Hunter Pence Q&A: Outfielder shares changes, openness to rejoining Giants


Hunter Pence Q&A: Outfielder shares changes, openness to rejoining Giants

Hunter Pence said goodbye to the Giants and their fans on Sept. 30 before riding off into the sunset on a scooter. And despite the very Pence-like exit, he said he wasn't retiring.

He headed to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday for winter ball, to test out new mental and physical approaches in the hopes he'll have one more shot at the game he loves.

Pence stopped by the NBC Sports Bay Area newsroom Tuesday to discuss his new swing, the changes in baseball and what he's been up to since his possible last day in a Giants uniform.

NBC Sports Bay Area: You've been working on some stuff to prepare to travel to the DR as far as your swing. You've been working with Doug Latta -- what did you work with him on specifically?

Pence: He just has this philosophy that allows you to leverage your body better. Hitting has always been the same thing -- getting along through the zone, creating angles that work to your advantage, but what we didn't know is that it's actually kind of backwards with what we've always thought. There are many ways to succeed in hitting so I don't know if it's the only, ultimate way.

Hitting is like chasing a ghost. He has a lot of things that help you get into a good position to be as efficient as you can -- which you need every bit of that that you can, dealing with the way pitchers have kind of adjusted throughout the years.

In regard to adjusting to the way the game is played, what's the biggest change over the years?

I don't know if it's the training or what, but pitchers are just throwing harder and they have a lot more movement in all different directions. It's just the nature -- the game is evolving, and so hitting has to evolve as well, and I think some of the new-school stuff -- they say 'launch angle,' but Doug isn't really creating launch angle, he's more about using your body efficiently and being long through the zone.

Ted Williams actually said that in his book, and nobody really paid attention to it. He called it an upswing, because the pitcher’s throwing down, and what he meant to say was an uppercut, which I was never taught to do -- I was always taught to swing down. I think a lot of hitters kind of figured it out or maybe even “feel versus real” doing an uppercut. I feel like Prince Fielder did it really well, Barry Bonds definitely came through that way with the top hand. And it’s really a lot of that. It’s just redirecting my swing, learning a bit of change in the body for shoulders.

Was that difficult for you to change?

Yeah. It just takes time. I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It just takes practice and a lot of work. 

I know you’re working on your running, too. What has your body been changing? We love to watch you run. I’m just curious what you’ve done.

It’s not like how you would think. It’s actually going to look worse [laughs]. I don’t know how to explain it -- I haven’t even mastered it. I have in regard to getting a lead, and finding ways to get back and just that initial couple steps.

David Weck is the guy who is pushing it. It’s like head over foot, so your head kind of goes down and there’s a weird kind of double-down pulse. It’s a lot.

Beyond physically, what have you been working on mentally?

I’m always working on that. Just constantly meditating, reading, listening to YouTubes, podcasts … The mental part is everything to me. 

Have any teams reached out to you?

Yeah, a couple teams have reached out. I’m not going to really discuss who, but I’m really open -- I want a chance to play, a chance to win. I want to make sure that I’m making an impact -- that’s a big reason why I’m going to the Dominican and bringing this change. I love the game, and I would love to play to win a World Series -- and that’s my whole goal -- to be a contributor and help a team chase a division title, a World Series title, and if I can make that adjustment [in hitting and running], then that's what I aim to do. 

Since your last game at AT&T Park, with the scooter, how has the San Francisco community embraced you?  

I’ve been so lucky to have such a great relationship with the community here in San Francisco with the fans and to be supported so well. Really, I’ve just loved every minute of being a part of this organization and the city. It takes my breath away every day I see it. Just walking through the city, the interactions with different people walking by, saying hello, taking pictures. It’s just a great time, and I’m very thankful for it.

Would you be open to coming back to the Giants?

Oh, I’m very open to coming back -- absolutely. I love it here, and I told Larry [Baer] you know, send your scouts to come watch [in the Dominican]. I’m going to make this change, and he said, “We will definitely be checking in.” I haven’t heard from them yet -- a couple of other teams. But I know [the Giants] are changing GMs and all of that, so we will see.

But hopefully I can go make some noise and really put all of this work that I’ve put in together and go chase that World Series title.

And you’re feeling good? Everything is good?

Oh yeah, I’m extremely healthy, feeling great and just eager, enthusiastic and excited. I’m actually really glad I get the opportunity to go visit the Dominican Republic because I have so many great teammates from there, and it’s just going to be a wonderful experience.

