Posted on February 7, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
The San Francisco Giants are bringing back a familiar face for the 2020 season. On Friday, the club agreed to terms with outfielder Hunter Pence, who will return to his former team one year after leaving San Francisco. It’s a one-year deal worth $3 million, but Pence can make an extra $2.25 million in incentives. Pence reportedly picked the Giants after also receiving interest from both the Padres and Astros, another one of his former teams.
Simply getting a guaranteed major league contract is a step up for what Pence got last year. His career looked dead in the water after a disappointing 2018 campaign with the Giants in which he hit .226 with an OPS of .590. His stock had fallen so far that he signed a minor league deal with the Rangers with an invitation to spring training exactly one year ago today.
Of course, the 36-year-old Pence made the most of his chance with Texas. He made the opening day roster and ended up having a bounce-back season despite multiple stints on the IL. In 286 at-bats, Pence hit .297 with an OPS of .910. He contributed 18 home runs, his highest total since the 2014 season. While Pence performed well against right-handed pitching last year, he was especially lethal when facing lefties, hitting .327 with an OPS of 1.010 against southpaws. That production against left-handed pitching made a reunion with Pence an attractive option for San Francisco.
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With the Giants, Pence is likely to be used in some kind of platoon. San Francisco’s projected starting outfielders are all left-handed hitters. Center fielder Mike Yastrzemski was actually better against lefties than righties last year. However, corner outfielders Steven Duggar and Alex Dickerson produced little against southpaws in 2019. The Giants have a right-handed option in Austin Slater, but having a second right-hand hitting option in the outfield can’t hurt if both Dickerson and Duggar struggle to left-handed pitching. He’ll also be an option to pinch-hit late in games.
It’s worth noting that Pence was only sparingly used in the outfield last season. He ended up getting most of his at-bats as a DH, which won’t be an option with the Giants. However, Pence has always been a capable defensive outfielder. He should have little problem readjusting to playing the field regularly, especially in a part-time role.
In addition to his ability to mash against lefties, Pence will provide some additional veteran leadership for the Giants. He’s often been regarded as one of the hardest-working players in the majors, showcasing maximum effort on a daily basis. With young players like Yastrzemski and Duggar around, it won’t hurt to have a player like that around. Pence’s energy and leadership could certainly pay off with the Giants introducing a new manager in Gabe Kapler and facing long odds with regard to competing for a playoff spot.
On top of that, Pence has long been a fan favorite in San Francisco. He joined the Giants in the middle of the 2012 season via a trade with the Phillies. Pence became instrumental in the Giants winning the World Series in both 2012 and 2014, as well as a good solider when the team struggled in 2017 and 2018.
In fairness, adding Pence isn’t likely to have a huge impact on San Francisco’s season. But for a team that’s trying to make an honest effort at being competitive without spending a lot this offseason, it’s a nice pickup. Adding Pence, as well as the recent addition of Wilmer Flores, give the Giants a pair of right-handed bats with some pop to help offset a lineup with several left-handed hitters who struggle to hit southpaws. In that sense, a reunion with Pence is a clear step in the right direction for the Giants.