Not even five years ago, the Houston Astros were in a very different condition.
The organization was in the process of being sold from incumbent owner Drayton McLane to future owner Jim Crane. Success within the organization was a foreign concept after numerous draft picks, free agent signings, and trades to keep the Astros’ contention hopes afloat failed; some even backfired in spectacular fashion. The red-and-black along with sand color scheme was being used as the team’s official colors instead of the trademark blue-and-orange. Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were no longer Astros. A move from the National League to the American League was being rumored. Needless to say, those were dark times.
But after numerous so-so seasons following their 2005 World Series appearance, the front office led by then-general manager Ed Wade decided it was time to begin the rebuild. The harsh reality finally hit the Astros that not investing the farm system was lethal to the team’s present and future. And the front office recognized that there were a few valuable trade chips that had to be capitalized upon. None was more valuable at the time than Hunter Pence.
I vividly remember the day, July 29th, 2011, when the Astros decided to part ways with an outfielder whom Houston fans came to recognize as the face of the franchise during his tenure. The night that the trade officially went down I was in a Cinemark theater with my now-wife to see Daniel Craig’s latest movie, “Cowboys & Aliens”. I stepped out of the theater auditorium to buy a soda and candy and decided to check my phone before walking back in.
The first thing that popped up on my screen was that the Astros agreed to send Pence to the Phillies for a package of prospects. That is when I knew that the rebuild that everyone was either welcoming or dreading finally went into full force. And like most rebuilds there is almost always one move, one trade, that defines the next era. The Hunter Pence trade has become that move, justified or not; that has defined the Astros rebuilding process.
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In the beginning, the Pence trade turned into four promising prospects: Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton, Josh Zeid, and Domingo Santana. At first, it appeared that at least two of the four would have a significant part in the future success of the Astros. After all, Cosart was a highly touted local pitcher from League City and Singleton campaigned as the next coming of Ryan Howard. Even Zeid and Sanatana had intriguing upsides and were thought of being possible contributors at some point. At first glance, the trade appeared to be a win. But trades hardly work out the way you think, or hope, they will.
Ironically, all four of the prospects from Philly made it to the Astros major league roster at some point and happened to be on the roster together at the same time for a brief period. It just wasn’t very long after that milestone though that current Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow decided to send Cosart to the Miami Marlins as part of a package deal for more prospects. The players that Houston received in return were Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran, Francis Martes, and a 2015 compensatory draft pick. That pick eventually became Daz Cameron. In a way, the Hunter Pence trade is still producing fruit.
Then flash forward roughly one year, and another piece from the Pence trade was on the move. This time, it was Domingo Santana, who was shipped off to Milwaukee as part of the Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers trade. He may not be the main piece, but his inclusion helped net the Astros two players that contributed to the 2015 squad and figure to be important pieces for any 2016 success. Just another ripple effect of the trade made back in 2011.
In retrospect, the Pence trade has become one of the most important moves the Astros franchise has ever made. If anything else, acquiring the original four prospects from Philly gave the franchise options. Yes, trading a productive, popular player like Hunter was obviously a gut punch for the franchise and the fanbase. He has enjoyed great success in Philadelphia and later with the San Francisco Giants that we, as fans, wished would’ve happened when he was with the Astros. But it was a trade necessary to the revitalization of the Astros franchise.
It is difficult to grade a trade soon after it takes place, especially when prospects are involved. Time is needed to see the secondary ripple effects it may have on an organization. The Pence trade was an example of that. Even though the initial four prospects didn’t provide much in regards to winning, the secondary moves have helped make this trade a successful one for the Astros. It may not have been the home run we were looking for, but hey, a double is always nice.