Brian Sabean

What if Giants never acquired Hunter Pence at 2012 MLB trade deadline?

What if Giants never acquired Hunter Pence at 2012 MLB trade deadline?

In retrospect, it should come as no surprise that Hunter Pence has become such a memorable Giant. After all, his arrival at Oracle Park was unlike just about anything the franchise had seen before. 

Pence was acquired on deadline day in 2012 and landed at SFO in the seventh inning of a 4-1 win over the Mets. He was greeted outside the left field gate by Lou Seal and TV cameras followed as he walked through a hallway underneath the stands and into the home clubhouse. As Tim Lincecum talked about beating Matt Harvey, Pence showed up two lockers away. The two shook hands over a sea of reporters. Pence, still wearing jeans and a button-down, then went out to the dugout for a TV interview. It was later revealed that he paid his own way from Philadelphia because he was so eager to get to his new team. 

The rest, of course, is history. Pence's bug-eyed speeches became a staple of that 2012 title run. He signed a massive five-year extension in 2013 and the Giants won another title a year later. He had an emotional sendoff in 2018 but returned this spring, quickly reclaiming his place as one of the more popular Giants.

That trade has worked out remarkably well for the Giants, but across the country, it's a much different feeling. The Pence deal was a disaster for a Phillies organization that hasn't had a winning season since.

NBC Sports Philadelphia recently looked back at that deal, asking why the Phillies felt the need to make it. We'll look at a similar question here. 

What if the Giants didn't make the Hunter Pence deal?

The Giants had not entered that second half in 2012 thinking they had to get a big outfield bat for the heart of the lineup. Melky Cabrera had not been suspended yet, and he was one of the best players in the National League. Newcomers Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco were revelations. Buster Posey was in the midst of an MVP season and Pablo Sandoval was having an All-Star year. The lineup was actually in pretty good shape.

But then it all started to unravel.

Sandoval strained his hamstring a week before the deadline and went on the disabled list. The rival Dodgers came to town on July 27 and swept a weekend series, twice shutting the Giants out. They had traded for Hanley Ramirez and on deadline day they added Shane Victorino, Pence's teammate in Philadelphia. 

Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans sprung into action. They had tried to pry Pence away from the Astros a year earlier but found Carlos Beltran was easier to acquire. Pence had gone to the Phillies in a blockbuster, but at the 2012 deadline, the Giants finally got him, sending over catcher Tommy Joseph, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and right-hander Seth Rosin. 

"In some ways, this is a reaction," Sabean said that day. "We knew (the Dodgers) were going to be extremely active and you don't want them to outdistance you. The three games against the Dodgers weren't pretty and we kind of took that personally. We were hoping we could infuse something from the outside like they did."

The Giants led the Dodgers by one game on deadline day. They lost Pence's first two games but then won five of six on the road, righting the ship. They went 38-21 the rest of the way, winning the NL West by eight games.

When you look at Pence's production the rest of that year -- .671 OPS, seven homers -- it's easy to make the argument they would have won the West regardless. But it's not that simple.

On the day Cabrera was suspended, the Giants actually trailed the Dodgers in the standings. A clubhouse is a delicate ecosystem, and it's possible that without Pence's presence, that whole season would have collapsed. Instead, the Giants took on a defiant tone and took off. Pence was one of the players who spoke to the media that day, even though he had only been on the team two weeks.

Pence's greatest contribution that season came in the playoffs, when his fiery speech before Game 5 of the NLDS helped motivate a club that had fallen behind 2-0 to the Reds. His pre-game huddles became a hallmark of that championship run. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Perhaps we give too much credit to chemistry at times, but there was so little margin for error that postseason that it's easy to see how every small contribution added up. 

Pence hit 27 homers the next year and 20 in 2014, when he finished 11th in the MVP balloting for a team that took a Wild Card spot all the way to another parade. That 2014 World Series is remembered for Madison Bumgarner, which means people forget Pence went 12-for-30 with five RBI and a 1.167 OPS against the Royals. He was in many ways the heart of that team, and he started every game of that season. 

The Giants weren't close on a Plan B at the 2012 deadline, so there's no "what if" outfielder to compare Pence to. But looking back, it's not hard to see how they could have missed out on a title or two had they missed out on Pence. 

Perhaps the best argument for that case comes from the men who acquired him. The previous regime could have -- probably should have -- traded Pence for prospects in 2013, but they held on and instead extended him, insisting that he would be a crucial piece in another title run. 

[RELATED: George Springer could be great fit for Giants]

They were right, and they got the bonus of having Pence impact a new generation of Giants. That part of his legacy is so clear that when Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris put together the first team of the Gabe Kapler Era, they capped their offseason with a dramatic move. 

