Two More Years for Timmy

Tim Lincecum won’t be wearing a different uniform for the next two years. I’m sure you’re already aware of the 2-year, $35 million contract Lincecum signed with the Giants yesterday. There are numerous reactions and perspectives to Timmy’s new deal that you can find all over the internet, and I’m sure most are more insightful than mine. But this wouldn’t be a San Francisco Giants blog if we didn’t discuss a new contract of one of the most influential players in franchise history. So, here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

I found out about the Lincecum deal by way of Twitter yesterday afternoon, and I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t catch me completely off guard. For the second time in a week, reports on CSN Bay Area had us believing one thing, while in reality something entirely different was going on behind the scenes. I love the coverage their website provides (I don’t get the local CSNBA channel anymore, so I’m strictly an online follower), but between the misleading reports about the Jose Abreu sweepstakes, the Lincecum contract talks, and all of the recent posts tied to the Dodgers, they’re beginning to lose a little respect in my eyes. Baggs and the crew over there need to take a breather and let things play out a bit before they start making conclusions. Lately, I feel like I get a more realistic outlook on the Giants in the blog scene than I do with Comcast.

Let’s not get off track here. The point is, as of a couple days ago, the CSN report had me believing that Lincecum’s days in orange and black were all but done. Supposedly, he’d rejected their two year offer and wanted to see what he could get on the open market (most likely from Seattle). That, however, is quite the opposite from what Bobby Evans explained on KNBR yesterday. What I took from Evans was the Giants and Timmy had a tentative deal in place for a while, but were finalizing the numbers for a while. Either way, the reports of Timmy spitting on the Giants offer and heading for greener pastures don’t seem to have much backing now.

Along with being surprised that Lincecum had re-signed with the Giants before hitting the market, one of my first reactions to the terms of the deal was that it was a significant win for Lincecum and a drastic overpay by the organization. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to react that way, but I sure was blasted by a few people on Twitter for making my feelings known. After two very un-Timmy-like seasons, he’s essentially taking a measly $2.5 million pay cut to stay with the team. For a guy with diminishing velocity and plenty of hiccups throughout his last two-year contract, that’s highway robbery in my book…

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My initial reaction to the Lincecum deal was very negative, as is often the case for me. But over the years, I have learned to step back and try to look at the bigger picture, instead of griping about money that isn’t even mine. Instead of running to the blog and criticizing the Giants for something I clearly hadn’t allowed myself ample time to process, I decided to read as much about the topic as I could. And I read a lot, including Shankbone’s take at “You Gotta Like These Kids”, DrB’s at “When the Giants Come to Town”, and OGC’s at “Obsessive Giants Compulsive.” Those blogs are run by some of the most dedicated and intelligent fans in Giants Nation, and I admire them highly. I also read the beat writers’ takes, from Baggs to Pavlovic to Kawakami and even Ratto, that eternal pessimist… and all had their own unique take on the Freak’s new contract. And I’ll tell you what, they sure helped me put things into perspective.

Here’s what I know about the Giants and the way they do business in the modern era: They are a players-first organization. If a player comes in (via the farm system, free agency or trade) and has success, generally Larry Baer, Brian Sabean and company reward that player for his contributions with a nice, shiny contract. This is especially true for the guys who gain admiration from the fan base – the Cain’s, the Posey’s, the Romo’s, etc. The Giants value players who buy into the team mentality, and they have a squad full of those type of players right now. Think about it: it’s pretty hard to have a beef with anyone on the team… maybe Pablo for his lack of conditioning, but even he’s an upbeat person who contributes to the clubhouse camaraderie.

In my opinion, the biggest reason the Giants didn’t offer Carlos Beltran a contract in 2011 was the way the fans perceived him. Beltran had pretty good numbers in his short time with the club, but the fans didn’t think of him as a team player. It turned out the Giants might have been able to bring him back at a reasonable cost, but they sent him packing anyway. In the end, he didn’t fit the “Giants way.” Really, about the only recent case I can think of where a fan favorite type of player wasn’t offered a contract was Cody Ross. Even Ross was a little different to me, though, in that he wasn’t ever really seen as a full-time player. He didn’t even take over an everyday position in 2010 until the playoffs started, and platooned for the most part in 2011. Still, it was a little surprising when the Giants let him walk after the 2011 season, after the adoration he’d earned in those 2010 playoffs.

