Why Giants GM Brian Sabean Should Target Houston's Hunter Pence

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IMay 27, 2009

HOUSTON - JUNE 13:  Hunter Pence #9 of the Houston Astros during Interleague MLB action against the New York Yankees on June 13, 2008 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

After playing sound baseball in a stretch during mid-May that put San Francisco up four games over .500 and three back of the Dodgers, the Giants have since lost nine of their last 14 games.

Due to their continued offensive struggles over that span, which saw the G-Men score just five runs over a four game stretch, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean has decided to intensify his search for a new bat in the lineup.

The goal for the Giants going into the season was to play solid ball during the first half of the season and be within striking distance of first place come the July trade deadline.

However, the need for a bat isn't solely based on the Giants poor offensive numbers. Added to the mix is that the division leading Dodgers are actually performing to the point where they now hold the best record in baseball.

With these two factors combining to put San Francisco nine games back and sitting in third place, the Giants organization has made the point to speed up their time table in acquiring a hitter.

Over the last few days there had been rumors that the Giants were willing to part ways with their 24-year-old ace Matt Cain. But even though nothing can be ruled out entirely, the likelihood that a team offers the Giants an absolute stud bat in return is very low. Therefore Giants fans can relax and take comfort knowing that the front-office will not trade their young horse unless the deal is overwhelmingly in the Giants favor.

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That being said, the scenario that is most likely to occur is that of a trade involving Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez.

Although Sanchez is currently 2-4 with a 4.60 era, the 26-year-old lefty is coming off two solid starts and when in command of the strikezone, he is as unhittable as any pitcher in the league.

Most reports have the Giants rumored to be interested in a trade that would swap Sanchez and maybe another Giants player for either Dan Uggla of the Florida Marlins, Nick Johnson of the Washington Nationals, or the Cleveland Indians' Mark Derosa.

Uggla, the second baseman for the Marlins, is a two-time all-star but is hitting just .203, with eight home runs and 30 RBI's, the same power numbers as Bengie Molina. While still somewhat young at age, 29, Uggla is a career .257 hitter and despite his ability to hit 30 homers in a season, he is not the offensive threat the Giants need.

Not only does Uggla not hit for average, but he plays primarily second base, a position right now manned by Emmanuel Burriss. Despite hitting just .258 this season, Burriss is third in the national league with 11 stolen bases and in only 391 career at-bats has hit .274.

The speed factor combined with a solid average, Burriss' upside is tremendous. Add to the fact that his defense at second base or shortstop is absolutely superb, the Giants need Burriss playing everyday.

Nick Johnson of the Nationals is hitting an astounding .329, but has hit just four home runs on the season while he is career is a .273 hitter. The first baseman has hit over 20 home runs just once in his eight seasons at the big league level. Johnson also missed all of 2007 with a broken leg and played in just 38 games last season upon his return.

Mark DeRosa has been a solid bat for the Indians this year, hitting eight home runs and cashing in 32 RBI so far this season. However, DeRosa is hitting for an extremely average .267 and despite having the ability to play multiple positions, he is no better of a hitter than the Giants' Aaron Rowand. Therefore adding DeRosa to the mix isn't going to change the fortunes of the Giants offense.

However, even though the hitters that the Giants have been linked to have their flaws, there is one player that San Francisco ought to target. That would be no other than Houston Astros' Hunter Pence.

The Houston outfielder hasn't hit for much pop on the season, just five home runs and 19 RBI, but the 26-year-old outfielder is hitting a blistering .352. Not only does he hit for average, but for not being the prototypical base stealer, he has still picked up five stolen bases on the season.

Not only does Pence run the bases well but his .991 fielding percentage is much better than that of current Giants outfielder Fred Lewis who comes in at .972. That may not seem like too much of a gap but outfielders can often go a full season with committing only one error, so the good defensive outfielders are often up in the .99 realm.

But back to Pence's ability at the plate. The Astros' young-stud hit 25 homers and drove in 83 runs last season and in his rookie year of 2007 hit 17 homers, with 69 RBI in just 108 games. With these numbers, Pence has proven over a full season that he can hit anywhere from 20-30 home runs and drive in 80+ runs.

With this being just his second full season, many Giants fans may wonder whether or not the league's pitchers have fully figured out how to effectively pitch against him. However, after hitting .322 in his rookie year, Pence's average dropped to .269 in 2008. Obviously, pitchers did figure out the flaws in Pence's swing, as they made adjustments to get him out. But, to Pence's credit, he has adjusted to the pitchers. As mentioned previously, Pence is hitting a red-hot .352 and we are almost in June.

Pence has already had his sophmore slump with average and right now is currently having a power slump. However, power slumps are not always uncommon with young players, so those numbers shouldn't concern Sabean or the Giants faithful.

Clearly Pence is a commodity that many teams would want, and in theory the Astros should not be looking to trade him, but right now Houston sits in dead last in the national league central.

Despite having players such as Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt, the 'Stros are just 18-26, eight games below .500.

Now, how can the Giants go about trading for Pence? Well, including Jonathan Sanchez as the main part of the deal, and adding the appropriate prospects and or current position players (Fred Lewis) or relievers (Brandon Medders, Sergio Romo) should be enough to spark some interest on Houston's side of things.

For the exception of Wandy Rodriguez who has accumulated a 1.71 era in 63 innings pitched, Houston's starting pitching has struggled.

Three time all-star and staff ace Roy Oswalt is just 1-2 with a 4.62 era in 62 1/3 innings pitched, which aren't terrible numbers but definitely not nearly the numbers that Oswalt is capable of.

However, this is where Houston's rotation really falls off. After Rodriguez and Oswalt, who have each thrown a solid amount of innings, the next best total of innings pitched is 48 by Mike Hampton, which is a significant drop off. 

In those 48 innings, Hampton is 2-4 with a 5.63 era and 21 walks. Not exactly the numbers you hope for from a No. 3 starter.

But it gets worse, the Astros' number four starter is former Giant Russ Ortiz. So far Ortiz has managed to eat up just 31 1/3 innings, with an era of 4.88 and more walks than strikeouts. Ortiz has walked 25 and struck out just 23 so far on the season.

And last but not least, Houston's fifth starter (fifth in total innings pitched) Felipe Paulino has gone 1-3 with a 6.90 era and given up 43 hits and 16 walks in just 30 innings. That equates to 59 base runners in 30 innings, and that's not even counting the runners hit by pitches or those from any other of the seven ways that players can reach base.

Let's face it, Houston's pitching problems are gigantic but they have quality hitters. San Francisco on the other hand has gigantic hitting problems but they have quality pitchers.

It's time for these two franchises to play "Let's Make a Deal".

The San Francisco Giants need Hunter Pence, the Houston Astros need Jonathan Sanchez.

Giants General Manager Brian Sabean needs to make it happen.