For the short term, Hunter Pence is focused only on returning to the Rangers’ lineup before the season is out. As far as 2020 goes, Pence told reporters (including T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com) that he will head into the offseason in preparation of playing next year and potentially spending another season with Texas, though nothing is yet certain.
“I would love to be a part of this organization. There is a lot to be excited about with the young talent,” Pence said. “I think there is a wealth of talent here. But I haven’t decided completely what I am going to do next….I want to feel healthy and be able to contribute. I don’t know what the opportunities are going to be. Somebody has got to want me and make an offer.”
Though Pence turns 37 in April, there will certainly be some free agent interest in his services following a tremendous comeback season. After a pair of subpar, injury-hampered seasons with the Giants, Pence inked a minor league deal with the Rangers and ended up an All-Star for the fourth time in his career. Pence has hit .297/.358/.552 with 18 home runs over 316 plate appearances, and while there was perhaps a touch of good luck baked into his performance (his .382 wOBA was well in front of his .358 xwOBA), he’s still in the 80th percentile of all hitters in xwOBA and the 90th percentile in exit velocity. In fact, Pence is hitting the ball harder than ever — his 42.5% hard-hit ball rate is by far the highest of his 13-year career.
Health will definitely factor into Pence’s decisions. In addition to a groin strain that cost him a month of the season, his current back issue is no small matter, as he said he has a small disk tear. He has begun rotation exercises but not any actual swinging. “I don’t think it’s a surgical thing, but if I mess it up, it could be,” Pence said, noting that while he wants to get back onto the field, he won’t take any unnecessary risks.
Pence has played 23 games as a corner outfielder this year and 46 as a designated hitter, mostly splitting time with Shin-Soo Choo in the latter role. With the veteran Choo still under contract through 2020 and also better suited for DH duty at this stage in his career, having both Pence and Choo in an outfield/DH timeshare is perhaps a bit of a redundancy for a Texas club that also has other outfield options in Joey Gallo, Willie Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, and utilityman Danny Santana. Trades could open up some room, of course, and Santana’s ability to play all over the field could see him earn more time as a corner infielder than in the outfield.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward acknowledged the logjam, saying “I just don’t know where we stand from a roster standpoint. Is it going to be a fit or not? Do I want him? 100 percent. There is no doubt about that. It’s just a matter if it fits or not, [that’s] the question.“