As the San Francisco Giants start to pick through the multi-vehicle car wreck that was their 2013 Major League season, questions start to pop up.
A lot of questions.
Like, what exactly is the Giants front office's plan going forward? (Quickly followed by crossed fingers and toes that the team's brain trust is actually developing a plan.) Other questions abound: which players will stay put and which players will be thanked and then tossed out the back door?
If things are done correctly, that back door should see a lot of business.
Take the Hunter Pence situation. Apparently the Giants are preparing to offer the soon-to-be free agent right fielder a contract extension. Pence made $13.8 million this season and looks to get a bump to the $17m range in a multi-year deal which should be in the four year range for a total of about $68 million.
All of which reminds me of another quirky free agent outfielder by the name of Aaron Rowand.
In 2008 at the age of 30, free agent Rowand signed a $60 million five year deal with the San Francisco Giants. He quickly underproduced and became the poster boy for bad baseball contracts. During the Giants' 2010 post season Rowand had a total of 11 at bats– Buster Posey, on the other hand, had 59 ABs.
After the 2011 season San Francisco simply released Rowand and ate the final year of his contract, a nasty-tasting $11.52 million.
Hunter Pence is looking to cash in on his season and a third performance with the Giants, including playing right field in the 2012 World Series. At age 30, a comparison of Pence and Rowand shows striking similarities and some big differences.
Rowand had 1,001 games under his belt by the age of 30, coming up through the Chicago White Sox organization followed by a two year stint in Philadelphia. Pence will have about 1,060 games in the big leagues by the end of this season. He came up with the Houston Astros and also spent part of two seasons with the Phillies just before joining the Giants.
At age 30, Rowand's career OPS was .789; Pence will have a career OPS of about .814 when this season ends. On the field both players are from the run-hard-and-hit-the-wall-school of outfielding.
The big difference is at age 30 Hunter Pence will have 164 home runs to Rowand's 106, and Pence will have almost 200 more career RBI's than Rowand– a projected 610 to 417. So maybe the biggest difference between the two players is power. But one similarity may be more important than anything else: age.
While thirty isn't over the hill for a talented run-producing hitter like Hunter Pence, the far side of a three or four year deal certainly is. The question comes down to this: how soon will his playing skills start to diminish? And at 32, 33, and 34 years old can he make the needed adjustments at the plate? Some do, and some do not.
In terms of replacing Pence, forget about descriptions of the 2013 free agent market as "limited". I haven't seen a year yet where that market was described as "rich with many talented baseball players who can pitch the ball and hit the ball." That simply doesn't happen.
So, sign Pence or don't sign him? Hunter Pence is ultimately a dead end– part Aubrey Huff, part Aaron Rowand and on the wrong side of 30 for a multi-year contract. Forward looking teams like the Atlanta Braves, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Oakland A's, and the St. Louis Cardinals don't sign aging players with mid-range skills like Hunter Pence. Neither should the Giants.
And all of that may be academic. Unless the Giants are prepared pay the projected market price for Pence, I can't believe he won't opt to hit free agency. I also think the same of Tim Lincecum– why would either of these players not test the free agent pool?
Here's an intriguing side note on several other available players.
Atlanta catcher Brian McCann will likely enter free agency and that could provide an interesting option for a team that, say, has an established young catcher they want to move to another position.
McCann is one of the few catchers in the game that regularly delivers power at the plate: in eight consecutive years, 2006-13, McCann hit 20 or more home runs as a member of the Atlanta Braves. McCann is 29 years old and his career OPS is .823. He is known as a smart defensive catcher and a team leader.
MLBTradeRumors.com put McCann's projected contract at $16-17 million a year for maybe four or five years– within easy reach of the Giants.
But back to reality. There's little doubt in my mind that Buster Posey will be the starting catcher for the Giants the next five+ years. But what if… ?
What if Posey moved to third base, and Pablo Sandoval was either traded or moved to first base with Brandon Belt going to left field? With the Giants scheduled to play twenty inter-league games in 2014, McCann would have ample opportunity to DH. And with the new and improved Hector Sanchez to back him up behind the dish McCann becomes a viable alternative for change.
Two final notes on available players.
No doubt the San Francisco front office will find it irresistable to invoke the team's $6.5 million option on Ryan Vogelsong. Simply because that's a cheap price to pay for maybe catching some lightning in a bottle (dammit!). I would much rather see that six mil go towards the power hitters and reliable starting pitchers the San Francisco Giants will certainly need next season.
Let's understand something really important about 2014.
The Giants will not just be competing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West next year. The Arizona Diamondbacks are competitive right now. The D-Backs will finish in 2nd place in the NL West this season, some five games ahead of the Giants. Right now, Arizona's run differential is -5. San Francisco's run differential is -61.
This isn't about the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is about rebuilding a winning team to take the National League West in 2014.