My point here is this: Nobody embodies the modern day San Francisco Giants as much as Tim Lincecum. They call him the Franchise for a reason, and his emergence as a young ace was the catalyst in changing the course of history for the organization. And he’s still a fan favorite, six years later. As his fastball velocity and strikeout rates have diminished, his leadership and maturity have grown substantially. The general word around the organization is that Timmy is a very hard-working player, and one who is well respected by his teammates. All of those things have made him a very valuable commodity to the Giants, even if his in-game performance isn’t what it was three years ago (and probably never will be).

I want to be clear about something: I don’t think a player with Lincecum’s numbers over the past two seasons deserves to be paid anything close to $17.5 million. So, in that regard, I do feel the Giants are overpaying for his services. But baseball is a very wealthy sport, and that’s how business is done in this era. Really, that’s a completely different issue, and one which I’m not prepared to tackle at the moment. In regards to the Giants and Lincecum, I can now clearly understand (after my initial frustration) why the Giants made the offer they did, even if Timmy’s performance last year doesn’t reflect the offer.

Lincecum wanted a short-term contract. He always has, and in this case the shorter deal benefits the Giants. Their crop of talented arms in the minors should be near MLB-ready in 2016, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get when #55 takes the hill anymore. You always hope for good Timmy, but it’s been bad Timmy showing quite often recently. Just look at his two starts which separated the first and second half of the season. Final start of the first half, he puts on one of the most dominant performances in Giants’ history (and one nobody was expecting) by no-hitting the Padres,  striking out 13 and throwing 148 pitches in the process. His first start of the second half? How about 8 ER and 3 HR allowed in 3.2 IP against Cincinnati. The same guy who used to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game now has the ability to get absolutely obliterated when his stuff isn’t on.

Back to my point about the contract offer. The Giants had already made it clear that they were going to give Lincecum the qualifying offer, which would have been a one-year, $14 million contract, which he would have reportedly declined. So, with that in mind, Sabean really had no leverage in offering his former ace anything lower than $14 million per year. With Timmy’s previous contract earning him $40.5 million over two seasons, it seems pretty clear now that the two sides had to meet in the middle to get a deal done. $17M for next season, $18M in 2015. Full no-trade clause. The Freak may be a northwest kid, but he likes playing in San Francisco (and why not, for that kind of money?).

Sabean said re-signing Lincecum was one of his offseason priorities. He wasn’t lying. Like the Pence deal, he got Timmy locked up rather quickly. Now it’s on to Javier Lopez, who should be getting a two-year offer this week, I’d expect. The Giants like their guys – they’re a players-first franchise, like I said. But here’s the biggest question I have in regards to the Sabean offseason plan? Are the Giants going to be a better team when they step on the field next spring, as a result of these moves? With Pence, I’d say that’s a resounding yes. But what about Lincecum? Does an inconsistent mid-rotation starter who’s still figuring out how to make it as a finesse guy really make you that much stronger? If this were 2015 and Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar or any combination of the Giants’ top young arms were ready to step into the rotation, I would say the team could afford to let Lincecum go. But with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots guaranteed heading into the winter, the Giants needed another sure bet in the rotation. And make no mistake, Timmy is as much of a sure bet to take the ball every 5 days as anyone in baseball. In his 6 full seasons in the bigs, he’s made at least 32 starts every year. That’s consistency, and it’s something the Giants need… even if he can’t give you top of the line production anymore. So, at this point, after some serious consideration, I will say that bringing Lincecum back does make the Giants a stronger team – or at least more stable.

So, Timmy’s coming back to the Giants for a couple more years, for a bit more money than some of us would like. Can he improve? Of course he can. Will we see him as the leader of the staff again? I think that’s unlikely, but I guess you never can be sure. He’s only 29, so he could potentially still have some quite a few seasons left in him. He’s a former Cy Young, and a fan favorite. For the sake of putting butts in the seats, Sabean had to make this deal. For the sake of being a competitive ball club, I hope Sabean continues to shop for starting pitchers. He has said that is a priority area for the team, and they simply have too many holes right now to stand pat. But for now, I’d say it’s been a pretty productive postseason for the organization. Hopefully they’re doing a little less negotiating and a lot more competing by this time next year, though.

