Giants Acquire Hunter Pence

After days of rumors and speculation, the Giants have finally acquired outfielder Hunter Pence. Heading to Philadelphia are Nate Schierholtz and a pair of prospects — Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin. Hunter Pence, 29, is under team control through the end of 2013, but is set to make nearly $15M next season.

The Giants certainly improved today, but Pence isn’t some kind of big upgrade. He’s having somewhat of a down season, hitting .271/.336/.447 (111 wRC+), and yet that’s not much worse than what he’s done over his career: .290/.342/.481, 118 wRC+. The safe bet is that he’ll continue to perform as he has so far this season, providing good — not great — production at the plate. And that’s ignoring his defensive skills, which have rapidly faded. All of the defensive metrics (UZR, DRS, FRAA) seem to agree that he’s a mediocre fielder at this point (and with Angel Pagan patrolling center field, that’s cause for concern).

Even in spite of his recent struggles, Gregor Blanco has been average with the bat (101 wRC+) and spectacular with the glove this season. So it’s not as though Pence is filling a major void here. He’s an upgrade — make no mistake — but not a significant one.

Yesterday, I tweeted the following:

And that’s where the impact of this sort of deal can be felt. The one thing I was hoping the Giants would accomplish in trading for an outfielder: push Justin Christian off the roster. Even if Pence wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over Blanco, the Giants would have a markedly better bench with Blanco taking over Justin Christian’s spot. With Nate Schierholtz gone though, that unfortunately won’t be the case. Nate probably isn’t an everyday caliber player, but he’s a very good fourth outfielder: he’s held his own against righties and lefties throughout his career (94 wRC+ and 95 wRC+, respectively), he can handle right field at AT&T Park like so few others, and he’s a good late-inning pinch running option. So it’s easy to downplay what the Giants gave up in Schierholtz, especially considering that he’s still under team control for another couple years after this.

As for Tommy Joseph, the centerpiece of this trade, I’ve always been relatively low on him as a prospect; one of the main reasons I wasn’t too optimistic about Joseph was his defense, something that is of paramount importance when it comes to catchers. But he’s reportedly shown dramatic improvement in that regard. And, of course, that power-heavy bat is what makes him special: he’s put up league-average numbers in Double-A Richmond as a 21-year-old catcher — quite the promising sign. From the Giants’ standpoint, they can afford to give up catching depth with Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, and Andrew Susac already in the organization, but as an advanced hitter at the most demanding position in baseball, Joseph is a pretty valuable piece. As John Sickels put it: “Joseph isn’t a sure thing by any means and catchers often have unusual development curves, but there aren’t that many potential regular catchers in the minors.”

The final piece headed to Philadelphia, Seth Rosin, could pan out as a solid middle reliever. The 23-year-old pitcher has put up strong peripherals in High-A this season, although he’s a little old for his level.

Ultimately, at the risk of this seeming like a cop-out, I’m neutral on the deal. The Giants acquired an above-average outfielder, and he’s not just a rental. But their starting lineup only got slightly better, and the deal comes at a considerable expense: the three players headed east, as well as the money owed to Pence throughout the next season and a half.

2012 First Half Review: The Position Players

Yesterday, I looked at how the Giants’ rotation fared in the first half. Today, I’ll look at the position players — the offense.

Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera came over in a buy-high sell-low trade of Jonathan Sanchez, and wasn’t expected to repeat his excellent 2011 season — which was far and above what he’d done on the baseball diamond in the years prior to that. Instead, Melky has actually improved upon last year’s performance. He’s currently second in the National League in batting average, sixth in OBP, and top-15 in slugging. The near-.400 batting average on balls in play has a little to do with that, but at this point, I think it’s safe to say 2011 Melky was real. The Giants have had to handle Buster Posey with care, and they lost Pablo Sandoval for a while, but Melky Cabrera has been a constant for the Giants all season long, putting up a .353/.391/.519 while appearing in 83 of the team’s 86 games. The focus now, with Melky’s impending free agency, is signing him to a contract extension. The front office is going to have a tough decision to make…

Angel Pagan

Angel Pagan, the other outfield trade acquisition, has also proven a solid addition thus far. He got off to an unbelievably rough start, but managed to rebound quite well. Unfortunately, he failed to finish the first half strong, carrying a .488 OPS over his final 94 plate appearances before the all-star break. He’s ultimately been slightly above average with the bat, and he’s also been a pretty efficient basestealer (15 SB, 2 CS). His defense, on the other hand, has been a series of misadventures; but in all fairness to Pagan, Andres Torres isn’t exactly an easy act to follow.

