Now that he’s out from under the Barry Zito (seven years, $126 million) and Aaron Rowand (five years, $60 million) contracts, Giants GM Brian Sabean has the financial muscle to swing for the fences again. And the result: a five-year, $90 million contract for Hunter Pence.
For Pence, is a windfall that certainly exceeds any expectations he could have had coming into his final season before free agency. Fortunately, he’s turned in his best year at age 30, hitting .282/.339/.481 with 26 homers and 94 RBI. Always durable, he’s started every game for the Giants this season, and he’s played a fine right field and even stolen a career-high 22 bases to go along with his fine offensive numbers.
But this is probably the high point for Pence, and he’s still a borderline All-Star. Pence has never finished in the top 10 of his league in on-base percentage, slugging or OPS. His only top 10 in average came in 2011. His 26 homers this year are a career high. He’s reached 100 RBI once, accomplishing that last year. He’s never scored 100 runs.
Among active outfielders with 1,000 career plate appearances, Pence ranks 28th with an .814 OPS. Fellow free agents-to-be Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz and Corey Hart all have higher marks.
On the plus side, Pence certainly doesn’t figure to turn into a liability as a regular anytime soon. Durability is an underrated factor in evaluating ballplayers, and Pence has played in 154 games in six straight seasons. His only DL stint as a major leaguer came in his rookie season in 2007. The contract covers through age 35, and while I’m skeptical that Pence will be an above average regular in 2018, he’s unlikely to turn into another Rowand.
But, that said, I wouldn’t be particularly excited about paying Pence $18 million in 2014, much less 2018. If he’s your third or fourth best hitter, you probably have something. If you’re counting on him for more than that, then you’re in trouble, much like the Giants were this season.