San Francisco Giants Acquisition of Hunter Pence May Not Be Enough to Win West
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As Dennis O'Donnell of KPIX-TV first reported on Sunday night, and multiple sources reported this morning, the San Francisco Giants will acquire Philadelphia Phillies' right fielder Hunter Pence for top prospect Tommy Joseph, minor league pitcher Seth Rosin and Nate Schierholtz (h/t to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area).
Pence, 29, is hitting .271/.336/.447 with 17 home runs so far this season. Those numbers are down from a career year last season in which he put up a .314/.370/.502 batting line that was fueled by a career-high .361 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP).
This season Pence is hitting for a bit less power, with the main culprit being a sizeable jump in his ground ball rate and a slight uptick in strikeouts. His BABIP is down to .305 this year—well off his pace from last season, and below his career BABIP of .325.
Unlike the Carlos Beltran acquisition last season, Pence will not be just a two-month rental. Pence is making $10.4 million this season, and he will likely make around $14 million next season in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
Having Pence under contract next year likely won't prevent a contract extension for Melky Cabrera. With Aaron Rowand, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Jeremy Affeldt, Angel Pagan and potentially Brian Wilson coming off the books, there should be enough money in the budget for both, even if payroll remains flat next season. Pence is a nice insurance policy in case another team decides to massively overpay for Cabrera over the winter.
The main piece going back to Philadelphia is catching prospect Tommy Joseph, a former second round pick by the Giants in 2009. While Joseph's .260/.313/.391 batting line at Double-A Richmond doesn't look impressive on first glance, the fact that he's doing that at the young age of 20 in a league that is notoriously tough on offense makes it much more noteworthy.
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At an age where most of his peers were college freshmen last season, Joseph hit an impressive .270/.317/.471 with 22 home runs at High-A San Jose. Baseball America ranked Joseph as the Giants second best prospect entering this season.
While Joseph doesn't have the same prospect pedigree as Zack Wheeler, the potential ace the Giants gave up for Beltran, he is a legitimate prospect. However, the Giants are dealing from a position of strength with Buster Posey and Hector Sanchez blocking Joseph's path to the big leagues.
Unfortunately for the Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers also acquired a Phillies outfielder having a bit of a down year this morning in Shane Victorino. Even worse, with Victorino approaching free agency after this season, the cost for the Dodgers was minimal in comparison to the cost to acquire Pence.
Pence is not a star, but he is an upgrade over Schierholtz (.257/.327/.429) and Blanco (.245/.337/.362), especially if he reverts back to his 2011 form.
However, with the Dodgers acquiring Victorino, Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League and possibly additional pieces today, the acquisition of Pence will not be enough on its own. The Giants still need to add some late-inning relief help to bolster the bullpen.
More importantly, the Giants need more production out of the guys already in the locker room. They need Tim Lincecum to pitch more like an ace than a fifth starter, Brandon Belt to hit better than .240, Angel Pagan to snap out of his two-month long slump and Pablo Sandoval to get healthy and fit in order to produce like he did at the beginning of this season.
Had the Giants just stretched their budget this offseason to make a more legitimate run at Carlos Beltran, there would be no need for Pence, and the Giants would likely have a much larger lead on the Dodgers right now.
Alas, Beltran is a Cardinal, the Giants are in a dead heat with the Dodgers, and acquiring Pence will help them attempt to bridge the gap. Pence will certainly help, but I am skeptical that this deal alone is enough to put the Giants over the top in the NL West.
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