They signed Hunter Pence. 

Brian Sabean amazed by unique aspect of Bruce Bochy's farewell speech

Brian Sabean amazed by unique aspect of Bruce Bochy's farewell speech

Bruce Bochy spoke for 15 minutes and nine seconds, bringing tears to eyes and hitting every last note perfectly as he thanked Giants fans, executives, coaches, broadcasters, family members and the dozens of players who had flown into San Francisco to surprise him. 

This wasn't a surprise, of course. Bochy always knew the right thing to say to his team, the perfect way to motivate players before a big game. Whether he was talking about good times or discussing losing streaks, suspensions or a player putting his fist through a clubhouse door, he always seemed to know exactly what to say in front of cameras, too. 

But on Wine Wednesday with Amy Gutierrez, Brian Sabean revealed a fun fact about that speech. He said it wasn't written in advance. Bochy had no idea what the Giants had in store for him after his final game, and he watched the emotional ceremony from the corner of the dugout, stunned that so many former players had shown up

"I don't know if you remember, but he was alone in the dugout when everybody was coming on the field," Sabean said. "There wasn't a person around him, sitting in the corner of the dugout by the bat rack. I remember as we had walked out, he turned to me and said, 'You know, I've got nothing ready. I've got to get my thoughts together.' To think that he was able to do that and methodically go through the whole ball of wax, including the people that were in attendance, it's still amazing to me. 

"I just listened to it the other day. It's a tearjerker, really."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

That speech, given with players like Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum standing behind him, strangely might end up being the last moment at Oracle Park that includes fans for quite a while. If you've forgotten how it went, you can read the whole transcript and watch it here. Sabean said Bochy's ability to take the mic like that saved others on an emotional day. 

"There's no way in hell I could have spoken on that last day," he said. "I would have been a babbling fool. He did such a tremendous job and got everybody off the hook, including me."

Even with their magical run in San Francisco having come to an end, Sabean and Bochy still are working in tandem. Sabean's surprise appearance on the Instagram show came about because Bochy nominated him after appearing last week. The two became extremely close friends after Sabean brought Bochy from San Diego to San Francisco. They lived in the same building across the street and sometimes found themselves crossing over when the sun was coming up. Bochy has spoken often about how they would open a bottle of wine and spend hours upon hours discussing games in his office. 

[RELATED: Why the DH will be coming to National League]

Both now serve in advisory roles in the front office. Sabean, who backed away from the spotlight a few years before Bochy did, said it was difficult getting through that final season. He was emotionally spent by the time Bochy took the field one last time. 

"Last year was rough on me, especially that last homestand because of the finality," he said. "I really had a hard time knowing this was the end and that our tandem, so to speak, and more so his career with the Giants, was going to be officially over."

Why Giants' Brian Sabean feels NL will have to use DH this MLB season

Why Giants' Brian Sabean feels NL will have to use DH this MLB season

After years and back and forth, there's now only one answer to one of baseball's biggest ongoing questions. There's no doubt the NL is going to have a designated hitter if the sport resumes in two months. 

Brian Sabean spent three decades putting together Giants rosters without having to worry about that possibility, but on Wine Wednesday with Amy Gutierrez, Sabean said the new front office and coaching staff will definitely have to plan for a new look. 

"I don't think we have any choice. I think the DH is a necessity because we'll really have a hard time getting pitching ready even though they'll expand your roster," Sabean said. 

Starting pitchers won't even have enough time in a second spring training to get their pitch counts back up to what they're used to, so asking them to then also go out and hit will be out of the question. Starters lasting just three or four innings would leave far too many at-bats for relief pitchers not used to being in that role. 

Sabean, now an executive vice president for the organization, said the Giants are going to have to be "very inventive" when putting together an expanded pitching staff. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

"Hopefully the staff is very flexible," he said. 

That shouldn't be a problem for Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris. They already had put together a flexible pitching staff, one in which several players were preparing to start or relieve, openers would be used, and there was a possibility of having no set closer. 

Sabean no longer has to deal with the day-to-day machinations, but he's a trusted advisor and could be particularly useful in a time like this. While the sport has never seen a break quite like this one, Sabean has been through plenty of labor wars as an executive. A day after MLB and the MLBPA started discussions on how to restart a season, he said health should be the biggest concern for all sides. 

[RELATED: Why Tyler Heineman passed up Harvard]

"We've got our challenges because there are some states and some cities that aren't going to be friendly to however we present this," he told Amy G. "But I will say, I think we have a captive audience and the players want to play. The owners know to keep the sport alive or your brand out front, it's in everybody's best interest to try to pull this off.

"While this phase of negotiations could be a grind -- it always comes down to some money (being) involved -- you know a lot of thought has been put into this."