The trade market for Hunter Pence

Updated: July 21, 2011, 12:38 PM ET
By Buster Olney

Hunter Pence has become the face of the Houston Astros, and a month ago, the perception among rival general managers was that Pence was almost untouchable. He's hitting .316, with an .845 OPS, and as Astros GM Ed Wade mused earlier this season, he has seen Pence grow into a leader in his clubhouse.

But in the last few days, some officials with other teams say that not only are the Astros willing to talk about Pence, but Houston's conversations seem to be heading for a deal. Maybe Jim Crane, the incoming owner, has looked at the situation and realizes that because of the massive rebuilding job facing the Astros, Pence probably won't be around for the organization's rebound. Maybe Crane's group has sent word that it wants the most difficult payroll slashing to be done before it takes over, which is something done with a lot of companies.

Maybe the Astros have come to believe that the best time to trade Pence is right now, when a team like the Phillies or Braves or Reds or Red Sox might be willing to step up. Houston could probably get a good package of prospects for Pence right now, players who could be part of the Astros' return to prominence.

Unlike Carlos Beltran -- who is a pure two-month-plus-October rental -- Pence will be under team control for two more seasons, so he could be part of a team's solution in 2011 as well as a linchpin piece in 2012 and 2013.