Giants to make qualifying offers to Pence, Lincecum; they won't accept

The Giants have determined they will make qualifying offers to top free agents Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, sources said, but first the team is trying to lock up Pence – the hottest hitter in the National League this month  -- on a multiyear deal. In that bigger endeavor, they are just getting started with talks.

The Giants are believed to have signaled a willingness to pay Pence something akin to the $56-million, four-year deal given to Nick Swisher by the Indians last winter, though that may just be an opening salvo, as Pence’s torrid finish surely means higher expectations.

The Dodgers’ $85-million, five-year deal  for Andre Ethier looks like another comp, though Pence may well look for something even higher than that in a marketplace short on consistent middle-of-the-order hitters (Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales and Curtis Granderson are three of the other good ones). While the Giants are believed to view the Ethier deal  as an “overpay,”  Pence could point out that the Ethier contract was actually signed several months before his free agency and only looks heavy since Ethier’s performance slipped a bit after the signing.

The Giants very much want to keep Pence, who is hitting .291 with 25 home runs, 93  RBI and an .837 OPS, and are impressed by his willingness to discuss a long-term deal when he’s on the cusp of free agency. In turn, Pence seems to love the Giants. He did help them win a World Series in 2012 and followed that up with great individual success in a tough ballpark. But there’s still work to do. His curiosity about the marketplace may be piqued after a monster September in which he has a league-high nine homers and 26 RBI, plus a .373 batting average.

Pence is known for his consistency in a career that started in Houston and took him to Philadelphia before a trade-deadline deal in 2012 sent him to San Francisco, but he is doing some spectacular things this year.  He is, in fact, the only National League player with 35 doubles, 25 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Only MVP candidate Mike Trout has done it in the American League.

The Swisher comp is interesting in that they have a similar career OPS (Pence .817, Swisher .821), and the assumption is that Swisher took the highest offer. But Pence at 30 is a year and a half younger than Swisher was as a free agent. Plus, the late hot streak will play. (He recently became the only Giant ever to have 19 RBI in a six-game span.)

The Ethier deal will be viewed as a better comp by Pence’s camp, and they could even try to introduce the $126-million, seven-year Jayson Werth deal, though that contract, signed three winters ago, is viewed as a player-friendly deal. Teams are thought to be flush with cash this year, meaning it could be an especially prosperous winter for all the top free agents.

The Giants, who have a few other major holes to fill, especially in the rotation, will look at the other free-agent outfielders, as well, especially if Pence doesn’t look like a quick sign. Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) of the San Francisco Chronicle first reported that the Giants had opened talks with Pence.

Pence won’t accept the qualifying offer, which is expected to be for about $13.8 million for 2014, which happens to be exactly what he made this year. There’s almost no belief Lincecum will accept it, either, as there are surely multiyear offers out there for him, as well.

It was reported in this space in July that qualifying offers were likely for Pence and Lincecum. By making qualifying offers, the Giants put themselves in position to receive a first-round draft choice should they sign elsewhere.

Lincecum had some mechanical issues the past couple years, but he threw a no-hitter this year and has regained velocity lately, hitting 94-95 mph on the gun. His spectacular resume (two Cy Young, the Babe Ruth award for the 2010 postseason) and big name combined with a very weak overall starters market means there will be serious interest in him despite a 10-13 record and 4.40 ERA this year.

While it’s been speculated Lincecum could draw interest as a late-inning reliever, a role in which he thrived in the 2012 postseason, there’s no reason to believe he won’t remain a starter. The Giants understand his great popularity in the Bay Area, and the early talks with Pence only suggest a priority. It shouldn’t be assumed they won’t try to bring Lincecum back to the Bay, even beyond the qualifying offer they’ll make.

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