Buster Posey

After the Scott Cousins collision last season, Buster Posey was a major concern (at least for me) going into the season. How would he hold up behind the wear and tear of catching on a regular basis? Would he be as productive as before? Fortunately, Posey essentially picked up right where he left off. He’s as productive as he was last year prior to the injury, except he’s hitting with significantly more power. Plus, he’s continued to provide steady glovework behind the plate. As the season continues and the Giants head toward the stretch run, they would probably be wise to give Posey some more rest in lieu of some of these first base starts.

Gregor Blanco

Along with the two aforementioned outfielders, Gregor Blanco has given the Giants one of the more productive outfields in the majors. Another brilliant minor-league pick-up, Blanco has added considerable value in the field, at the plate, and on the basepaths. Like Pagan, his production tailed off a little as the all-star break approached, but as with Pagan, it’s too early to hit the panic button. On another note, Blanco’s range in right field has been particularly convenient given Pagan’s defensive struggles.

Brandon Crawford

Crawford has been a polarizing figure of sorts since the season began. The Giants committed to him as their starting shortstop for one reason — his defense; and Crawford’s defense has been anything but perfect (through 77 games, he’s committed 12 errors). But he’s also made some great picks at short, and in spite of the occasional bobbles and miscues, he’s been above average in that facet. His bat, expectedly, has left a lot to be desired. But the .268 wOBA is oddly tolerable from a plus defensive shortstop. Fangraphs has him at 0.8 WAR through 274 plate appearances, which is a hair below average production. Perhaps it’s a generous valuation, but overall, Crawford has certainly been okay.

Ryan Theriot

Ryan Theriot has been Ryan Theriot.

 Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt’s season can arbitrarily be divided into three segments:

  • April 6 to June 10: .224/.340/.328, 141 PA
  • June 12 to June 23: .441/.568/.882, 44 PA
  • June 24 to July 8: .179/.195/.282, 41 PA

Belt was so blistering hot over that 11-game span in mid-June that he completely destroyed any doubts I may have had about him — at least for the time being. Overall, he’s had a solid season — and hopefully, given consistent playing time in the second half, he can start to produce consistently.

Pablo Sandoval

Pablo Sandoval picked up where he left off in 2011 — that is, until he broke his other hamate bone in early May. Upon his return, Sandoval’s power numbers took somewhat of a hit, and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues. In any event, while healthy, he’s inarguably hit very well (133 wRC+). The real disappointment — if any — has been Sandoval’s defense. Last season, he had a pretty strong Gold Glove case; this season, he’s been mediocre at best.

Joaquin Arias

Joaquin Arias had a 51 wRC+ in Triple-A last season. But thanks to the Giants’ miserable middle-infield situation and the hamate injury that kept Pablo Sandoval out for several weeks, Arias has seen a lot of playing time — 54 games in total. Arias is the proverbial replacement level player, and he’s performed like it.

Nate Schierholtz

With the emergence of Gregor Blanco, Schierholtz has seen his playing time dwindle — and it’s probably for the better. He’s more or less been the same Schierholtz of 2009/2010 — a useful but dispensable fourth outfielder.

Emmanuel Burriss

I don’t know what’s sadder — the fact that Emmanuel Burriss has an ISO of .008 or the fact that it’s actually an improvement over last year.

Hector Sanchez

It’s easy be tough on Hector Sanchez, who’s drawn all of two walks this season. But it’s important to remember that he’s a) a backup catcher, and b) 22 years old. In light of that, his performance has been perfectly back-up catcher-y.