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Giants 2014: Center FIeld

This is post #2 in a series looking at the state of the Giants going forward, one position at a time. We started with right field and Mr. Pence, the $90 million man. Now we’re on to the ever valuable center field. Much like right field, the center field spot for the Giants is one with little debate these days, as Angel Pagan is heading into year 2 of 4 in a $45 million contract. Pagan is one of the most valuable players on the team, and like Pence, he plays the game all-out, all the time.

May 25th, he crushes one into triple’s alley in the 10th inning of a tie game against Colorado, proceeds to bust it around 3rd, and keeps-on-a-goin’. He slides in safe for the winning run, a walk-off inside the park homer. Hands down, that’s the sweetest play of the year. Dust flying, Pagan’s helmet down over his face, Flannery running around high-fiving like a lunatic… utter chaos, and one of the most amazing AT&T Park scenes I’ve ever seen that didn’t involve the postseason or a Bonds home run.

That play was the essence of Pagan. It was the last time he’d take the field until August 30th. That walk-off made the Giants 27-22. When he came back, they’d been out of contention for two months. There were so many things that went wrong this year, but you could make a pretty strong argument that Pagan’s absence was the one that sunk the ship. Sure, Torres and Blanco held their own as the CF/leadoff hitter for a little while after Pagan went down. They were exposed eventually, though. Especially Torres… he fell apart, both at the plate and in the field. It’s pretty simple: when Pagan plays, the Giants are a much better team.

So Pagan is the undoubted center fielder and leadoff hitter going forward, as long as he can stay healthy. There’s no doubt about that, as he is being paid handsomely to be that guy. Pagan is an asset on this team, a player who kind of drives the bus in a sense. But, the center field position hasn’t always been a known commodity or strength for the Giants. Like right field, center had been pretty unstable before Pagan entered the picture.

Where it’s been: Remember Aaron Rowand? If there’s any question about Brian Sabean’s preference to lock up players who’ve already contributed at AT&T Park (especially hitters), you can look no further than the Rowand contract to find answers. One year after the Zito deal, Rowand got 5 years and $60 million… I don’t have to remind you that he didn’t make it through 4 full seasons as a Giant. But Rowand was the primary CF for a few years until Andres Torres came out of nowhere in 2010. 2011 was a mix and match farewell tour for Rowand (cut in September), Torres (traded) and Cody Ross (left for free agency). That’s a four-year overview of center field before the Giants acquired Pagan for Torres prior to 2012. Nothing special. But there were trophies and rings earned during that period… just goes to show what can happen when a team gets hot.

Where it’s headed: Pagan is signed through 2016, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be the everyday center fielder for the length of his contract. He’s 32, heading into his 9th year in the bigs, and has only played 150+ games in a season twice in his career. He’s also not the greatest defensive center fielder in the world, and many think he’ll eventually be pushed to left. When he’s healthy, he’s a .280 hitter with extra base power and some serious speed. Health is the big wildcard… he’s starting to seem like one of those guys that can’t avoid a trip to the DL every year. You just hope you don’t end up getting into a Freddy Sanchez situation with Pagan, because he’s owed a lot of money. Next season will go a long way in telling how much value the Giants will get out of the deal.

The Giants will likely fill in behind Pagan with Blanco or Juan Perez next year. In reality, both are stronger defenders than Pagan, but neither have his impact bat. Neither will spend much time in center next year, either. Pagan was given big money to be the center fielder, and you can bet that’s where he’ll be when he’s on the field. Whoever gets the 4th OF job will probably spend most of their time as a late inning replacement in left, as there won’t be many innings to go around in right field either… Mr. Pence has those taken care of.

I’m not sure if the Giants will go with two outfielders on the bench next year. Blanco and Perez are both above average defenders, but I don’t think you need both of them on the 25-man unless there’s an injury. Perez has an elite arm, but Blanco has the better bat. I think Blanco’s bat will win out and Perez will start the year in Fresno. If he can develop a little plate discipline, I can definitely see Perez getting himself some more playing time in the future. He’s just too good of an athlete.

