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.