Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Time for Giants to talk contract with Hunter Pence

Hunter Belushi

 You hear it all the time. You'll never see a guy do things quite like Hunter Pence. Hell, even Hunter himself said as much after being traded to the Giants at the deadline last season.

“I have to be honest. Every now and then, I do things that you don’t see very often.”
Everything from his lumber-chopping practice swings, to his fidgety wiggling in the batter's box, to his crazy eyes and spirit-inspiring speeches; Hunter Pence is one of a kind.

Like Pence, the Giants themselves are one of a kind. Their maddening style of play and uniqueness is a reflection of the city they play in-- a place I'd certainly call maddening and unique in its own right.

Nothing against Houston and Philadelphia, but Hunter Pence belongs here.

He belongs here because of his crazy ways and his crazy eyes. The fact that he rides a go-ped to the ballpark just seals the deal. Oh yeah, and he's a good baseball player.

"He's all out, and he's contagious." as Bruce Bochy put it after Wednesday's walkoff win against Philly in which Pence clubbed his 7th HR.

Last season after being traded, Pence struggled with his stroke a bit, but made up for it in a myriad of ways-- the aforementioned inspirational speeches and timeless weirdness like that triple hit broken bat Texas leaguer against St. Louis.

This year is another story. He's been arguably the team's best hitter this year, if not a close second to the .320 hitting Pablo Sandoval.

There's something very timely about Pence's hitting this year. It's not always situational success or crazy clutch, but if no one else is doing much of
anything, he seems to be the guy to rely on.

Obviously, it's early May, so there's no guarantees, but you have to be thrilled with Pence's 7 HRs and 22 RBIs to go along with an average hovering around .290 and an OPS around .825. Not just that, but he has increased his percentage of line drives by 5%, he's playing a righteous right field and is 5 for 5 in stolen base attempts (which equals his 2012 total).

The man once heckled by a Giants fan as "Bird Legs" as a member of the opposition, Pence's defense has perhaps entertained and impressed me most. As with everything else we see from Pence, his throwing motion is a bizarre, side-winding body heave that people just don't run on. He covers a ton of ground for a guy his size, and has learned to properly play balls off the right field archways and how to safely pursue foul balls near the bullpen mounds.

For you Saberjerks out there that need some sort of bizarre, contrived formula to satisfy your question about Pence's defense other than his 1 error or .988 fielding %, he's got a career high +3.7 UZR going. OKAY? 3.7!

To me, it's safe to give "Ol' Bird Legs" the ultra rare label of Five Tool Player.

Long story short is that Hunter Pence needs to remain a Giant for the foreseeable future. Not just for his personality, well-documented and impressive work ethic, and hot start. It's a significant factor in this situation that he genuinely loves it here. He feels like he can be himself, he loves the fans, and for God's sake, he hits well at AT&T Park. He's hitting a full 60 points higher in San Francisco (.318 vs.258 ) with 4 dongs (vs. 3) in San Francisco this season.

As for money, you have to expect that he's not going to be taking any paycuts-- as he shouldn't. The notion of a "hometown discount" won't exist here, but since the guy wants to stay here and buy some real estate, I don't think an in-season contract extension is out of the question.

It seems to be the new trend that guys don't want to "negotiate in season" to "avoid distraction". That to me is BS, and it's a politically correct excuse to be wined & dined following the year to get the biggest offer from the other 29 teams. That's fine, but for guys like Pence, that's not going to be an issue.

Just so we know where we are with Pence, the talks probably have to start at 4yr/$60MM and could go up a bit from there. If you look at the deal Pagan got (4yr/$40MM), you'd have to say Hunter is worth more than that. Keep in mind as well that he's making $13.8MM this year in the final year of arbitration.

As far as potential OF competition for Pence in free agency next year, the crop is deeper than usual.The likes of Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson, Jason Kubel, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran are all expected to be available. This will likely play in the Giants' favor, and if the conversation begins at that 4yr/$60MM figure, Pence would be remiss if he didn't try to get a deal done.

Let's hope we see UnderPence's googly eyes under that black Giants hat for years to come. Godspeed Sabean.

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