Brian Sabean could be the busiest man in baseball this winter. He needs to solve the great Timmy mystery, make contract decisions with 60 percent of his starting rotation and also find a way to get some pop in his bats.
With so many holes to plug this offseason, he should think twice about making a deal to ship away Hunter Pence at the trade deadline on Wednesday.
On the surface, Pence looks expendable. His numbers are respectable (.277 average, 14 home runs, 51 RBIs, .778 OPS), but he lacks the power and athleticism that you need in a No. 5 hitter. If he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he would be No. 5 among the outfielders on the depth chart.
At this point, Tim Lincecum is Sabean’s most valuable trade asset, but cutting strings with “the Freak” could upset an already-fidgety fan base. Trading Pence is a much safer option.
He’s only played with the team for a year and while his speech in Cincinnati during the 2012 National League Division Series will forever be etched in Giants lore, tears won’t be flooding the Bay if Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs turns out to be his last at AT&T Park.
But here’s the problem with trading Pence: the Giants already need help in the outfield. Why open another hole?
Prior to Opening Day, Pence made it clear that he wants to re-sign with the team. It sounds like he’s willing to give the club a hometown discount and, honestly, having a career .285 hitter, who averages 22 home runs and 81 RBIs in right field isn’t something to complain about when your ace Matt Cain’s ERA is 4.79, you are paying $20 million for a pitcher who can’t win on the road in Barry Zito and your All-Star third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, is breaking the scale.
The problem isn’t Pence, it’s the lineup around him. The top of the order isn’t producing without Angel Pagan, Sandoval is inconsistent and the team is still waiting for Brandon Belt to break through. If everyone around Pence was executing and the Giants added an outfield bat, his season statistics would look really nice in the No. 6 or No. 7 spot in the lineup.
Of course, if the Giants can get good value for Pence — maybe the Texas Rangers are panicking — they should go ahead and swing a deal. But are you really expecting the Giants to snag a minor-leaguer who is on the verge of becoming an everyday starter in the bigs? They gave up Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin for Pence last year — why would they get any more in return?
If the Giants don’t re-sign Pence, they could be shopping for three starting pitchers and two corner outfielders this offseason, which means that Gary Brown or Roger Kieschnick would probably be an everyday player for the Giants, a step backward with all the talent in the clubhouse right now.
With so many moving parts, Sabean’s going to be putting in Jon Gruden-like hours this offseason to try to make this team a contender in 2014. But he can cross an item off his to-do list this week by holding on to the one guy who is sure he wants to play here next year.