Where does Gary Brown fit into all of this? As recently as a year ago, Brown was the top prospect in the organization and the CF/leadoff hitter of the future. Now that future’s in big trouble. The 2010 1st round pick has seen his average drop from .336 in San Jose, to .279 in Richmond, to .231 this year in Fresno. His stolen bases have also dropped each year, from 53 to 33 to 17. Brown is a tremendous athlete in center with one of the best outfield arms in the organization. The Giants definitely have some superb defensive CF’s in their system, but Brown, like so many others, is seeing his bat fall off as he advances through the minors. Coming in, his contact and speed tools were supposed to be elite to go along with the advanced defense. So how does he strikeout 135 times in Fresno after striking out only 164 times combined over the two previous seasons? What the hell’s going on with him these days?

One thing is for certain with Brown. Whether he can rebound to his future MLB-regular status or not, he’s going to get his opportunities. You don’t give up on top prospects, and while many in the national media will write him off after this year, he still has every chance to get the bat going and move Pagan to left field by 2015. Brown’s a stubborn kid with a great story. I think he’s got a ton of untapped potential left, the coaching staff just needs to help him find it… and he needs to be willing to make changes.

The only other real CF prospects of note in the system are Gustavo Cabrera, Jesus Galindo, and Joneshwy Fargas, all of whom are at least a few years off (if they ever make it). Galindo has plus speed and was a Future’s Game participant this year. Don’t know if he’ll ever hit enough. Fargas is a recent draft pick from Puerto Rico with some athleticism and speed tools. He had a nice summer with the bat in the AZL, and will be a sleeper guy to keep an eye on. Very young. Cabrera is the big ticket, the million-dollar baby, the potential 5-tool stud. But he’s yet to play a professional game in America. He’s a top-10 prospect in the system to me, but no way is he even sniffing San Francisco for another 4 or more years.

I think that’s a pretty fair look at CF in the organization. If I’m missing something, please feel free to let me know. The first two installments of this series were pretty easy, but we’ll get into some of Brian Sabean’s heavy lifting with the next one when we tackle left field. As we all know, the position could go one of about a thousand ways this offseason, and I don’t have any better of a clue than anyone else out there not working within the organization. But I’ll sure take my best stab at it! 

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Giants 2014: Right Field

We’ll kick the “state of the franchise” series off with the most secure position in the Giants organization right now: right field. You may know this area as the Pence Territory, and for good reason, as it’s hard to see anyone unseating Hunter as the everyday RF at AT&T Park for the foreseeable future. Pence is the most recent Giant to earn a major contract, as he was locked up last week for $90 million over the next 5 years. Odds are, he’ll spend most if not all of those 5 years as the Giants’ everyday right fielder.

I call right field the most secure position in the organization for a few reasons, and we’ll address some of them in future posts. But I think the biggest proof I have is the fact that Pence started EVERY game this year. All 162, good times or bad. I think he played all but something like 16 innings this season. In this generation, that kind of durability is incredible. It’s also invaluable. There are certainly a few positions on this team that are unsettled going into the offseason (more than you’d think, actually), but right field is not one of them. Barring an unforeseen injury, you can pencil Pence’s name in the middle of the lineup card and the #9 on the scoresheet for the long haul.

There’s really no debate here, and that is a very good thing for an organization facing a difficult offseason. Pence was priority #1, and the Giants locked him up before he could test the waters of free agency. A little rich, maybe, but it’s a deal the Giants had to get done. You can’t go into the offseason with holes at both corners of your outfield… you just can’t. Pence banked on his torrid September, and he really had all the leverage in negotiations. He would have gotten his money somewhere, and it’s a good thing he got it in-house.

The Pence deal gives the Giants another centerpiece to build around, but right field hasn’t always been a strength for this team. In fact, it had been quite a carousel prior to Pence arriving last summer. AT&T Park is a difficult right field to play; it’s one that definitely takes some getting used to. But other than Nate the Great, the Giants really haven’t had much consistency in front of the Levi’s Splash Landing wall (or whoever the hell sponsors it now) in recent years.

