Hunter Pence

MLB Winter Meetings Notes: Familiar faces abound; Giants' John Barr honored

MLB Winter Meetings Notes: Familiar faces abound; Giants' John Barr honored

SAN FRANCISCO -- On the first day, Stephen Strasburg got $245 million. A night later, Gerrit Cole blew that away with a record $324 million contract. Finally, Anthony Rendon got $245 million to switch leagues. 

By the end of the four-day MLB Winter Meetings, super-agent Scott Boras was within striking distance of watching his clients -- led by those three -- get more than $1 billion in new money. So, there was a reason Boras was smiling as he walked through the lobby at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego on Wednesday night. 

Boras met with the Giants, as he always does, but they weren't involved with the big fish this time around. So far they have spent $9 million, but general manager Scott Harris said the team wasn't spooked by the frenzied pace this week.

"That happens every winter," he said of the market, smiling. "We just sequenced it differently this winter."

It's true that most of the heavy lifting was done much sooner than a year ago, but the Giants still have plenty of time to put together an improved roster. As they work the phones, let's look back on the four days in San Diego with some news and notes ... 

A Giant honor

John Barr, who now serves as a special assistant in baseball operations, was honored Wednesday night as the Scout of the Year for the East Coast region. The award was particularly meaningful to Barr because it was voted on by his peers. Barr was in charge of drafts for the Giants for more than a decade, bringing in Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Matt Duffy among many others. He recently had another huge day, watching Mike Mussina get into the Hall of Fame.

Barr was the scouting director who selected Mussina for the Orioles, and he is Barr's first Hall of Famer. 

The Giants kept Barr around even after Michael Holmes took over amateur scouting, and they have leaned on him during the transition and brought him back in a new role. In fact, new boss Farhan Zaidi was the one who gave the speech introducing Barr at the ceremony. 

"He commiserated with me when I first started about moving from the Dodgers to the Giants and the fact that we both got aired out by Tommy Lasorda," Zaidi joked. "He's been a tremendous resource and support for not just myself, but obviously Michael Holmes, as well, and the entire scouting staff. It's a super well-deserved honor."

Forever Giants

Kevin Frandsen, now a broadcaster for the Phillies, was in San Diego. At one point, he found himself in conversation with Brett Pill and Dan Runzler. That was quite common over the course of the week.

Among those spotted in the lobby in San Diego: Yangervis Solarte (who is looking for a job), Bobby Evans, Jake Peavy, Moises Alou, Aubrey Huff and, of course, Bruce Bochy, who will manage next spring for Team France. 

Pill will also be on a new staff. He's joining the Dodgers as their Double-A hitting coach, and Manny Burriss will be their Triple-A hitting coach. The Giants aren't the only ones hiring from a rival. Carl Kochan, their former strength coach, apparently also works for the Dodgers. 

Still Looking

A couple of former Giants expressed disappointment that Curt Young, the pitching coach the last two years, is not on a big-league staff anywhere. Young has had a good career but the Giants went in a much different direction, hiring Andrew Bailey, who actually pitched for Young in Oakland. 

The Giants may hit it big with their young staff, but it's disappointing to see the sport turn its back on so many experienced coaches. Jose Alguacil, once a rising star in the organization, is managing in the Dominican Republic and looking for an opportunity elsewhere.

The Giants have not yet decided if they'll bring Shawon Dunston back but it doesn't sound likely, and it's unclear where Rick Schu has ended up.

The same thing is happening on big-league staffs around the game and at the minor league levels, although some people around the game believe it will swing the other way in a couple of years. The Phillies, for example, followed Gabe Kapler with Joe Girardi. 

Oracle Changes

The big news Thursday -- other than the potentially crushing news about Madison Bumgarner -- was that the Giants officially announced their dimensions. Triples Alley might not play all that different, because studies have shown that the wind and cold weather actually has the biggest impact, but I do think we'll see a lot more homers to dead center. A ton of balls die on the warning track there every year and last year's track now will be beyond the wall. 

There was one other bit of ballpark news. All 30 MLB teams will expand their netting and the Giants are one of seven that will have the protective nets go all the way to the foul poles. 

Panda Party

My favorite part of the Winter Meetings came late one night when a team employee walked up and asked, "Did you hear about Pablo's wedding?"

Sandoval's wedding last weekend was apparently one of the parties of the year, and it was full of present and former Giants, all of whom saw their old manager, Bochy, who made the flight out to Miami. I mean, how many can you count in this photo alone? 

Yes, that's Albert Suarez. Yes, Mike "Glass of Whiskey" Yastrzemski formed such a bond with Sandoval over one season that he ended up at his wedding. 

