Thoughts on the Giants’ Deadline Moves
Initially, I was pretty ambivalent about the Hunter Pence trade. In getting Pence, we outsourced BA #2 prospect Tommy Joseph, a discontent Nate Schierholtz, and Class A pitcher Seth Rosin to the Phillies — all players with upside who have the chance to find some sort of success outside the Giants organization.
I felt, and still do feel, that Joseph will develop into an above-average catcher; he managed to hold his own in AA Richmond (.260/.313/.391, 8 HR; 90 wRC+) a notorious pitcher’s haven, which is a solid feat for a guy who just turned 21. He was drafted in the 2nd round in 2009 as a raw player in all aspects, but his “light-tower” power turned on scouts and he whetted their appetites further mashing 22 bombs in A+ San Jose last season. The question has always been his hit tool, but his .260 average and 7.5 BB% have been respectable in a high-level pitcher’s league. His defense has even markedly improved, and he looked solid at the All-Star Futures game, gunning down a runner and smacking a run-scoring double.
Unfortunately, the problem with having such a fine, young catching prospect in a farm system skinnier than Dee Gordon is painfully simple — Buster Posey ain’t going anywhere. Joseph’s power potential makes him a candidate for first-base, but Brandon Belt’s got dibs at first, not to mention Joseph’s value holds as a catcher. It made sense then to milk Joseph’s value as a trade chip, especially with the catching depth in the system; the Reds similarly shipped Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal in favor of incumbents Votto and Mesoraco. However, I’m wary of overcompensating from a saturated position — good, valuable hitting chips haven’t come along too often in this organization, and liberally siphoning talent from a position of strength can bite us, as we’re seeing from the Wheeler for Beltran deal.
Even so, I’m fairly satisfied about how this deal turned out. On the surface, we acquired a power-hitting, two-time All Star to address the recent vortex of suck known as the Giants offense. The Giants had the league’s worst offense last week after Sandoval hit the DL (59 wRC+), and adding Pence was a gracious move to curb any further embarrassment. All histrionics aside, I think this was a very forward-thinking move by Sabean. Pence hasn’t exactly lit the world ablaze since joining the team — he’s 4 for 30 after last night, but he was the big acquisition we needed Sabean to make at the right time.
Unlike with Beltran, attaining Pence truly puts the offense over the top. Beltran realistically could have never replaced Posey and carried the 2011 junk squad like he was brought in for; that’s a task for Barry Bonds.
However, Pence doesn’t have to do that. Instead, he plays Jeff Kent to Cabrera, Posey, and Sandoval. He’s the insurance, power bat we need to bring balance to a lineup bereft of pop. I won’t overstate his offensive potential — excluding last season, he’s been slightly above-average historically — but his career .190 ISO and 3.5-4 WAR production should provide a boost of marginal utility for a middle-of-the-pack offense hitting for the 2nd least power in the NL. For those skeptical about Pence’s HR numbers in San Francisco, courtesy of ESPN HR Tracker is a chart of Pence’s long-ball distribution with the overlay of AT&T Park:
The plot shows Pence to be somewhat of a pull hitter, though essentially every ball hit cleared the park, give or take 2 or 3. The distribution of balls toward the short bleachers in left is encouraging, though it’s also good to see that he can drive balls over the right-field wall. Still, it’s reasonable to expect Pence’s HR pace to suffer some from the shift from a RHB neutral ballpark in Citizen Banks (park factor of 100) to a slightly suppressing one in AT&T (park factor of 87). A higher park score indicates conditions that are more favorable for hitting home runs, while a lower park score indicates it’s tougher for batters to hit balls out. Park factors are calculated around a neutral score of 100.
The real kicker however, is this: Pence is cost-controlled through 2013. He’ll be getting a raise from his $10.4M salary, but that should do little to derail any plans to extend Melky with Huff, Rowand, Affeldt, Pagan, Mota and Freddy Sanchez accounting for nearly $38M in freed salaries this offseason. With Zito’s albatross of a contract presumably expiring after 2013, Pence could even be the subject of an extension down the road.
In respect to the trade, we gave up another very good prospect for a talented bat, but we didn’t mortgage the future this time around. We took a low risk, moderately-high potential flier on a player who addresses our need for power, and while we gave up a good chip, I think this will be remembered as a pivotal Sabean move a few years from now.
I was a bit more reserved when it came to acquiring Scutaro, but so far he’s dispelled any doubts about procuring yet another veteran middle infielder. Prior to today he’s had a .326/.375/.395; 106 wRC+ line since coming over, which will undoubtedly look better after tonight’s 3 for 6, 7 RBI performance that included a grand slam.
I was originally concerned with his 40 wRC+ production away from Coors Field to an extent, but Scutaro is just so much better than Manny Burriss it’s hard for me to not like this acquisition even with my conservative stance on prospects. For Scutaro, we shipped Charlie Culberson, a 2007 sandwich-round 2B who was rated a top-10 Giants prospect as recently as 2011. Culberson made his big-league debut back in May, but since then he’s been nondescript with a .236/.283/.396 line in 91 AAA Fresno games. In spite of his struggles, I’m still of the opinion that Culberson can be a potential major league regular at second base, which isn’t a position we’ve had much stability at over the years.
Nonetheless, acquiring Scutaro was absolutely necessary as he brings much needed bench depth to the Giants roster. He’s been serviceable so far, which is more than we could have asked from Burriss. If he can continue to bring consistent production, this trade will be another notch in Sabean’s favor. I haven’t done this often, but I’ll give Sabean some deserved props for his handling of the trade deadline.