Hunter Pence is Available, Should The Nationals Inquire?

Buster Olney of ESPN.com tweeted today that the Houston Astros are not only willing, but are expected to trade starting outfielder Hunter Pence before the Major League Baseball trade deadline. Pence, 28, is hitting .315/356/.478 with 11 home runs and 61 RBI this season, and has posted a .293/.339/.481 batting line over the course of his five year career.

There are no direct reports that the Nationals have interest in acquiring Pence, however his availability does raise some eyebrows. The Nats currently are in the market for a center fielder who can bat everyday in the leadoff spot, a role which Pence doesn’t quite fit, however the team has also expressed interest in Cardinals centerfielder Colby Rasmus who projects to be a player more similar to the Astros’ All-Star.

Pence has hit .282 and 25 home runs in each of the past two seasons, a consistent offensive output that could be attractive for Mike Rizzo, a general manager who has had to shuffle his outfield like a black jack dealer over the past several seasons. He is not a natural centerfielder, though he did come up as one during his rookie year in 2007. He is also a strong athlete, an attribute the Nats have shown to value highly in recent years.

Defensively Pence has been a mixed bag. He has played most of his career in right-field where he has posted one of the better Range Ratings in the National League, meaning that while he only played in center his rookie season, he may be able to make the transition back rather seamlessly. His arm is considered above average, and his career UZR/150 is a respectable 5.6.

This season, his UZR/150 has been an unimpressive -0.2.

He’s currently having the best year of his career since his breakout rookie season in 2007, which means his price will likely be high. He is also still under team control through 2013, which means that the team is under no pressure to trade him unless they get the deal they want. It is unknown what Houston would ask for in return, but one would imagine it would have to be a strong package of prospects considering Pence is just 28.

If the Nats do in fact want to make this deal, they’d likely have to give up at least one of their better prospects. However when you consider the potential of a 2012 or 2013 outfield with Bryce Harper, a hopefully back to normal Jayson Werth, and Hunter Pence, it very well could be worth it.