GM: Giants must improve, even if that means moving Hunter Pence to part-time role

ByJerry Crasnick ESPN logo
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. -- As the San Francisco Giants contemplate additions to their outfield this offseason, some old faces might have to get used to new roles in 2018.

The Giants have already laid the groundwork to shift Denard Span from center field to left field next season. Depending on the team's other moves, right fielder Hunter Pence could be in for a more limited role, general manager Bobby Evans said Tuesday.

"Our focus is center field, and we've got to do everything we can to upgrade the defense," Evans said from the MLB general managers meetings in Orlando. "If that moves Pence into more of a part-time role, we have to be prepared for that.

"Hunter's not a part-time kind of guy, but we have to do everything we can to be better out there -- and be open-minded."

The Giants' outfield was substandard on both sides of the ball this season and played a significant role in San Francisco's drop-off from wild-card team to a 64-98 record and last place in the National League West.

Offensively, San Francisco's left fielders ranked 28th, the center fielders were 23rd and the right fielders 30th in the majors in OPS. According to Baseball Info Solutions, San Francisco's outfielders were last in MLB with a cumulative minus-45 defensive runs saved.

Pence has been a middle-of-the-order fixture since coming to San Francisco from the Philadelphia Phillies in a July 2012 trade for Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin and Nate Schierholtz. He made the All-Star team and finished 11th in NL MVP voting in 2014, when the Giants won their third championship in a five-year-span.

But Pence's offensive contributions slipped markedly in 2017. He hit only 13 homers in 493 at-bats and logged a career worst .260/.315/.385 slash line.

The Giants owe Pence a guaranteed $18.5 million in 2018, as he enters the final season of a five-year, $90 million deal that includes a full no-trade clause.

San Francisco's plans for Pence could hinge in part on what happens over the coming weeks on the hot stove market. The Giants are exploring all avenues in their attempts to upgrade their outfield, and Evans said it's possible they'll add both an impact bat and a center fielder.

The Giants have been mentioned as a potential landing spot for free agents J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain, and they're one of many teams with an interest in acquiring Miami Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton. They've also been linked with Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton, Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr., Atlanta's Ender Inciarte and the Cubs' Jason Heyward in trade speculation.

"I was talking to a national writer today and he said, 'You should do an interview and talk about the fact that you're interested in all of the outfielders so there's not a new one every day,'" Evans said. "It's kind of like, 'If we can't think of anything to write, let's think of a new outfielder who hasn't been attached to the Giants yet.'"

Evans said manager Bruce Bochy has yet to talk extensively with Pence about possible courses of action if the Giants follow through on their plan to add two outfielders to the mix this offseason. How would they navigate potential playing time issues with Pence?

"It's hard to answer that hypothetically," Evans said. "I don't think [Hunter] and Boch have talked about it much. That would end up being a discussion that's more after-the-fact."

Rick Thurman, Pence's agent with the Beverly Hills Sports Council, wasn't immediately available for comment Tuesday.