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The psychology of the Hunter Pence deal

Thearon W. Henderson

It starts with the speculation. What will Player X sign for? And this isn't some sort of hypothetical situation -- Hunter Pence actually went by "Player X" for a few years in the Crab Nebula. And when we asked in August how much Pence should get, the answer was simple:

Five years? Thanks for the eyes and the speeches and the compensatory pick, Hunter.

And after Pence became the hottest player in the world, the answer was the same:

When it comes to the question of whether this recent hot streak has raised his price, though, the answer is that it shouldn't. ... He's been a great player over the last month. He should get paid like a really good player. He probably will get paid like a really good player.

He's getting paid closer to star money. It's not the Jayson Werth deal, but it's not exactly a hometown discount. So based on those unambiguous "NO FIVE-YEAR DEAL!" takes, you'd expect this spot to be a rambling missive against the Pence contract.

But that's not the psychology of a deal like this. The first reaction is a sound effect from a Don Martin cartoon. That's the second reaction, too. But I don't think I'm alone when I do this:

1. Hope for four years, $70 million

2. Cringe at five years, $90 million

3. Wonder what the Giants were really going to do with the extra $4 million each season over those five years

4. Shrug my shoulders and hope for the best

There is no chance that by the end of 2018, we'll all be right here, talking about what it would take to bring Pence back on a two- or three-year deal. There's a slight chance, I guess. But it's immeasurably small. When Hunter Pence is 34, he'll probably be a total drag. When he's 35, he's going to be a player who would have to fight for a roster spot without the contract. Players who rely on raw athleticism and superior reaction/reflexes don't age well.

This was going to be the case with whatever outfielder the Giants signed this offseason, though. Jacoby Ellsbury? He isn't exactly Eddie Stanky when it comes to plate discipline, and he has trouble staying healthy. He's not a great beat to age well, and he's going to get a similar contract.

Shin-Soo Choo is a year older, but a better hitter. Even if I'd rather watch Pence field, I'd put a sawbuck down on Choo being a contributor in 2018 before I'd do it for Pence. The patience and approach will work better as the body betrays him. But he's also going to get more money. There's a risk, there, too.

Nelson Cruz is cheaper, but he can't field. And he's just as hacky and he might have needed better living through chemistry to be even that good.

The correct answer was probably Carlos Beltran -- a good short-term value for a team interested mostly in the short term -- but he's still the correct answer. The Giants still have an outfield slot open, unless you're geeked on another year of Gregor Blanco getting 500 at-bats.

And the unspoken risk about talking about these players is that it's not like the Giants could just walk into Williams-Sonoma and pick them off the shelf. Choo might not want to play in a pitcher's park; Cruz might get the same offer as what the Giants were willing to pay him, but in a state with no income tax; the Red Sox and Yankees might get into an eye-poking match over Ellsbury. Beltran might make all sorts of obscene gestures when asked to come back to San Francisco.

When March rolled around, the Giants could have had Nate McLouth in left and Corey Hart in right. Both could have been on short, reasonable deals! If reasonable deals are what you're into, there you go. If the Giants picked up a couple middling veterans this offseason, they wouldn't have had any onerous long-term deals to worry about. That means in 2018, they wouldn't have had a player sucking up a lot of payroll without contributing very little. Because if that happened, they would have to sign players like Nate McLouth and Corey Hart to keep under budget and fill in the roster.

Wait a sec ...

Worrying about the short term is always a better strategy than focusing on the long term for a win-now team. And unless you're convinced the Giants have no business fancying themselves contenders over the next two years, I'm willing to plug my nose and worry about that fifth year later.

Oh, man, the last half of this deal will be a mess. Wait for it.

But in the short term, a team without a lot of options got to keep one of the best players on the market. And we already know that we like this guy. Like? Oh, I think this is love. The love is a fickle thing, of course. It took 2.1 months for fans to turn on Aubrey Huff.  And one day, the lines on KNBR will be filled with people complaining about Hunter Pence.

Until then, it beats McLouth in right. It beats Pence in a Mets uniform with a second-round pick as compensation. It beats extra millions for Ellsbury, who doesn't even have medium-crazy eyes. I've talked myself into this deal, but only because I lack long-term vision. That lack of vision is why I'm approaching middle age in a rented apartment, so maybe you shouldn't listen to me!

But welcome back, Hunter Pence. Glad to have you around for the next couple years, at least