After days of rumors and speculation, the Giants have finally acquired outfielder Hunter Pence. Heading to Philadelphia are Nate Schierholtz and a pair of prospects — Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin. Hunter Pence, 29, is under team control through the end of 2013, but is set to make nearly $15M next season.
The Giants certainly improved today, but Pence isn’t some kind of big upgrade. He’s having somewhat of a down season, hitting .271/.336/.447 (111 wRC+), and yet that’s not much worse than what he’s done over his career: .290/.342/.481, 118 wRC+. The safe bet is that he’ll continue to perform as he has so far this season, providing good — not great — production at the plate. And that’s ignoring his defensive skills, which have rapidly faded. All of the defensive metrics (UZR, DRS, FRAA) seem to agree that he’s a mediocre fielder at this point (and with Angel Pagan patrolling center field, that’s cause for concern).
Even in spite of his recent struggles, Gregor Blanco has been average with the bat (101 wRC+) and spectacular with the glove this season. So it’s not as though Pence is filling a major void here. He’s an upgrade — make no mistake — but not a significant one.
Yesterday, I tweeted the following:
Justin Christian batting with two outs in the ninth inning of a tied game is why the Giants could use an outfield acquisition.
— Giants Nirvana (@GiantsNirvana) July 31, 2012
And that’s where the impact of this sort of deal can be felt. The one thing I was hoping the Giants would accomplish in trading for an outfielder: push Justin Christian off the roster. Even if Pence wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over Blanco, the Giants would have a markedly better bench with Blanco taking over Justin Christian’s spot. With Nate Schierholtz gone though, that unfortunately won’t be the case. Nate probably isn’t an everyday caliber player, but he’s a very good fourth outfielder: he’s held his own against righties and lefties throughout his career (94 wRC+ and 95 wRC+, respectively), he can handle right field at AT&T Park like so few others, and he’s a good late-inning pinch running option. So it’s easy to downplay what the Giants gave up in Schierholtz, especially considering that he’s still under team control for another couple years after this.
As for Tommy Joseph, the centerpiece of this trade, I’ve always been relatively low on him as a prospect; one of the main reasons I wasn’t too optimistic about Joseph was his defense, something that is of paramount importance when it comes to catchers. But he’s reportedly shown dramatic improvement in that regard. And, of course, that power-heavy bat is what makes him special: he’s put up league-average numbers in Double-A Richmond as a 21-year-old catcher — quite the promising sign. From the Giants’ standpoint, they can afford to give up catching depth with Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, and Andrew Susac already in the organization, but as an advanced hitter at the most demanding position in baseball, Joseph is a pretty valuable piece. As John Sickels put it: “Joseph isn’t a sure thing by any means and catchers often have unusual development curves, but there aren’t that many potential regular catchers in the minors.”
The final piece headed to Philadelphia, Seth Rosin, could pan out as a solid middle reliever. The 23-year-old pitcher has put up strong peripherals in High-A this season, although he’s a little old for his level.
Ultimately, at the risk of this seeming like a cop-out, I’m neutral on the deal. The Giants acquired an above-average outfielder, and he’s not just a rental. But their starting lineup only got slightly better, and the deal comes at a considerable expense: the three players headed east, as well as the money owed to Pence throughout the next season and a half.
Tonight the Giants finalized a deal to bolster their middle infield, acquiring veteran infielder Marco Scutaro in exchange for Charlie Culberson, first reported by Troy Renck of the Denver Post. Both teams announced the deal on their twitter account.
Scutaro is in the final year of his contract, and has hit .271/.324/.359 with a 27:35 BB:K. For his career he has hit .270/.337/.386 while spending time at 2B, SS, and 3B.
Culberson came into the year ranked as the Giants #11 prospect by Baseball America. He got his first cup of coffee in the majors this year, and went for 3/22. He was initially drafted in 2007, the final year before John Barr took over. He is the third member of that draft class to be traded, as Tim Alderson and Daniel Turpen were traded in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Like Culberson, Alderson was traded for a middle infielder in the final year of his contract (though Freddy Sanchez had a clup option), while Turpen was traded for Ramon Ramirez.
After being drafted, Culberson hit .286/.374/.416 in the AZL. He then spent the next two years in the SAL struggling both offensively and defensively. Then in 2010 as a 21 year old, he broke out in the California League, hitting .290/.340/.457 while settling in at 2B. Last year he moved up to the more difficult offensive environment in Richmond and hit .259/.293/.382. After being added to the 40 man roster this offseason, he has hit .236/.281/.396 this year in Fresno.
All in all this deal helps the Giants who needed help on the infield, while giving up an interesting, but not elite prospect.
Earlier today, the San Francisco Giants placed Hector Sanchez on the 15-day DL with a left knee strain, with Eli Whiteside coming up from Triple-A Fresno to replace him. Sanchez’s injury isn’t supposed to be all that serious — it won’t require surgery, and he should be fine within a week, but according to Baggs, with Sanchez likely out for a week, the Giants felt it made more sense to just DL him and go with Whiteside as the backup for the time being.
Most are likely bemoaning the return of Whiteside, and understandably so. He’s spent the entirety of 2012 in the minors, in a hitter-friendly environment, and all he has is a .292 wOBA to show for it. That said, the dropoff in backup catcher production from Whiteside to Sanchez won’t be all that significant over the course of a couple weeks. And for what it’s worth, Whiteside is easily the more advanced defender — and that difference is perhaps understated. Earlier this year, Max Marchi published an article at Baseball Prospectus quantifying the cumulative effect of catchers’ defensive skills, and he found that Eli Whiteside had saved +35 runs from 2008 to 2011 (5146 PAs) — largely because of his game-calling. By this measure, he’s one of the better defensive catchers in baseball.
Not that any of this really matters — again, the difference between Whiteside and Sanchez over a few games is minimal at best. The bigger implication of this injury is how it affects Brandon Belt. Just yesterday, Bruce Bochy was asked if he believed Sanchez’s bat is preferable to Belt’s. His answer?
“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. Wouldn’t you?”
It’s difficult to infer exactly what Bochy means by that statement, but it is quite telling. Hector has been receiving steady playing time at the expense of Belt, and frankly, at the expense of the team. When Hector catches and Posey plays first, the Giants are worse off both defensively and offensively. Belt (110 wRC+), by all accounts, is a better hitter than Sanchez (78 wRC+). Posey needs his rest obviously, but it’s gotten to the point where Hector is starting nearly as many games as Belt. In July, Hector has started five games; Belt has started six. If it’s merely for the sake of giving Posey rest, why not give him actual rest by letting him sit on the bench? And if it’s not merely that — if it’s to get Sanchez’s bat in the lineup more often — then why?
So the silver lining here is that Hector’s injury opens the door for Belt to get consistent playing time at first base the next couple weeks. He’s been scuffling lately, but this might give him ample opportunity to seize back an everyday role — a role which he really shouldn’t have to fight for. The good news is that there’s just no way Whiteside will get the kind of playing time Hector has been getting. These next couple weeks could prove to be very important, though. There’s already talk of the Giants trading for a first baseman, or Belt himself being traded with the deadline approaching.