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September 30, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Present and Future Pence

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Fired Larry Beinfest; promoted Dan Jennings to general manager. [9/27]

Re-signed PH-L Gregg Dobbs to a one-year deal worth $1.7 million. [9/26]

Next season will be the first since 2001 in which Beinfest is not part of the Marlins' front office. The change comes weeks after speculation began, though it appears the final day was the longest; the Dobbs extension, announced some 24 hours beforehand, went down unbeknownst to Beinfest, according to Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel.

The hush-hush nature of Miami's front office means no outsider knows how much input Beinfest—or owner Jeffrey Loria—had in other personnel decisions. For those reasons, it's tough to estimate how stacked the deck is against Jennings. One thing is for certain: Jennings is overqualified for a figurehead position. He's well respected throughout the league, having earned the Future GM label years ago; in fact, were it not for his Miami contract, he would be running the show elsewhere right now. Jennings has put in the hours with various teams over the years, be it scouting with the Reds and Mariners, or calling the draft shots with the Devil Rays. He knows how to evaluate talent, and he should know the politics in Miami—after all, he's been with the organization since 2002, same as Beinfest.

None of those attributes mean Jennings will succeed in Miami, in part because success in Miami is tough to define. Is it reaching the postseason and threatening for a World Series, or is it avoiding a top-five pick despite minimal resources? Under Beinfest and Mike Hill (who has since been reassigned), the Marlins were able to avoid the gutter most years despite otherwise arctic conditions. Jennings might have similar goals, though the chance for more rests on the club's appreciable young talent. Should all go well, the Marlins' window will open in 2015. From there success—as normal teams define it—will rest on how Jennings massages a tight budget with escalating salaries.

But none of the above matters if Loria continues to override his baseball people, as he did when he re-signed Dobbs to a new deal. Dobbs is the rare multi-contract veteran on the Marlins roster, having spent the past three seasons in town. His first year on South Beach, back in 2011, saw Edwin Rodriguez and Jack McKeon manage the club. Feels like forever ago, right? Now go back three more years, to 2008: that's the most recent time Dobbs was an above-average hitter.

In fairness to Dobbs and Loria, this signing isn't about on-the-field production. (Besides, Dobbs sees a lot of action as a pinch-hitter, which deflates his numbers anyway.) This is about what Dobbs brings in the clubhouse, the dugout, and the batting cage; on the planes, the road trips, and the bench. He's a glue guy, and no matter what we outsiders think, that's probably not the worst thing to have around a young team with an inexperienced manager.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Re-signed OF-R Hunter Pence to a five-year extension worth $90 million. [9/28]

Pence leaving the Giants never seemed likely, but somehow the deal's specifics are surprising. Should they be? As MLB Trade Rumors' Jeff Todd observed, Pence's pact resembles Andre Ethier's extension more than it does Josh Hamilton's free-agent agreement; an interesting development, given Pence was closer to free agency than Ethier was:

Player

Age (at signing)

Prev. 3-YR Line

Prev. 3-YR WARP

AAV*

Hamilton

31

.313/.370/.583

16.2

$25M

Pence

30

.283/.342/.470

11.1

$18M

Ethier**

30

.284/.364/.477

9.3

$17M

*Guaranteed years only

**Signed midseason

Pence makes nothing look easy, yet he's a capable middle-of-the-order bat who posts respectable marks across the board. The added bonus to Pence's production is his surprising durability: He hasn't gone on the disabled list since 2007, when he fractured his wrist. Add in Pence's qualitative value—e.g. his maniacal pre-game speeches last postseason; his Willie Mac award this year as the Giants' most inspiration player—and he has everything a team looks for when it makes a long-term commitment.

There are two big questions worth considering: 1) How will Pence age and 2) what is the opportunity cost for the Giants? Neither is answerable at this point in time, of course, and that's why this deal (and almost all like it) are risky. The good news on the second part is the Giants' reported extension talks with Tim Lincecum. Whatever the budget is, it doesn't seem to be a factor just yet. That's huge, as Brian Sabean will need to make more moves this winter to reposition the Giants as a division threat.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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