Where it’s been: We’ll start in 2009, the beginning of the 4-year stretch of winning seasons. That was Randy Winn’s last year… seems like yesterday, right? Winn wasn’t cutting it, so the Giants gave their homegrown kid Schierholtz a shot. That was Nate’s first significant playing time, and really the job was his to lose for the better part of 3 years. Unfortunately for him, he managed to lose it just about every year! But Nate played RF in San Francisco like nobody else, with a cannon for an arm. He just couldn’t ever get the bat to play on an everyday basis, and in 2010 we saw guys like Bowker, Huff, Cody Ross and the memorable brief stint from Jose Guillen. Of course, we all know how that season ended. History, folks.

In the first title defense year, RF was Nate’s job again, with Ross platooning from time to time. Then came the Posey injury, and eventually the move that thousands still cannot get over to this day: Wheeler for Beltran. The Giants were one of the top teams in the NL at that point, even without Posey. Lights out pitching from some guy named Vogelsong, but a miserable offense. They had to do something, so they gave Nate’s job to Beltran. I thought it was a solid move at the time. If I remember correctly, Wheeler wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire at that point. Injuries, wildness, inconsistency… but yes, the upside was there. We all knew it, the Giants knew it. The Mets knew it too. In my book, if you can use a minor league talent to acquire a perennial all-star in a contending season, you do it. Every time. Of course, you’d like to re-sign that player in the offseason in a perfect world. Alas, it didn’t work out, Beltran got hurt, took some heat and signed with St. Louis on a bargain of a deal in the offseason, where he’s got one ring and is working on another. He looks good in red, while Wheeler looks good in blue. That’s the one people will never let Sabean live down, but it’s water under the bridge to me. Sorry if that offends you.

Sabean spent that offseason making his outfield over. Savvy trades, new faces in center and left. Nate the Great patrolling right again, and showing spurts. New guy Gregor Blanco got a little time out there too. Nate wasn’t too happy with his role, and this time he didn’t just lose his job at the deadline; he lost his uniform as well. For the second year in a row, the Giants used July 31 to upgrade in right field. This time, they got a player who fans could rally around, a guy who would be a clubhouse leader. I don’t think season-saving motivational speeches were written into Pence’s contract. Even though he wasn’t sporting the .285 lifetime average he’d brought to the Bay Area, he always seemed to be in the middle of the big moments.

The Giants wanted Pence back for title defense, part II, but they weren’t willing to lock him up long term. Nobody had been willing during his consistent, productive career. He took the qualifying offer and returned for another year to the city that embraced him. It certainly wasn’t a guarantee that he’d get another new deal with the Giants this year, however. Remember the trade deadline? There were many teams knocking on the door, but the Giants didn’t budge. Personally, I think they wanted him back all along. If there were doubters out there, he put them to bed with a September for the ages. In 99 AB, he went .293 with 11 HR and 32 RBI… and it earned him $90 million and a permanent place to call home for the first time in his career.

Where it’s going: There are people who certainly will look at Pence’s contract and scoff. Yes, when the team was scuffling in July, he was a .242 hitter with only 1 HR. But he always finds a way to get his production in. Is he incredibly streaky? Yes. Is he the greatest defender? No. Does he lose his plate discipline entirely at times? Yup. But Pence is the type of player whose game can’t be summed up by one statistic. He does a little bit of everything. He hits for average, he owns some of the most raw power in all of baseball, he makes athletic plays in the outfield, and he steals bases at a very high percentage. For the first time in his career, he’s a 20-20 player. He hit .293 with runners in scoring position this year. He hit .309 against lefties. He hit 18 of his 27 HR versus divisional opponents. At 30 years old, his line of .283/.339/.822 is nearly identical to his career mark. Consistency is so important in baseball. Yes, he has his flaws. He’s not an elite hitter, and never will be. But he is a 5-tool player, and I’ll take the upside any day. You know what you’re going to get when you put him on the field… hard work 24/7.

So, Pence is a Giant until he’s 35, with a full no-trade clause. In a different time, maybe his talents are worth $40 million instead of 90. But that’s not how baseball operates anymore. The Giants needed Pence. Had he left, I just don’t see a realistic way where they could have made up for his production. We’ll talk more about some of the outfield options on the market this year when we get to LF in the series. Having Pence locked up now also means one less position the Giants need to plan for in the immediate future. Big Mac Williamson is the top corner outfielder in the system, and could be in the bigs by 2015 if he can pass the big Eastern League test next year. If he does, he’ll almost definitely be in left field, with the other OF spots locked up. That bodes well for the Giants.

