Hunter Pence

Giants overcommit to Hunter Pence

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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.

It’s spring training for groundskeepers too

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Or, I should say, it’s spring training for whatever automated timer thingie turns the sprinklers on and off.

This was the scene at Goodyear on Saturday as the Indians and Reds played in the bottom of the eighth in their spring training opener. Reds manager Bryan Price says that this was probably the second or third time this has happened in the middle of a game there.

Maybe investigate manually operating that bad boy? Just a suggestion!

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.