I won't get into all the details, and hopefully Sandoval is back late next season to give us the full scoop, but the wedding started late and dinner was apparently served at midnight, and then again and again throughout the night.

One guest said the party lasted until 9 a.m. and breakfast was actually served at some point. There were multiple bands and singers who were flown in, and plenty of panda hats, as Hunter Pence shared:

[RELATED: Giants add interesting arm on way out of Winter Meetings]

I don't know how true this is, but one guest told me Pence showed up for the wedding and was told that he was actually the best man. Surprise! Maybe Sandoval just knew that nobody else could give a better speech? 

How Hunter Pence bounced back from difficult end to Giants career

How Hunter Pence bounced back from difficult end to Giants career

In the aftermath of his feel-good Giants goodbye, Hunter Pence questioned himself.

The 2018 season was the worst of his career. Pence played just 97 games with San Francisco, and he slashed a career-worst .226/.258/.590. He set out to reinvent his swing and his game the following offseason, but there were doubts. 

"They took me out of my role as the starting job," Pence says of his final season at Oracle Park in Fox Sports' "The Pence Method" documentary. "I was trying to give them everything I had as a pinch-hitter. 'Do I still have it? Do I still wanna play?' It was just kind of like they had moved on. It definitely hits your confidence."

As it turns out, the answer to both questions was yes. After a rejuvenating stint in the Dominican Winter League, Pence signed a minor league contract with his hometown Texas Rangers this winter. What has followed is an All-Star season, with Pence being named to the Midsummer Classic as the AL's starting designated hitter.

Pence missed out on the game due to injury, but the 36-year-old entered Friday with a .297/.358/.552 slash line and 18 home runs. The latter is his highest total since 2014. 

"The Pence Method" follows Pence during his time with Toros del Este in the Dominican Republic, and shows the Giants' onetime emotional linchpin starting slowly -- in his estimation, at least -- in the Dominican Winter League. We see Pence start to gain more confidence, and he tells his wife, Alexis, at one point that he is ready to give his all for another MLB team if he gets the opportunity. 

"But it will never take away the things we've done with the Giants," Pence says in the documentary. 

"I loved them," Alexis, his wife of nearly three years, says of the Giants. "They were my first team with you, and I figured we'd always kind of be with them. I think that's what I panic more about is, like, leaving that."

"That may seem scary at first, but a lot of your most amazing experiences are from things that seem scary at first," Hunter tells her. 

The documentary reveals that Pence had no shortage of suitors during the offseason. At one point his agent, Danny Horwits, calls the Pences to tell them that 29 teams -- "I'll exclude the Giants from this conversation" -- were "incredibly impressed" with Pence's decision to play in the Dominican Winter League. 

[RELATED: When Pablo could get one more at-bat with Giants this year]

Pence, upon hearing what teams are saying about his love of the game, starts to cry.

"I didn't expect to hear that," Pence says, fighting back tears as his wife does the same.

Pence's stint with Toros del Este lasted just eight games and 31 plate appearances, but played a big role in spring-boarding him into a bounce-back season. The end of his career looked imminent as soon as a year ago, but Pence has proved this year he still has a story to tell. 

MLB All-Star Game: Hunter Pence's comeback lands him starting DH spot

MLB All-Star Game: Hunter Pence's comeback lands him starting DH spot

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Hunter Pence rode off, literally, into the sunset at the end of last season, he promised that the work to return to prominence would start on the first day of the offseason. That effort landed Pence back on an All-Star roster.

The longtime Giant was voted the DH for the American League All-Star team and will make his first appearance in the game since 2014. In his first season with the Rangers, Pence, currently sidelined by a groin injury, is batting .293 and slugging .608, which would be a career-high. He has 15 homers and 48 RBI for the surprising Rangers. 

Manager Bruce Bochy said he's thrilled for Pence, one of his favorites during his 13-year career with the Giants. The 36-year-old reworked his swing over the winter and played Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic for the first time before winning a job with the Rangers in spring training. 

"I couldn't be happier for Hunter," Bochy said. "What he did this winter, you're talking about a guy that was determined to find his swing and change his swing and he goes down to Winter Ball and he works his tail off. He's got enough money, he didn't need to do that. We've talked about his passion for the game and how hungry he always stays and he wants to keep playing.

"For him to get it turned around and go and have the type of season that he's having, it's well-deserved. I think that's what great athletes can do. They find a way to find their game again. At his age, to find that so-called fountain of youth again and play the way he did a few years ago, that's really impressive."

[RELATED: Playing for Rangers a childhood dream for Pence]

Pence was a two-time All-Star before joining the Giants and made the team in his second full season in San Francisco. His final year wasn't nearly as productive, as he hit just .226 last season with four homers while battling injuries. 

But Pence insisted when he left that he wasn't done. Turns out he was right.