We look back at the 2011 trade in which the Houston Astros sent Hunter Pence to the Phillies.
Recently we’ve discussed a pair of 2010 trades in which franchise stalwarts Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were sent packing as the Houston Astros embarked on a much-needed rebuild. The following year, the club was headed toward the first of what would be three straight 100-loss seasons. With outfielder Hunter Pence firmly within the prime of his career, he was jettisoned as well.
It made sense, of course. Pence was already 28 by the time the trade deadline came around in 2011. The Astros weren’t going to be ready to contend for a few years, by which time Pence’s prime could be over. It made no sense to waste his best years on a losing team when he could be traded for young, controllable assets. On July 29, 2011, that’s exactly what GM Ed Wade did.
Wade sent Pence to the Phillies (surprise, surprise) in exchange for pitcher Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jon Singleton, pitcher Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. That last player turned out to be outfielder Domingo Santana. None of these players are still with their respective teams, so there’s plenty to unpack here.
What the Astros Gave Up
Pence was exactly what the Astros failed to produce much of in the previous decade: a homegrown All-Star. Following Berkman and Oswalt’s ascension to the big leagues, the club’s farm system ran rather dry. This led to a roster full of overpriced veterans and nearly devoid of cheap young talent, which is what necessitated the rebuild in the first place.
The Astros drafted Pence in the second round in 2004, and he made his big league debut with a .322/.360/.539 line in 108 games in 2007. He quickly turned into a player you could pencil in for about 30 doubles, 20-25 homers, good run production and solid defense. He made two All-Star teams in his four and a half seasons in Houston and generated 16.2 WAR.
At the time of the trade, Pence was hitting .308/.356/.471 with 26 doubles and 11 homers in 100 games. Following the trade, he hit .324/.394/.560 with 11 homers in 54 games. The Phillies won 102 games but lost in the NL Division Series.
The following year, the Phillies’ run came to an end as they were headed for an 81-81 season. So they traded Pence to the Giants at the 2012 trade deadline, and he would go on to win two World Series titles in San Francisco.
What the Astros Got
One of the two big pieces was Cosart, who’d risen from a 38th-round pick to become a top prospect. He would reach the majors in 2013, pitching to a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts. After making 20 starts of 4.41-ERA ball in 2014, the Astros traded him to the Marlins for Jake Marisnick in a deal we recently revisited as well.
Singleton, a former eighth round pick, was the other big piece. Unfortunately he became one in a trio of top first base prospects who fizzled out with the Astros. He hit .171/.290/.331 in 114 major league games between 2014 and 2015, failing a couple of drug tests in the minors as well. He’s no longer with the organization.
Zeid reached the majors in 2013 and put up a decent season, pitching in 25 games and posting a 3.90 ERA out of the bullpen. He worked to a 6.97 ERA the following year and hasn’t played in the majors since.
Santana turned out to be a solid piece of this deal as well, though he never got much of a shot in Houston. He was included in the Carlos Gomez trade with Milwaukee in 2015 and ended up hitting 30 homers for the Brewers in 2017. Defensively challenged, he was traded to Seattle prior to 2019.
The Final Verdict
In what amounted to one full season with the Phillies, Pence was worth 3.3 WAR. In return, the Astros got 2.9 WAR from Cosart, -0.9 WAR from Singleton, -0.5 WAR from Zeid and -0.4 WAR from Santana. That amounts to a total of 1.1 WAR from the four players combined. So in an on-field value sense, the Phillies came out ahead.
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Singleton and Zeid never played for any other major league teams. Cosart did, but he was less valuable than he was in Houston. Santana’s 3.6 career WAR is hampered by poor defense, and most of that value came in his 2017 season in Milwaukee.
Pence, meanwhile, has continued to be effective. He gave the Giants 10.5 WAR in parts of seven seasons and added another 1.6 WAR with the Rangers in 2019. He’s been worth 31.6 WAR for his career, and a little more than half of that came with the Astros.
Of the four players the Astros got in return for Pence, only one (Santana) remains in the major leagues. The other three did not live up to the hype, and Santana’s success only came after the team traded him away in a regrettable deal. They did get a solid return for Cosart, but that’s about all they got out of this.
With that being the case, I’d say the Phillies were the clear winner even though they ended up trading Pence a year later. They got the player they wanted and gave up three young players who wouldn’t pan out and one who would become slightly above average. Most teams would happily make that deal.