Bobby Bonds. Felipe Alou. Chili Davis. Candy Maldonado. Even Glenallen Hill. The San Francisco Giants have enjoyed a long line of productive right fielders in their franchise history. Unfortunately, since Hill left in 1994 the Giants have featured a rotating cast of aging veterans with a few good years left (Reggie Sanders, Ellis Burks, Carlos Beltran) or young players (Dan Ortmeier, Todd Linden, Nate Schierholtz) who never quite developed the way the Giants hoped.
Enter Hunter Pence. After coming over to the Giants in a midseason trade with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012, Pence struggled to put up a .219/.287/.384 line in 59 games with the Giants. However, Pence provided the team with much needed leadership and enthusiasm after Melky Cabrera‘s suspension for PED’s. He also drove in 100+ RBI for the first time in his career, which helped the Giants recover some of the production they lost with Cabrera. Pence’s inspirational speeches during the postseason have since become legendary, as they captured the “Never say die” attitude of a team that rallied together to win six elimination games en route to their second World Series Championship in 3 years. Arbitration-eligible after 2012, Pence signed a one-year deal worth $13.8 million for the 2013 season.
Since signing that deal, Pence has continued his ironman-like streak of playing 154-plus games a year, spanning back to 2008 when he was in his second season with the Houston Astros. The Giants had long coveted Pence, and they even looked into acquiring him at the deadline in 2011 after Buster Posey‘s horrific, season-ending injury, but they settled on Beltran instead when the price for Pence went too high. Beltran proved to be nothing more than an injury-plagued 44-game rental, only producing on the field when the Giants were officially eliminated from playoff contention. Thus, when Pence was put back on the trading block in 2012 by the Phillies one year after acquiring him, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean jumped at the chance. The second Championship ring on his finger has done more than enough to justify that transaction.
With his one-year deal nearly complete, Pence has made no secret of the fact that he desires a long-term deal at this stage of his career. Heading into his age 31-season, locking up Pence appears to be best for the Giants as well.
Currently, the Giants do not have an alternative in their farm system that is ready to press Pence for regular duty. The free agent pool looks shallow this year, with the best options possibly being only a 36 year-old Beltran and a 33 year-old Nelson Cruz sure to be available. And there’s no telling how productive Cruz will be without PED’s. Jacoby Ellsbury will most likely re-sign with the Boston Red Sox, and Shin-Soo Choo will be in high demand. Plus, both Ellsbury and Choo are left-handed, and their power won’t play as well at AT&T Park. Which brings us back to Pence…
A five-tool, durable player, Pence loves San Francisco and its fans. He’s done a fine job patrolling the ever-tricky confines of right field at AT&T Park. He brings a unique blend of speed and power – Pence is 3 home runs shy of being the first Giant to finish a season with 20 home runs and 20 steals since Barry Bonds in 1998. He hit the longest home run in the Majors this year the other day in Colorado. He plays with high energy, leads by example, and has proven himself to be an asset in the clubhouse, even in a lost season such as this.
After handing out a four-year deal to Angel Pagan, the Giants will probably have to offer at least as much to Pence if they wish to keep him. It will likely take something in the range of 4 years/$50 million to retain him. Pence has also been consistent in his production, unlike Aaron Rowand - the last outfielder to snag a long-term, big money deal with the Giants. Rowand was marginally productive in his 3 years with the Phillies before having a career year in 2007, the year before he signed a 5-year/$60 million deal with the Giants. Being the focused and driven workout-warrior that he is, Pence should at least be able to maintain his current level of production into his early-to-mid thirties, perhaps even enjoying a few resurgent years like Burks and Sanders did with the Giants.
The solution is clear: Re-signing Pence makes the most sense for the Giants next year and beyond.
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