Pence 'absolutely' would sign long-term with Giants

832845.jpg

Pence 'absolutely' would sign long-term with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO Hunter Pence loves coffee, especially when it comes inbig mugs. He shared those thoughts while greeting Giants fans in a videoposted to his Twitter account Wednesday morning.

Pence's playing style is caffeinated enough, as his new fans areabout to learn. The two-time All-Star is all effort and rapid movement on the field, even if itdoesnt always look smooth and under control.

Ive got to be honest, he said, in the hours prior to hisGiants debut Wednesday night. Every now and then, I do things you dont see veryoften.

REWIND: Pence has 'refreshing' arrival to AT&T Park

Like crash into his third-base coach. Or shatter asliding-glass door by smacking into it like a blind pigeon. Or take swings inthe on-deck circle that feel perfectly normal, and look anything but.

The truth is, and I hate to admit it Pence said, but thefirst time I watched it, it was disturbing.

The Giants will take all of Pences idiosyncrasies afteracquiring him from the Philadelphia Phillies for Nate Schierholtz, Double-Acatcher Tommy Joseph and Single-A right-hander Seth Rosin.

They love Pences ability to drive in runs, impact thebaseball and make things happen on the field. Pence is hitting fifth andstarting in right field Wednesday night; when Pablo Sandoval returns from hisstrained hamstring, the Giants will be able to run out a 3-through-6 of MelkyCabrera, Buster Posey, Pence and Sandoval.

That might be their best middle-of-the-order since the Bondsera.

And unlike last Julys acquisition of Carlos Beltran, Penceisnt a pure rental. Hes eligible for arbitration one more time after thisyear and cant become a free agent until after the 2013 season.

For that reason, Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged theenthusiasm has a different pitch with Pence than it did with Beltran.

Oh, I think so, said Bochy, who loved the fact that Pencehit the weight room after stepping off a six-hour flight Tuesday night. Theplayers, the staff, across the board, they know that. Hes on board for nextyear, too. It should give you a good feeling knowing hell be here next yearand theres no possibility hell move on. The guys know that, too. Hes a Giantand hell be here awhile.

How long?

Well, thats a cart-before-the-horse issue for now. But whenPence was asked if hed be open to signing a long-term extension, his answer stoppedjust short of, Where do I sign?

Absolutely. That would be wonderful, the 29-year-old Texasnative said. Itd be wonderful to have a home and settle in.

Has he seen real estate prices in the Bay Area? Well maybenot. But Pence said hes never been offered a solid commitment from a club. Sohe would be all ears if the Giants pay him that respect, as GM Brian Sabean hasintimated he plans to do.

Ive never been offered anything, Pence said. Id loveto.

It was pointed out that the Phillies were signing plenty ofplayers long-term.

Not everybody, Pence said. Look how long it took Cole(Hamels) to get it. They have a lot of people theyre paying over there. But that should probably be the last thing I should be talking about. So sorry.

Pence had plenty of other more urgent matters on Thursday,like learning the signs and going out early with outfield coach Roberto Kellyto learn the intricacies of right field at AT&T Park.

He was just showing me it could bounce anywhere, and it canbounce hard or it can bounce soft, Pence said. And when its hit hard in theright field corner, you can throw em out at second.

Pence doesnt throw from a textbook. His stork-like bodydoesnt do anything the way its taught. His back knee almost touches the dirtwhen he hits. Coaches tried to change him at every stop (including atUT-Arlington, where he played in the shadow of former Giant Daniel Ortmeier),but he had the confidence to know that his way worked.

I try to do the best with what Ive got, Pence said.There are some distinct things, but everyone wants to get in a good position.You want to be short to the ball and long through it.

He acknowledged his swing hasnt been in sync most of thisseason, especially with runners in scoring position. Hes hitting just .238 inthose situations, and he knows the Giants are counting on him to deliver especially with two outs, since his new clubs .197 average in those clutchmoments is the second worst in the majors.

First of all, its more than likely going to get better,Pence said. My swing hasnt necessarily been in the greatest rhythm. But thedowns bring you to the ups. Well find out in the next two months, but Imworking on it.

Asked what he wants to improve, Pence delivered acrowd-pleaser of an answer.

Id like to have more home runs, more RBIs, more runsscored and more average, he said, not smiling for a change. The only thingbetter than hits is more hits.

Some things wont change. Pence is keeping the high-sockslook hes sported his whole career, whether Im good looking or not goodlooking.

Hes eager to get the home-field treatment at McCovey Cove,for a change starting tonight.

Whenever anyone asked my favorite road city Id say thisone, said Pence, recalling one clever but relentless fan from his time playinghere with the Astros.

One lady called me bird legs all game, Pence said. Itwas Hey bird legs! You know you cant hit the ball out of the infield.

It went on all game. Hey bird legs! Dont pull up yourpants like that to hide your shortcomings.

You couldnt help but laugh.

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."