So, the Giants enter 2014 and beyond with an every day RF, and it’s likely that you will see him out there every single day. You can also likely pencil him in for 20 HR and 80-90 RBI while you’re at it. Five more years of Hunter Pence, and finally some stability in right for the Giants. It’s about time.

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13 in the Books

Quite a lack of posts on my part lately, and I apologize for the slow period. Work travel season has arrived, which means much time spent bouncing around airports, hotels and time zones. Wasn’t really able to catch a lot of baseball down the stretch, which was a bummer, but getting mathematically eliminated early in September didn’t leave a lot to be desired for the Giants over the final couple weeks of the season. I was, however, able to catch the final orange and black at-bat of the year, getting off the plane just in time to see the Bay Area’s newest $90-million man take a shoulder-high fastball from Huston Street to deep center. Typical Pence!

So it was Walkoff City, Giants variety on the final day of the regular season, followed by on-field speeches of gratitude from Bochy, Posey and Zito. I don’t know many teams who have the kind of relationship the Giants do with their fanbase. Pretty special stuff, even in a season of epic failure. Zito got one of the biggest ovations I’ve ever heard, which had to feel good for him. I always think it’s funny when players go from whipping boy to hero in the fans’ eyes, and that’s certainly the case with Zito. I guarantee you the majority of those people were ready to wash their hands of him many times over the past 7 years (if they were even Giants fans in 2007), and now he’s an icon.

To be clear, I have no beef with Zito. The Giants spent the money, and they didn’t get the individual production they paid for. They did, however, bring home two titles, and Zito was a part of that. So… yes, I’ll forever remember his Game 5 start in St. Louis, and his Game 1 performance against Verlander in the World Series. Gutsy. But I’ll also not deny that I would have had supported the Giants cutting ties with him on multiple occasions during his tenure in SF… I guess it’s a damn good thing they didn’t, huh?

Back to the story at hand. As October rolls in, the Giants will be watching from home, and hopefully resting and preparing for a redemption campaign next year. I love playoff baseball, but it will be a little bittersweet this year. Who’s our favorite team this postseason? Anyone playing the Dodgers…

As for the Giants, they combined a 43-51 first half with a 33-35 second half, bad enough for a 76-86 finish. They tied for third place in the NL West, and will have the 14th pick in next year’s draft. A 16-11 final month of the season was all that kept them from a top-10 pick, but I do think they regained a bit of that lost morale, which may be just as important to their chances next year.

There were so many things that factored into this season’s collapse; injuries, pitching, hitting, fielding… what am I missing? Personally, I don’t feel like digging into the negatives anymore. I’d rather look to the future, as there are certainly some changes necessary to get this team ready for contention again… which we, the fans will expect of them next year. Two rings in three years sets the bar pretty high, but that’s the way it should be.

Sometime in the very near future, I’ll try to dive head-on into the offseason. I’ve got big plans for my first winter in the blog universe, including a look at the stability of this team going forward, position-by-position. There are many minor league topics to keep in mind as well, and I’ve already started working on a major offseason prospects list. Of course, the Arizona Fall League is coming up as well, and we’ll keep tabs on Crick, Mejia, Susac, etc. Should be pretty fun stuff. If only there were 36 hours in a day!

As always, thanks for reading. Not the best first season to begin a blog, I know. But nobody said it was going to be roses every season, right?

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Pence Cashes In

If I’ve learned anything from Brian Sabean over the years, it’s that when he puts something at the top of his priority list, he usually gets it done. And he has a definite preference for guys that have already proven themselves in a Giants uniform. Both of those things were the case for Hunter Pence, whose re-signing Sabean called the number one priority for the organization this offseason. Well, they didn’t wait for the offseason to get a new deal put together, and it looks like Pence could spend the rest of his career in San Francisco.

Good for him.

Five years, $90 million for the eccentric, gangly right fielder who does and says all the right things, and never takes a day off. As of this afternoon, he’s also got 27 HR, a career best. He’s also sporting a .282 average for the year, which is back around his career mark. That return in average was very important, as he was only a .219 hitter in 59 games with the Giants after the trade deadline last year (regular season). It’s pretty much a given that he’s going to hit a good amount of home runs; the dude has some of the most power in the game. But he’s much more valuable when he’s hitting for average as well.

