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Pence trade fills Phils' need for righty slugger

Gonzalez: Pence fills Phils' need for righty bat

Pence trade fills Phils' need for righty slugger
Strip away the added payroll, the thinner farm system and all the other elements that are irrelevant to the here and now, and this is what the Phillies essentially have after making their big trade of the year: The 2010 team, plus Cliff Lee.

This past offseason, the Phillies used the money they didn't spend on re-signing Jayson Werth to bring back Lee, giving them the star-studded staff that's mainly responsible for their first-place record, but depriving them of the right-handed power bat that was so critical to their offense.

Then, on Friday night, they added Hunter Pence -- the slugger that finally addresses the absence of that valuable piece that left for Washington last December.

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You may argue that Pence isn't the all-around talent Werth is, but his bat is surely as dangerous.

And he's precisely what the Phillies needed to get their offense on par with their vaunted rotation.

"We tried to address a need we felt was a missing piece," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I think we acquired in a lot of ways somebody that is extremely well-rounded; the type of player that we'd like to have here in Philadelphia."

And they didn't give up any can't-miss young players to do so.

Yes, the Phillies parted ways with their two best prospects in exchange for Pence -- slugger Jonathan Singleton and pitcher Jarred Cosart, who both played in high A ball this year -- but they held on to Domonic Brown and Vance Worley, they solidified their outfield for next season, they countered the Giants' trade for Carlos Beltran, they kept Pence away from the division-rival Braves, and they even got $1 million back to keep them under the luxury tax.

If you're scoring at home, that's a win, win, win, win, win.

Then you start thinking about how perfect Pence's right-handed bat is for this club.

The Phillies' offense ranked seventh in the National League in runs, but they were 14th in OPS against lefties and 13th in OPS from their ever-changing No. 5 spot.

With Pence hitting behind lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Charlie Manuel finally has a balanced lineup again.

His addition may mean Brown goes down to Triple-A, with veteran Raul Ibanez in left field on a guaranteed contract. But with Ibanez on the final year of his deal, the trade solidifies Manuel's outfield for at least next season, with Brown in left, Shane Victorino in center and Pence -- with two more arbitration years left -- in right.

Most importantly, though, it gives them an even more legitimate shot at a second World Series title in four years.

Pence has averaged 25 homers and 82 RBIs his last three seasons. In 2011, he sports a .308 batting average, 11 homers and -- most significant of all -- an .860 OPS in 123 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

He'll get plenty more chances in that situation now.

"It's a new chapter for [the Astros] and a new chapter for me," Pence said. "I'm on board with a team that's got the best record in baseball and unbelievable talent. It's a wonderful thing for everybody."

In exchange for their biggest trade chip in quite some time, the Astros got Singleton, a promising lefty slugger who can play first base and the outfield corners; Cosart, a right-handed starter with a live arm; righty Josh Zeid, a former 10th-rounder who has a 5.65 ERA in Double-A but has looked better as a reliever; and a fourth, low-level Minor Leaguer who will be decided upon later.

Considering what they addressed and how perfect a fit Pence is for them, the Phillies didn't give up nearly that much.

They did gain more financial responsibilities, though.

Pence could reportedly make $10 million in arbitration this offseason, which means the Phillies will have $110.75 million committed to just eight players next year -- Pence, Victorino, Utley, Lee, Howard, Placido Polanco, Joe Blanton and Roy Halladay. That, in turn, makes the upcoming situations of Oswalt ($16 million club option), Brad Lidge ($12.5 million club option), Cole Hamels (final year of arbitration) and Jimmy Rollins (free agent) rather interesting.

But none of that should matter to Phillies fans right now.

Their first-place team now looks unbeatable.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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