HOUSTON - JUNE 14: Right fielder Hunter Pence #9 of the Houston Astros makes a sliding catch in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Minute Maid Park on June 14, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Fresh off a 23 game hitting streak, Hunter Pence has been receiving lots of national publicity lately. He is the Astros' best hitter, an above average fielder, and certainly a fan favorite. With last year's departures of Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, Pence has taken over a new role with this team. He is the face of the franchise, and he's currently in his prime.
Furthermore, his perceived value amongst other teams is very high right now. He's currently fourth in the National League with a .320 batting average, and he has nine home runs as well. His 50 RBIs are also good for fourth in the NL, and we all know about his recent hitting streak. How many playoff contenders around the league could use those services?
With this season already in shambles, the front office is going to be faced with a very difficult decision. The trade deadline is quickly approaching, and they need to decide if they trade Pence in hopes of building for the future or do they hold onto a franchise right fielder in the prime of his career?Pence should stay.
There, I said it.
When Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt left last year, a lot of fans had trouble connecting with the team on the field. Ed Wade was building for the future, and it was honestly time for them to leave. We received some prospects in the deals, but it was tough to watch Lance and Roy don different jerseys for the second part of last season.
I'm not ecstatic that they are gone, but it was the right move to be made. For years, Uncle Drayton has been patching holes with aging veterans and depleting our farm system while believing that "we are just a couple players away from competing." That couldn't be farther from the truth, and it was time that Drayton realized that and began the rebuilding process.
With that being said, I don't think our fan base could handle Pence being traded. I know some people feel differently, but he's not the guy that we need to unload in this long cycle of rebuilding. Teams want Wandy. Teams want Keppinger. Most fans aren't coming to Minute Maid to see those guys.
They are coming to see Hunter Pence.
If he gets traded, I don't know how the attendance at home games will hold up. The numbers are already pretty miserable, and it probably would just get worse.
More than just marketing and attendance, a Pence trade just doesn't add up. He's in the middle of a career year, and though I'm not saying he is going to keep this pace up, he certainly has the potential to do this for the next few seasons. The offense, while better than last year, hasn't been too great so far this season. Without Pence, I don't even want to think about it.
Sure, Brett Wallace is improving and Keppinger is a great contact hitter, but I'm pretty sure that opposing pitchers sometime fear Pence when he stops into the batter's box. Does anyone else in our lineup have that effect right now? I don't think so.
I had the privilege of meeting Pence several years ago at the Astros Spring Training facility in Kissimmee, Florida, and he was one of the nicest professional athletes I have ever encountered. I'm not letting this experience cloud my judgment on this, but rather I fully understand why he's the favorite player of so many Astros fans, both young and old. He's a consummate professional, and that's why baseball fans around the country respect him.
He plays the game the right way. I know that sounds cliche, but I couldn't agree more. Sure, he looks kind of goofy and awkward at times, but he gets the job done and will be going to the All-Star Game this year in Phoenix. As a fan, his play on the field is one that we wish other ballplayers could emulate. Carlos Lee frequently catches a lot of grief because he trots to fly balls in the outfield and rarely gives it his all on a weak grounder to short. The same cannot be said about Hunter Pence.
Perhaps the front office is blown away by an offer from another team inquiring about Pence. Then we'll have to see what happens. However, I have trouble envisioning a situation in which Pence should be traded. If this new ownership group wants to alienate themselves from the fans and get off to a rough start, go ahead and trade him.
But I don't think they should.