Friday, July 29, 2011

Fare thee well, Hunter Pence

I feel differently about Hunter Pence than I did about Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman last year. Oswalt and Berkman had somewhat burned their bridges, and their goodwill, with me far before the trade deadline with their perceived complaining, poor body language, and overall fussyness about their very presence.

Hunter Pence was a treat to watch (and I realize this reads like an obituary). He was weird, he had googly eyes, and by all accounts, he would spend so much time in the batting cage that he would almost wear himself out. Who doesn't like a player who works too hard - sort of the antithesis to Lance Berkman's public sentiment?

I'm not too good at remembering specific games. It's shameful, really, how devoted I am to the Astros, but I don't have that game-by-game recall. (Recently I had the chance to go to Philadelphia and hung out with a buddy of mine - huge Phillies fan. I said the only time I had ever been to Citizens Bank Park was Labor Day 2006. Immediately he said, "Astros game. Clemens vs. Hamels, and Clemens had to come out with a groin injury." Of course he was right, but there was no real reason for him to remember that particular game. That's not me.) But I do remember April 27, 2007. The Astros had just lost to the Brewers, and Phil Garner announced post-game that the Astros were calling up Hunter Pence. I was immediately enthralled - it was probably the most excited I had been about the Astros since the World Series.

Over the years, Pence proved himself to Astros fans, quickly becoming a fan favorite, if only because he played hard, and got results at an acceptable rate. For everyone who says that "Pence is a #6 hitter on a good team" should understand what the Astros' franchise has become that Pence should earn such a spot in our hearts.

With players like Carlos Lee, 2010 Berkman, and 2010 Oswalt, Pence shut his mouth and played hard.

But this move had to happen. Because the Astros called him up in April, he got an extra year of arbitration. It's not impossible to think that Pence could earn $25m over the next two years of arbitration. A team like the Astros can't have that. He's simply becoming too expensive, and to be able to have this kind of leverage - a good, young player, with years of team control, in the prime of his career - is a rare opportunity. I know Drayton loves Hunter Pence, probably like a son, maybe like a forbidden lover. But this is about winning for the next ten years, not staring at a guy in right field and thinking, "What a swell player."

To think that Pence is the only marketable player the Astros have is ridiculous, and a sign that maybe the Astros need a better PR staff.

It's amazing the Astros were even able to do this, considering their draft history over the past eight years. This is the flip-side of developing talent - to trade them for more prospects in the event that you simply cannot compete with the hand that you're dealt. It's similar to spending $5 on a scratch-off, winning $10, and then buying more scratch-offs. That's what rebuilding is: constantly trying to hit the jackpot. It might not happen, but you have to try. For the Astros, sentimentality hasn't gotten them anywhere.

Good luck, Hunter Pence. Thank you for being good.