Whether you think 5 years is too long or $90 million is too pricey for a streaky 5-6 hitter like Pence, this was a deal the Giants had to make. They needed a corner outfielder (or two), they love Pence, Pence loves San Francisco. It all worked out. With so much media speculation and rumors these days, it’s pretty refreshing to see a team and player follow through on their sentiments.

With the Pence deal, Sabean now has his CF and RF locked up for a combined $135 million over 9 years, although Angel Pagan now has 3 years left on his contract. Don’t forget Buster Posey’s blockbuster either. For a team that’s prided itself on pitching for the past few years, there’s certainly a lot of cash behind that lineup.

The Giants got their “heavy lifting” done with the signing of Pence, in the words of Sabean. They’ve still got plenty of work to do once the offseason does begin, but this is definitely a nice start.

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Giant Pride

Even in last place, a win against the Dodgers feels good. Friday night, Madison Bumgarner topped Clayton Kershaw. The Giants never beat Kershaw. Last night, the Giants obliterated Ricky Nolasco. The Giants never beat Nolasco. 19 runs on 22 hits from a last-place team, on the road against its first-place archrivals? We’ll take that any day.

I’m not writing this to try and stir anything up with the Dodgers. The records are what they are, and LA will be the ones playing in October this year. The Giants are simply trying to move out of the cellar in the season’s final weeks. But I’ll tell you this: when your last-place rival comes into your house, prevents you from clinching the division, and sets a stadium-record for runs scored while beating you up and down the diamond, it can’t feel good. And for a season like the one the Giants are having, you take small victories where you can find them.

The Giants were awful in the month of June, and it ruined their season. Most of us know that. But it was their play in July and August that frustrated me even more. After falling out of contention mid-season, there was no way they could’ve played any worse. But in all honesty, they didn’t play a whole lot better either. Think about it; when is the last time the Giants went on a nice winning streak this season? Frankly, they soured me with their lifeless play in July and August more than they did with their terrible defense and pitching in June.

I point all of this out not to frustrate anyone, but to make a point that the Giants are finally playing better baseball in the month of September. Not amazing baseball, but better. They’ve won 5 of their last 7, and they’ve been very competitive in Los Angeles this weekend. Everything came together last night for a Giants’ offense that has been looking better of late as well.

Giants 19, Dodgers 3. The most runs by one team (including the Dodgers) in Dodger Stadium history. A grand slam and career high 7 RBI for Hunter Pence, who should have been locked up in August, and will now likely cost the Giants at least $80 million over 5 years. That’s a lot of money. Pence in the month of September? 54 AB, .407, 7 HR, 22 RBI. He’s a streaky son of a gun, but he can play, and the Giants would be fools to let him enter free agency without signing a deal. Sounds like they’ve begun talks, and Hunter has all the leverage in this one.

Brandon Belt came to the party last night too. 5 hits, a home run, and 6 RBI in a SUPPORTING act from Belt, who’s a .289 hitter with 16 HR for the season. I was frustrated with Belt for quite a while, and I’ll admit I feel very foolish about it now. When a guy hits .352 with 23 HR in his first minor league season, you start envisioning big things. I think big things are coming for Belt, it just took him a little longer to get going than the impatient fans (myself included) expected. With an offseason to rest and a fresh slate heading into 2014, a 1-5 lineup of Pagan, Scutaro, Belt, Posey, and Pence could do some real damage. If Pablo can put together a healthy season and Brian Sabean can find a regular to man LF, that could be a dangerous lineup. But Belt is my 3-hitter going forward, and he’s become a different hitter in the second half. Good for him.

The highlight of the night for me was the late innings, when the Giants’ backups continued to tack on runs. 7 of them in the last 3 frames, to be exact. Ehire Adrianza had his first hit as a big leaguer, as did Johnny Monell. Great to see from a couple of guys who rode the bus for a long time down in the minors. Adrianza looks like he can handle the bat a bit, and we all know he’s got the glove-work. I think Monell’s bat can play a bit too, and he didn’t look awful behind the dish to me, as his scouting reports would lead one to believe.

