As spring training draws closer, teams are finalizing contracts with arbitration-eligible players. The Phillies recently signed Cole Hamels to a 1-year deal for $15 million to avoid arbitration. There’s an advantage to finalizing a deal prior to an arbitration hearing, where the team (in this case the Phillies) emphasizes a player’s foibles to win their proposal. Hunter Pence finds himself in this position: with a looming arbitration hearing and no contract. Historically, the Phillies have been very good at avoiding messy arbitrations with players. They would be wise to finalize the deal with their young right fielder, but at what cost? How do you measure Pence’s value to the club?
Pence made just a shade under 7 million in 2011, split between the Astros and the Phillies. He’s coming off of a career year in which he hit .314/.370/.560–pretty impressive for someone with a swing that would make Tom Emansky cringe. Hunter certainly has a lot of ammunition at the bargaining table, but his full value goes beyond his stat sheet.
When Pence arrived in Philadelphia last July, he ignited a clubhouse that looked lethargic at times. Of course the Phillies were well on their way to play in October, but once Pence was inserted into the lineup, the Phillies’ offense was re-awakened. The Phillies led the league in runs scored the last two months of the season. More importantly, the team was showing a spark that was reminiscent of 2008. Pence was the ignition the team needed.
Pence was in the headlines recently for his remarks during a local radio interview in which he stated it was World Series or bust for the 2012 Phillies. I’m sure Pence was unaware that Jimmy Rollins is the prognosticator on this club, but this was different than Rollins’ previous claims to division titles and win totals. Every Phillies fan would agree with Pence’s statement, after experiencing five straight post season appearences. Phillies fans have come to expect greatness, and will settle for nothing less. But, this is coming from a member of the ball club who has only been wearing red and white pin stripes for half a season.
Pence has set the bar for this season, pushing the chips all in. He’ll certainly be getting a raise through arbitration or striking a deal with management, but his greatest value to the Phillies is not found in the box score. His value lies in the energy he brings to the field day in and day out, elevating the level of play for him and his teammates. World Series or Bust? The fans are right there with you Hunter….