MLB free agency: Giants, Madison Bumgarner's agents to meet this week

MLB free agency: Giants, Madison Bumgarner's agents to meet this week

SAN DIEGO -- The news that Stephen Strasburg had just signed the richest pitching contract in MLB quickly bounced through the lobby at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on Monday morning, but it didn't take long before the focus turned elsewhere. 

Does Strasburg's $245 million contract mean it will take $300 million to sign Gerrit Cole? And what does this surprisingly strong market mean for longtime Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who reportedly is seeking at least five years and $100 million.

Bumgarner downplayed concerns about the state of free agency throughout his final year, and it appears he was right. There will be a line of suitors, and the Giants remain part of that group.

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday that the Giants will meet with Bumgarner's agents this week and a reunion remains possible.

"We're involved in those discussions," Zaidi said while appearing on Winter Meetings Live. "We're planning to meet with his representatives this week and they have other meetings scheduled, too. That's what happens when a player is a free agent, they're going to explore all their options. Guys are looking for different things, looking for maybe a particular geography, maybe a team in a specific part of their competitive cycle.

"We're one of the suitors. We're just going to put our best foot forward and see what happens, but he's earned this opportunity to be a free agent and, as we expected, there's no shortage of interest in a guy with his pedigree."

Bumgarner has been connected to about a third of the majors at this point. The Braves and Phillies were two teams with early interest but seemingly have spent most of their free-agency money elsewhere. The New York Post's Joel Sherman reported Monday that the division rival Diamondbacks have checked in on Bumgarner, and the Cardinals have also recently been connected.

Industry sources speculated that the Angels could be a suitor if they miss on Cole, and sources also said the Twins remain a strong possibility. Some Giants people believe the Twins, who won 101 games last year with a young team, could emerge as the strongest contender for Bumgarner's services.

[RELATED: Giants reportedly have 'serious candidate' for pitching coach]

The Giants have been on the outside of the race throughout the offseason, but it's not uncommon for a team to let a popular player hit free agency with the understanding that the sides will circle back at the end of the process. Bumgarner is as popular as any recent Giant, and Zaidi said the club will consider what any move would mean to the city and the fan base. 

"I think it's definitely part of it," Zaidi said. "People talk a lot about how we're in the entertainment business and one thing I've learned about the fans of our team is the connection they have with the players is different than what I've experienced elsewhere, and that's something that I've had to learn and appreciate and make an adjustment to. At the same time, I think ultimately what fans respond to is a winning team. We saw it when our organization was winning the World Series and as we haven't been a winning team the last three years, it's kind of shown up at the turnstile. 

"I think (winning) has to be our primary goal and sometimes that takes making difficult decisions, but we definitely appreciate the connection that our fans make with these players. It's very unique in baseball."

MLB rumors: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals agree to seven-year, $245M contract

MLB rumors: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals agree to seven-year, $245M contract

The World Series MVP reportedly is staying home. 

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Monday that star free-agent pitcher Stephen Strasburg is returning to the Nationals. ESPN's Jeff Passan later reported the contract is worth $245 million over seven years. 

The massive contract is the largest in MLB history for a pitcher, and breaks the record for average annual value. The figures also are the same that the Yankees reportedly offered Gerrit Cole in recent days. Cole's deal with his future new team could now reach as high as $300 million. 

With one ace off the market, the race to sign longtime Giants hero Madison Bumgarner could speed up. 

Bumgarner reportedly wants to stay in San Francisco, but according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Giants have "shown no inclination to keep him." In recent days, the Cardinals, Twins and White Sox all have been linked to the left-hander. 

“Obviously, he has roots in other parts of the country that may be attractive to him,’’ Giants president of baseball operation Farhan Zaidi said during a recent Q&A at Oracle Park, via The Athletic. “It’s his decision. That’s the beauty of free agency for players. But we are going to be involved in that process.”

The Yankees and Dodgers also briefly were connected to Strasburg, and could shift their focus to Bumgarner, especially if they miss out on Cole. Both franchises are sick of falling short of a World Series ring, and seem primed to make a big move this offseason. 

Nightengale also reported Monday that teams are being told Bumgarner is looking for a deal worth at least $100 million over five years. That seems increasingly likely with Zack Wheeler joining the Phillies on a $118 million contract. 

[RELATED: What to watch for as Giants head to MLB Winter Meetings]

With Strasburg's reported contract and the giant wads of cash Cole is about to receive, Bumgarner could be seen as quite the discount for teams. Expect rumors to ramp up regarding MadBum at the Winter Meetings currently being held in San Diego.

Hang tight Giants fans, this could get emotional.