Hunter Pence Might Be on the Move
It’s safe to say that the MLB trade deadline this season will be unlike what fans have ever seen before. Whether it will be a flurry of activity or little activity at all, fans will be talking about the trade deadline well after the fact.
With just the singular deadline approaching, teams have even more pressure on them to make the “right moves” which oftentimes can boil down to money. While the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers will more than likely make significant financial splashes, other teams in the hunt for the postseason may be looking for cost-effective options. That’s where players like the resurgent Hunter Pence comes into play.
The journey for Hunter Pence to where he is now has been a little wild. Pence has been an All-Star for at least two different teams and has participated in several World Series. Ever since arriving onto the MLB scene in 2007, Pence has wracked up four All-Star game appearances and has been top 30 or better in the MVP voting three times, not to mention third in rookie of the year voting in his inaugural season. He’s been very durable at times, recording at least seasons where he acquired 400 plate appearances or more.
His peak years could be identified from 2009 to 2014, where he ranked fifth in the majors with 374 RBI. During that same period, Pence ranked 30th or better across all outfielders in batting average (.281), weighted on-base percentage (.349), and all-around WAR (14.7). Pence began his career with Houston and then served a brief stint with Philadelphia across parts of 2011 and 2012. He then moved on to San Francisco for the next five seasons before playing for the Texas Rangers in 2019.
The Value of Hunter Pence
Pence is currently riding out a one-year minor league deal struck with the Rangers at $2 million with $1.25 million in incentives. In a world where player rentals run wild in the hunt for a World Series title, the resurgent Pence fits the bill of what many contending teams are looking for. For years now, contending playoff teams have had one main focus — retrieve star talent in hopes of making the World Series while not having to suffer the burden of a hefty contract the next season.
Pence will be a free agent next season, meaning there is no financial burden or trouble trying to move him. Plus, everyone loves a comeback story. After suffering his worst season in 2018 with career lows in batting average (.226), on-base percentage (.258), and slugging (.332), 2019 has been quite the bounce back. Heading into the All-Star break, Pence posted a slash line of .294/.353/.608 while blasting 15 home runs — his best output in five years.
His play hasn’t been streaky, either. Through 64 games played, the 13-year veteran has a hard contact rate of 43.5 percent, 43rd overall across MLB outfielders according to Fangraphs.com. According to Statcast, Pence has remained relatively steady with his exit velocity, placing him in the 94th percentile. Ultimately, unless Pence suffers a season-ending injury, his value to any contending team will be far more than the weight of his contract.
Possible Trade Destinations
Even with the recent losing skid, the Rangers are still in the hunt for a wild card spot. Even with that said, a possible Pence trade could benefit them either way. Two big needs for the Rangers, according to many sources, are late-inning bullpen help and catching depth.
San Francisco Giants
One big team that comes to mind, ironically, is the resurgent San Francisco Giants. Pence is a fan favorite in the Bay Area and he’d be a perfect chemistry piece. With great connections already established with Pablo Sandoval, Joe Panik, and the recently-deemed mostly untouchable Madison Bumgarner, he fits well within the World Series group of old. Plus, he has been known to be a great reference for younger players which San Francisco is slowly filling up their roster with. Aside from his presence at the plate, Pence would easily make a splash that could propel the Giants into the postseason.
The other aspect of this potential deal is that it serves the purposes of both teams almost perfectly. The Giants are nearly filled to the brim with relief pitching options, making left-hander Williams Jerez a tantalizing piece for Texas. While Pence may not get the return of top-10 or top-20 prospect talent, Jerez has the potential to be a strong bullpen option for the Rangers. The converted outfielder can rest his fastball in the 93-97 mph range consistently.
San Francisco also has an abundance of catching options behind All-Star Buster Posey. With Joey Bart being thought of as the catcher of the future for the Giants, Aramis Garcia is an easily expendable piece for San Francisco that could have a big impact on the MLB level for the Rangers.
Another American League team might be in play as well. Despite the strong offensive numbers, Pence has never really been positive on the defensive end. Throughout his 13 years in the majors, there has been just one season in which the now 36-year-old has earned a positive defensive WAR (dWAR) mark.
Even with the recent production of Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow, the Indians still sit 26th in the major in wRC+. The little experience shared by the Cleveland outfield has put them 24th in MLB in offensive runs above average, giving a solid reason to add Pence.
While Texas might have a hard time getting a Triston McKenzie or a Bo Naylor for Pence, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to get guys like LHP Sam Hentges and possibly catching prospect Eric Haase. Both could be viable options at the major league level in the near future.
A possible reunion to the City of Brotherly Love is also a realistic landing spot for Pence. The Phillies have some prospects to send, and in return, they could get the boost they desperately need. Even though they are 7-3 in their last ten games, it hasn’t been all smiles as of late, with the Phillies boasting a 6-13 record in the month of June.
Their outfield situation hasn’t been stellar as of late primarily due to the absences of Andrew McCutchen with an ACL tear while Odubel Herrera won’t be back after his domestic violence suspension. While the Phillies have been able to shield those two setbacks by calling up Adam Haseley and moving around Scott Kingery, bigger bats such as Pence could at least add to the mix. Pence’s bat could be especially helpful given the fact that the previously mentioned Haseley has been linked with possible trade packages as the Phillies search for more starting pitching.
Rays, A’s, and Cardinals
Of course, there are more than just the three options discussed above. The Tampa Bay Rays have come out and voiced their desire for a productive right-handed bat. While the Rays are 12th in Major League Baseball in BABIP from the right side (.307), it’s the power that hasn’t been where they’ve wanted it to be. The Rays are 26th in slugging from the right side and have 29 home runs from their righties.
The Oakland Athletics haven’t seen the production they’ve wanted out of Stephen Piscotty and Chad Pinder as of late, so they could be in the mix. The St. Louis Cardinals are always a team to look out for especially when it comes to finding a way to get ahead in the NL Central.
Outlook for Hunter Pence
No matter where Pence goes (if he does), he will be a valued and productive member. Teams should be looking at what could be the last great resurgence of Hunter Pence.
Embed from Getty Images