Could the reigning, defending World Series champions be sellers this season?
Ironically, the answer could be answered by one of the team’s key midseason acquisitions … just not in a good way, that’s all. Though the enigmatic (and alien-like) Hunter Pence did not provide the kind of numbers (.671 OPS) that the San Francisco Giants hoped for, there is little doubt that he was one of those additions that meant more than just what he could do at the plate.
The veteran outfielder’s contributions came mostly from the field and in the San Francisco clubhouse, but as great as the intangibles may be, eventually the numbers were going to catch up.
The Giants knew this, of course; and now, not yet one year removed from the team celebrating at the top of the baseball world, they may end up deciding to cut their losses in a season that has seen the team struggle to stay above water in a relatively weak NL West at 45-52, sitting 5.5 games back of the lead and 9.5 games back of a wild card spot heading into play on Monday.
Despite recently taking two of three from the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks, Bruce Bochy and co. are just 5-5 in their last 10 — not quite losing ground, but not quite making it up either.
And as you could probably guess, a major part of the reason why has been the lackluster offense, slumping at 26th place in MLB with 52 runs in July even after the late-June return of Pablo Sandoval to the middle of the order.
Now, it would be unfair to put that all on Pence; but as the team’s no. 5 hitter, it wouldn’t be right to absolve him from all responsibility either.
The fact is that the 30-year-old has not been very effective as a middle-of-the-order bat. Sure, he still brings surprisingly good defense to the defending champs, but that has come with the price of a brutal .156/.194/.266 lineup over 67 PA in July. After starting the month off with a six-game hitless streak, the outfielder may only be recovering recently, putting together a .717 OPS over three games since the break.
Still, even if he is a 2.8 fWAR player with now on pace for another 20/20 season, it’s his -0.1 fWAR, .557 OPS over the last 30 days which suggest that the value he provides overall just isn’t helping the Giants — for all the defense and intangibles, Pence could actually be bad enough at the plate to hurt the team.
That’s not to say that the impending free agent couldn’t provide the spark he did for the Giants in 2012 for another team, though.
Rumors have already suggested that there have been multiple teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates (who have a hole in right) that might be interested in acquiring vet; and the Giants, as much as it might be symbolically throwing in the towel on the season to make such a move, need to consider their chances of actually making it back to the postseason and defending their title.
Right now, those chances aren’t great.
Not that it’s stopped these underdog champs before, but if Pence can’t find a way to be a little more than a clubhouse leader over the next week or so, the Giants won’t need to look too far to see what their decision should be.