I'm always somewhat skeptical of the term "overpaying," which I think is often overused in sports. A lot of the detractors of the Phillies trade for Hunter Pence claim that the team "overpaid" in the deal. We've hearing a lot of "Oh I like Pence, but they gave up too much!"
Let's think about that for a second. In what way can we say that the Phillies "overpaid?" Would you judge the value of the prospects given up to be greater than what they got in return? Further, if the value of the prospects is greater than the return does that automatically mean that a team "overpaid?" Are future assets weighted the same as present assets?
Or would you say that they "overpaid" in the sense that Pence could have been had for less? I would say personally that that would have to be true to term it "overpaying" in the truest sense. To make this claim would be almost completely indefensible. There is no evidence that Pence could have been had for less than he was. Presumably, the Astros entertained offers from multiple teams and this is the best offer they got. That said, I suppose you could counter that by saying they could have potentially found Pence's production, not Pence, for less. It would be just be a guess, but it would be a point.
It's much easier, especially in baseball, to judge overpaying or getting a bargain in free agency. We can look at certain stats to judge value, see what they generally cost around the league and put a cash value on what a team is paying to get them. But in trades? It's not nearly as simple. In fact, projecting prospects, especially ones as young as the Phillies gave up here, is a very inexact science, and yet you hear so many fans do it with <em>such certainty</em>.
It's just interesting to see a guy like Keith Law say the Astros return was not great and then see some Phillies fans say the Phillies overpaid.
Is this enough of a return for two-plus years of Pence at arbitration salaries? I’d call it a reasonable return, but not a great one, given the risk attached to both of those prospects. This deal could easily result in disaster for Houston, if Pence gets a few more fastballs in Philly and regains what he seems to have lost at the plate this year, and if the red flags on these prospects (especially Cosart) prove prophetic.
I do think a player who’s more than a rental should return one prospect of a little more certainty than either of these two guys can offer, or that it should have included one more major prospect from Philadelphia. For the Phillies, Pence isn’t a star, but is better than anything they were likely to run out in left this year or next, and perhaps getting off the league’s worst team will lead to a small resurgence in his performance.
And that's not to say that I think Keith Law is any smarter than the next guy, but I think it does bear out that this grading of value in trades, especially those involving risky prospects, is a lot more opinion than baseball stat people like to admit. Plus, it does make me wonder whether we get a little bit attached to our own prospects and whether we let that color our judgement of what they're actually worth?
Maybe Law hasn't spent as much time following the careers of these guys as some Phils fans have and maybe he doesn't not know as much about them as they do... but also it could maybe be that he's simply a bit more objective?