There have been no definitive rumors linking the two teams, but there is ample evidence that a match can be found. First of all, MLB Trade Rumors does not list the Braves as one of the teams looking for an upgrade in right field, but they do list them under the center field-needy teams. In fact, the entire Braves outfield could use an upgrade as Hunter Pence would be a substantial move up from all of Martin Prado,Jordan Schaefer, Nate McLouth and even Jason Heyward.
The Braves would probably not move Heyward off of right field even if they acquired Pence, so he'd have to play center or left, with Schaefer moving to center. I'm not sure that's much of an upgrade, but Pence has played center before and wouldn't have quite as difficult an area to cover as he did in MMP. This trade scenario ultimately will come down to two things: can the Braves justify adding an impact bat to possibly get to the World Series and can the Astros part with untouchable Pence?
This is about as improbable a scenario as you'll find, but for the sake of this article, we'll break down whether the Braves need Pence and if any of those trades make sense...
Again, let's use the Trade Value Calculator to see what Pence's value might be. As a refresher, the TVC takes Pence's projected fWAR totals over the three seasons he's under team control. Since his salary can't be known yet for 2012 and 2013, we assume that his salary will be 60 percent and 80 percent of his total value.
By looking at that fWAR projection and multiplying that by the cost of a win on the free agent market, we get his value based on performance. Subtract his current and future salaries from that, and you'll get his surplus value, which is what we use to calculate these trade scenarios.
Based on Pence's stats through half this season, I've got him down for 5.0 fWAR (even if that may be a little high), then 4.0 for 2012 and 3.5 for 2013. Add to that a projected Type B free agency at the end of those three years, and Pence's surplus value is at $28.9 million.
Now, for the prospects. Let's rule out a couple prospects right away. Houston will not be picking up Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman or Craig Kimbrel in any trade with Atlanta. That's four of the Braves top 10 prospects, courtesy of Baseball America. So, first off, we're dealing from a position of weakness with the Braves system.
From rags to riches, we move from the Detroit farm system to the Braves, who ranked second in BA's preseason organizational rankings. Even excluding those four players above, there are some intriguing prospects listed below. Here's my short list of the top guys the Astros might target.
1) Mike Minor, LHP - A Top 50 pitching prospect, Minor was a favorite to win a spot in this Braves rotation, but was beaten out in spring training by Beachy (who has posted a 3.32 ERA this season). Minor hasn't done poorly in the meantime, with solid strikeout numbers, a sterling ERA and good control. Plus, he's generating plenty of ground balls, which is always a plus. At this point, he'd be ready to step in immediately to Houston's rotation beside Jordan Lyles.
2) Randall Delgado, RHP - Another Top 50 pitching prospect, Delgado is on the same level as Minor on most lists. Some favor the lefty and some favor the slightly less developed Delgado. At the same time, Delgado has been just as good this season, striking out 82 in 90 innings over 16 starts. He's also younger than Minor (21 to 23) and would also fit into a rotation with Lyles, though probably not as quickly as Minor.
3) Arodys Vizcaino, RHP - Third player, third pitcher. That's where Atlanta is really deep, which complements Houston's system nicely, since the Astros lack pitching depth but are pretty deep in position players. Acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade, Vizcaino was promoted to Double-A this season and has acquitted himself well so far. The only knock on him is that his ground ball rate isn't very good, but he's a hard thrower who could always move into the bullpen if necessary.
4) Tyler Pastornicky, SS - The 14th best prospect in the Braves system, Pastornicky fits a lot of what the Astros seem to look for in a prospect. He's got speed up the middle, a little pop and should stick at shortstop. The only problem here is that Atlanta acquired Pastornicky last season in the deal with the Blue Jays for Alex Gonzalez and is their most advanced shortstop prospect.
5) Edward Salcedo, 3B - Recently moved to third base, Salcedo provides a power/speed combination that should be pretty attractive to Houston. He's not a very good base stealer yet, but he tries hard. He's also a toolsy guy with a big frame, much like Jimmy Paredes, so you know the Astros scouts will like him. He's currently in the South Atlantic League, so he'd be pretty far off from reaching the majors.
6) J.J. Hoover, RHP - Another good pitching prospect, who's done very well, bouncing from the starting rotation to the bullpen in Double-A. Hoover strikes out about one per inning with control on par with Minor and gives up a surprisingly few number of homers, even though he's a pretty extreme fly ball pitcher.
A quick refresher on the value of prospects shows us that a Top 50 pitcher is worth 15.9 million, a Top 100 pitcher is worth 9.8 million, a Grade B pitcher is worth 7.3 million, a Grade C+ pitcher 23 or older is worth 1.5 million and a Grade C hitter under 22 is worth 0.7 million. That means Delgado and Minor would cost 15.9 million, Vizcaino is worth 9.8 million, Pastornicky is worth 0.7 million, Salcedo is worth 5.5 million and Hoover is worth 7.3 million.
It seems likely that the Astros would be asked to take back one of the Braves major leaguers at the same time as they traded for Pence. Seeing as Schaefer doesn't really make much money, that leaves Nate McLouth coming back in any deal. So, consider that in the next few scenarios.
Trade Scenario 1: Braves trade McLouth, Mike Minor, Tyler Pastornicky and Edward Salcedo for Hunter Pence - This trade brings two high-level talents into the Houston system in Minor and Salcedo. They're both at different levels of development, but it gives Houston both immediate return and a shot at future growth, much like Wade got in the Roy Oswalt deal. It also works well value-wise, as the prospects will be around $20 million, plus whatever McLouth provides. It's probably underselling Pence a bit, but it'd still be a pretty good deal.
Trade Scenario 2: Braves trade McLouth, Randall Delgado, Salcedo and J.J. Hoover for Hunter Pence - In this trade, we're swapping out Delgado for Minor and adding in Hoover, who I like a lot. It gives Houston more value than they got in the first scenario, but it's probably more than the Braves would be willing to part with.
Trade Scenario 3: Braves trade McLouth, Delgado, Minor, Pastornicky and Hoover for Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn - Here's where things get interesting. We didn't add Michael Bourn into the original equation, but he probably makes more sense for the Braves than anyone. Adding in both players allows Houston to get both Top 50 pitchers (while still leaving Julio Teheran for the Braves), plus adding another guy who would rocket up Houston's system in Hoover. It guts the current Houston roster, but adds three pitchers who could join Lyles in a potential playoff rotation some day, plus a more valuable version of Angel Sanchez.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I don't find any of these scenarios terribly plausible, but there is enough here that Houston could actually get a good return for Pence. Minor and Hoover would be the prizes of these trades and McLouth would at least provide a stopgap in right until some of the young players are ready to contribute.
What do you think? Which trade works best for you? Do you see the Braves making a move for Pence?