will have to pay Ryan Howard eleventy billion dollars for the next 14 years. Plus, there are two other pieces going back to Houston in this deal. The Phillies have made it clear in the past tha they are willing to mortgage their long-term future for near-term results, and when they do they tend to make splashy moves that have a demonstrable effect on their chances either in the regular season or the postseason.
But it’s not at all clear that the splashy move is going to be effective in this case, since the Phillies to continue to misallocate resources. Regardless of how poorly he performs, the Phillies are not planning to bench Raul Ibanez, meaning that rookie Domonic Brown is going to head down to AAA to get regular playing time. He’s already better than Ibanez and has been improving too, hitting .296/.398/.366 in July. Getting Pence, even for the cost, is great in theory, but in exectution is likely to be of limited benefit.
Similarly, when the Allies established a beachhead at Normandy in June of 1944, they had tremendous success pushing the Germans back out almost completely out of France. Thanks to the overwhelming victory on D-Day, the Americans and British leaders thought there was a legitimate shot at winning the war by Christmas. To that end, they put forward Operation Market Garden, a massive offensive designed to drop paratroopers behind German lines in the Netherlands and Germany and secure strategic bridges before the Nazis could blow them up. It was a tremendous risk, given that supply lines couldn’t be established until each bridge in turn was taken, communication was difficult, and reinforcements were almost impossible. But the gamble of being able to quickly end the conflict was deemed worth the risk.
Sadly, the operation was almost a complete failure. Bad weather hampered reinforcements and supplies. And the Allies were unable hold positions on the German side of the Rhine, and the British First Airborn Division was basically destroyed. It was a gallant effort, a tremendous risk, and the cost ended up being too great for the gains.
The Colby Rasmus Trade is like Custer’s Last Stand.
Here’s what nobody remembers about Custer. He was pretty much considered a genius and a huge celebrity in his early career. He was a Union general in the U.S. Civil War at 23 years old. He helped secure defeat at Gettysburg by beating back a Jeb Stuart-led cavalry charge. He literally led his troops into battle at the head of his charges. And he was present in 1865 when General Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
But he was also famously arrogant and a total showoff. Just before leaving for his date with destiny, Custer refused additional troops, saying he “could whip any Indian village on the Plains” with his men, and that others would just get in the way. He also refused to bring two gatling guns, a 19th century weapon of mass destruction that could have proved useful if he was going to defeat a superior force, citing the difficulty of dragging them across the plains. He was not wrong on that account, but they probably seemed particularly useful as “all the Indians in the world [rode] down on top of him,” as Bill Cosby once said.
Like Custer, Tony LaRussa is probably a baseball genius. While his tactics and the developments within the game (such as relief pitcher specialization and 12 man pitching staffs) that he spurred are maddening, to say the least, there’s no denying his success since taking over the hite Sox in 1979. He’s also seen as incredibly arrogant, and has had several run ins with his biggest stars, including Scott Rolen and, now, Colby Rasmus.
In the name of team unity and upgrading the pitching, Tony LaRussa has essentially refused a gatling gun. Colby Rasmus is just 24, under team control for another three years, and has the potential to be a dynamic middle of the order and middle of the diamond player. And in return, LaRussa got a little bullpen help and Edwin Jackson, a maddeningly inconsistant pitcher who is on his sixth organization since 2005. There is a possibility that this deal works out in the short term, but I can’t help but think that, in the face of the long odds of overcoming both the Brewers and the Pirates, LaRussa’s going to wish he had some more firepower.
By the way, as a Twins fan, I’d like to congratulate all you Canadians on having an awesome GM. I wish Bill Smith was half as smart as AA.