A Phillies trade that affected years of National League baseball

A Phillies trade that affected years of National League baseball

In 137 years of play, the Phillies have racked up more than a few what-ifs. What if Chico Ruiz doesn't steal home in 1964? What if Danny Ozark replaces Greg Luzinski for defense on Black Friday 1977? What if the Phillies protect George Bell in the Rule 5 draft? What if they don't trade Ferguson Jenkins? Or Ryne Sandberg?

What if Michael Martinez doesn't catch that ball in deep center field that 2011 night in Atlanta and the St. Louis Cardinals don't make the postseason? What if Chase Utley's knees don't go bad and Ryan Howard doesn't blow out his Achilles tendon? There are many, many more.

Over the next few days, we'll explore a few of the moments and events that may have flown under the radar but still make you ask: what if? Join us in our trip to an alternate Phillies universe ...

The Phillies were active in the trade market every summer from 2005-12, from the days they were on the brink of contention to the days they sought to supplement a championship-level core to the days they needed to tear it all down.

When it became apparent in 2012 that the Phillies were aging out of their competitive window and that significant injuries had expedited the declines of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phils shifted gears. Howard missed the Phillies' first 84 games in 2012 and Utley missed the first 77. The Phils still thought they could potentially make another run in 2013 or 2014 (it never materialized), but in 2012, they also sought to turn some of their soon-to-be-free-agents into prospects. 

And so the afternoon of the 2012 trade deadline, then-GM Ruben Amaro Jr. swung two trades. Shane Victorino, who was set for free agency, was dealt to the Dodgers for Ethan Martin and Josh Lindblom. An hour or so later, Hunter Pence was traded to the Giants in a more surprising move.

Pence, unlike Victorino, was still under team control the following season. The Phillies didn't need to trade him at the 2012 deadline, but oftentimes you want to pull the trigger before you need to in order to get more value. If you know you're not going to sign the guy in a year and a half, and you're unsure if your team can contend the next season, you might as well trade him. Far too often, GMs hold out because the right offer never materializes and the player ends up walking, with his previous team receiving no compensation except maybe a draft pick.

"I don't think anyone really anticipated the season that's gone on," Pence said the day he was dealt. "It was the perfect storm of injuries and things didn't go right for us, so that's the way the business of the game is and you have to understand that. The Phillies are going in a different direction. We had a great run at it. Now I'm going a different way."

The Pence situation was still pretty strange. Twelve months earlier, the Phillies had acquired him to bolster their lineup and fill the void in the five-hole left by Jayson Werth when Werth went to Washington. Pence was great down the stretch in 2011, hitting .324 with a .954 OPS in 236 plate appearances as a Phillie. He quickly became a fan favorite with his hustle and unorthodox style of hitting, fielding, running and throwing.

"He is the most unique player that I've ever been around," former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said several times when Pence was here. "And I mean that in a good way. This guy is so aggressive. He doesn't cut down nothing on his swing. He's just railing away. But the biggest part about him, though, is he can hit."

As the centerpiece of an Utley-less, Howard-less Phillies lineup in 2012, Pence didn't hit as much. When he was traded, he had the lowest slugging percentage of his career. He was never an offensive centerpiece but in his prime, Pence was a valuable complementary piece, the kind of player who could be the third-best hitter on a championship team.

The Phillies knew, based on Pence's skill set, age and comparable contracts, that eventually extending Pence would cost around $90 million. That was exactly what he ended up getting from the Giants: 5 years, $90 million. And really, if you took only the regular season, the Phillies probably made a wise call. Pence averaged 123 games and hit .277/.334/.447 over the life of his Giants contract. Serviceable numbers, just not worth $90 million.

Where Pence shined though, was in the playoffs. His pregame speeches, beginning before Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS, became the stuff of legend in San Francisco. He won two rings there. In 2014, he was the Giants' best hitter in the World Series, going 12 for 27 (.444) with three doubles, a homer and five RBI.

Maybe the Giants would have won it all anyway in 2012 and 2014 without Pence's production and the extra juice he gave his teammates. Maybe their starting pitching and bullpen dominance would have been enough. A lot of Pence's teammates would disagree and point out how instrumental he was through it all.

Tommy Joseph was the centerpiece of the Phillies' return for Pence and his value dipped once concussions ended his days behind the plate. Hard to predict. The other pieces were outfielder Nate Schierholtz and pitcher Seth Rosin. Schierholtz homered in his Phillies debut and was set to play every day, but a broken toe derailed his time here. Rosin ended up making just four big-league appearances.

The most unfortunate parts for the Phillies were that they didn't get enough in return for Pence, and they then went years without finding a consistently productive corner outfielder to replace him. From 2013-17, the only outfielders to post an OPS over .800 for the Phillies were Domonic Brown in 2013 and Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams in partial seasons in 2017.

During those lean years for the Phillies, Pence was across the country winning rings. It wasn't easy for Phillies fans to take in light of the 2010 NLCS. But everything comes full circle. Now, the Giants are in a rebuilding process with ex-Phils skipper Gabe Kapler, and last winter Bryce Harper chose the Phillies over the Giants, largely because of their more appealing core and ballpark.

