COMMENTARY | Hunter Pence picked a pretty good time to become the best hitter on the planet.
The San Francisco Giants' right fielder has been on fire this month, posting a .421/.493/.965 batting line with 9 HRs and 25 RBIs. He homered five times in the Giants' four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend, helping the Giants win three.
This comes on the heels of a month of August that saw Pence put up a .306/.364/.441 line. He's already matched his career high in home runs with 25, should easily surpass 100 RBIs for the second straight year, and has stolen 21 bases on top of everything else. Statistically, he's having the best season of his career. And he's about to become very, very rich because of it.
Pence is a free agent at season's end and has gone on record saying he'd like to stay with the Giants; in fact, he'd be open to re-signing with the team before he hits the open market. The Giants have expressed interest in getting a deal done with Pence and have reportedly opened negotiations with his representatives. With both sides so agreeable to working something out, what kind of deal might we expect to see Pence strike with the Giants?
Obviously, Pence will seek a salary bump from his current figure of $13.8 million. It's not unreasonable to think he might seek anywhere from $16 million to $19 million annually, considering the year he's having and the lack of corner outfield bats on the market this winter. If the Giants aren't willing to give him that kind of money, it's a good bet that another team will.
Pence may well use Andre Ethier's 5-year, $85 million extension with the Dodgers he signed before the '12 season as a starting point in negotiations. Pence and Ethier have similar career numbers, though Pence has hit for more power and has shown more speed on the bases. Pence's career average against left-handed pitching is nearly 60 points higher than Ethier's, too. It's arguable that Pence is the better of the two players, and, if Ethier is making $17 million per season, Pence has every reason to at least match that salary, if not surpass it.
The Giants are in a tough spot: While they may not want to overpay for Pence, they cannot afford to lose any productive hitters over the winter. Their offense has been somewhere between awful and unwatchable for most of 2013. They've said that adding impact bats will be a priority this offseason, which would seem to indicate they won't let their most productive hitter walk in free agency. And while massive contracts to outfielders haven't exactly worked in the Giants' favor recently (see: Rowand, Aaron), they should feel a little better about handing that kind of contract to Pence. He keeps himself in tremendous shape, has been a positive influence in the clubhouse, and has produced when the Giants needed him to produce. He's proven himself worthy of a healthy investment.
Before the season started, I wrote that the Giants needed more than just inspirational speeches from Hunter Pence. Though he was an inspirational figure last year, Pence's performance at the plate was terrible and the Giants decided to wait and see if he was worthy of a multi-year contract. He's given the Giants much more than speeches this season and has been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing year. He's given the Giants every reason to think his 2012 slump was an aberration and the player they're seeing now is the real Pence.
Here's guessing Hunter Pence will be in the middle of the Giants' lineup in 2014. He'll be a much richer ma and if he keeps hitting the way he's been hitting, the Giants will happily sign his checks.
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer who's work on the Giants has appeared on sites such as Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Sports' Big League Stew. Follow him on Twitter @gggiants.
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