Heath Hembree continues to look good on the mound in his debut action. Hasn’t given up a run yet, although the plus velocity hasn’t been there yet. Maybe he works 93-94 now? But I was hoping to see some 97’s as well.

Overall, this was a night to feel proud if you’re a Giants fan, and we haven’t had many of those this season. If they can win today and take 3 of 4 from the Dodgers in LA, it’ll feel very, very good.

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Elimination

The Giants managed to avoid being mathematically eliminated from contention with a pair of walk-off wins on Sunday and Monday. They couldn’t avoid it last night, however, blowing a 6-0 lead over the Rockies. Trailing 8-6 in the 8th, Hunter Pence tied the game with a 2-run single, but Sergio Romo gave up a go-ahead home run to Michael Cuddyer in the 9th, and the Giants were cooked. To lose like that at home is both heartbreaking and embarrassing, regardless of the standings. So, the team that made it look easy down the stretch last season is now officially eliminated, with 3 weeks still to play… although realistically they were eliminated two months ago.

A tough night, in an even tougher season. But last night really highlighted a lot of the difficult decisions the Giants’ will be faced with in the offseason. Let’s look at a couple of them.

At the top of the list, Pence stayed red-hot with 4 hits and 6 RBI. That’s right, the Rev knocked in each of the Giants’ 6 runs last night. He did it with a 3-run HR, an RBI double, and the 2-run single in the 8th. The homer was his 20th of the year, and he’s the first 20-20 Giant (20 HR, 20 SB) since Barry Bonds 15 years ago, and only the 7th San Francisco Giant to accomplish the feat. That’s impressive stuff. That’s impact player stuff, and you can be darn sure the rest of the league is watching. The Giants want the guy back (as they should). Pence wants to be in San Francisco. He’s prime real estate in a thin outfield market, and someone is going to give him the big bucks. If the Giants don’t make a deal before he hits the open water this offseason, you can kiss his hustling behind goodbye. That’s the way I see it, at least.

So, how important is it to bring Pence back? Well, let’s take a look at the picture without him. If Pence leaves, what you’re left with is oft-injured Angel Pagan and a slew of guys who probably aren’t MLB starting material – Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Francisco Peguero. That absolutely will not cut it. Maybe they (the front office) makes a push for Jacoby Ellsbury or Chin-Soo Choo, the other top outfield names on the market. But if they aren’t willing to pay for Pence, why would they be willing to throw down big dollars for another fragile player in Ellsbury or a guy about the same age as Pence (Choo)? All three of these players are going to get big bucks, and the Giants have not been big into the bidding war for free agents lately. Ideally, I’d like to see them lock up Pence AND go after Choo as well. Will they? I’m really not sure.

Pence is 30 years-old, and he’s a career .286/.339/.475 hitter. After his down year in 2012, he’s back to .289/.340/.474 in 2013 – literally right on par with his career line. He’s also swiped 20 bases this season for the first time. He’s one of the best athletes in baseball, and one of the only guys who you can pencil in every single night. Put it this way; if the Giants give Pence 5 years, I’d be willing to bet he makes good on those 5 years, even playing into his mid-30’s. You just can’t say that about a lot of players these days. The dude wants a long term home. Lock him up, Sabean!

The next order of business is Ryan Vogelsong. Vogey pitched last night, and had a 5-0 lead going into the 5th inning. Then, it all fell apart, as it has in so many of his starts this year. He finished the 5th, but not before allowing 5 ER. He also didn’t record a single strikeout last night. A few weeks ago, it seemed pretty likely that the Giants would pick up Vogelsong’s option for next season (which I believe is in the neighborhood of $6-7 million), but now I’m not so sure. The Giants need starting pitching, it’s true. But are they really willing to spend that money on a 35 year-old journeyman with a 5.82 ERA? Don’t get me wrong, Vogey has been a huge part of this team for the past couple years, and he’s as competitive as they come. But right now, Yusmeiro Petit looks like a better option than he does.

Lots more decisions to be made for the eliminated Gigantes, and we’ll get to them in due time. But for now, I say give the Rev a home, and let Vogey walk if he can’t pick up the pieces in his final couple starts. If he wants to come back on a cheap, minor league deal, great. If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.