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Now a hitting coach, Pat Burrell wonders how much better 2020 data would have made him

Now a hitting coach, Pat Burrell wonders how much better 2020 data would have made him

Pat Burrell was gearing up for his first season as a Single A hitting coach in the San Francisco Giants' farm system before the world changed. Now, like most of us, he's been relegated to communicating with coworkers via Zoom meetings.

"Obviously, the first year I try it there's this pandemic that shuts the whole world down, but hopefully we'll get back to work," he said to NBC Sports Bay Area this week.

Burrell always thought he wanted to be back in uniform at some point but wasn't interested in all the travel. He lives only 20 minutes away from the complex of the San Jose Giants, the Class A Advanced team he joined this season as hitting coach.

Burrell sought out the coaching job. He knew it was on him to put his name out there. He received a call on Christmas Eve asking if he was interested in the San Jose gig and he saw it as the perfect opportunity.

It will be an interesting transition for Burrell, who did some scouting for the Giants after his playing days ended in 2011. League-wide, offensive philosophies are different now than when Burrell played. He referred to his era as "a different generation." I don't know about you, but when I think of a different generation I think of the '70s and '80s, not 2008. Time flies.

"We think we knew a lot about hitting when we were players and what we see a lot of times is pretty true. However, in my experience, what I thought I was doing as a hitter did not match up with what reality was," Burrell said. 

"My thoughts as a hitter, what I was trying to do physically, it just wasn't the facts. It doesn't really matter what we think, it's about what we do. A lot of hitters in our generation had the thoughts of swinging down on the baseball. We weren't doing that, we just had to tell ourselves that so that we weren't popping up on every pitch. In essence, we were actually swinging a little bit uphill to meet the angle of the pitch. When you dive into the whole scenario of what's changed, it's kind of fun to be a part of the transition that's going on right now.

"There was a lot more gut feeling (when I played), the eye test. But the game has changed and you have to be open towards it. A lot of the stuff that I've learned about the mechanics of hitting, how the body moves and all the stuff that goes along with it, it's been fantastic, I had no idea. Part of me wonders if I would have known all of this as a hitter, would I have been a better player? I don't know, I like to think so. ... No one in my generation knew all that information and it's here."

Several Phillies from 2000-2010 would have been better received in 2020. If Bobby Abreu was here now putting up the offensive numbers he posted from 1998-2006 he'd be revered. If Burrell was rattling off seasons now of .390 on-base percentages with 30+ home runs, many fans would be looking past the batting average and identifying his value.

Our perspectives have changed. Burrell in 2008 hit .250/.367/.507 with 33 home runs, 33 doubles and an OPS 25% better than the league average.

Bryce Harper in 2019 hit .260/.372/.510 with 35 homers, 36 doubles and an OPS 25 percent better than the league average.

Think about how they were received. It was almost the same offensive season, viewed in totally different ways 11 years apart.

In the Giants' system, Burrell is reunited with Gabe Kapler, his teammate in 2009 and 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays. After nine years with the Phillies, Burrell spent a season plus a month in Tampa before signing with the Giants in May 2010 and ultimately winning his second World Series that year.

"I actually got a funny picture," Burrell said. "My mom somehow, I don't know what she was looking through but she found a picture of [Kapler] and I before a game in Tampa, whether it was '09 or spring training of '10, we're standing on the line before a game stretching in our Tampa Bay uniforms. So I sent it to Gabe and we chuckled back and forth. 

"We had conversations about post-playing stuff but it wasn't very in-depth. I always knew he'd be a part of the game and I knew I'd be doing something. ... When he got hired, we did play Pickleball down here one day, which was fun.

Burrell and Kapler teamed up and from the sounds of it, they were victorious. Burrell is a Machine, some have said.

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DeSean Jackson provided legendary play-by-play for his Miracle TD return

DeSean Jackson provided legendary play-by-play for his Miracle TD return

Earlier this week, NFL Network re-aired the Eagles' legendary Miracle at the Meadowlands II comeback win in its entirety. 

Eagles fans all from over, stuck in their houses while socially distancing, tuned in for the show - including DeSean Jackson himself.

Jackson, ever the showman, fired up his Instagram Live and rattled off an incredible play-by-play breakdown of his game-winning punt return touchdown, one of the coolest moments in Eagles history. You can watch his play-by-play in the video above.

Here are my favorite quotes, in no particular order:

  • "Ooh, Jason Avant smacked that boy!"
     
  • "Watch how mad Coughlin gets! He told that boy don't kick it to me! He told that boy don't kick it to me! 
     
  • "What you clappin' your hands for, boy? You don't know what the hell's gonna go on."
     
  • "You know what I want. I want it!"
     
  • "Okay drop it! Ah! Set it up! Drop back! Ah! Stick your foot in the ground, go!"
     

DeSean, thank you.

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