Giants Free Agents (FA): Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell
Out-of-House Available FA: Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, Jayson Werth, Victor Martinez, Adam Dunn, Johnny Damon, Carlos Pena, Lance Berkman
Early Trade Targets: David DeJesus, Dan Uggla, Jason Bartlett, Stephen Drew
The Giants won the World Series in 2010, and now I am reluctantly going to delve into what lay ahead for 2011. I’d very much like to bask in this longer but reality has set in. What’s more, all players became FA just five days after the World Series this year, effectively ending the period in which teams could exclusively negotiated with their own FA – I believe it had previously been a full 14 days – so it’s quite literally already open season. Mike Murphy had barely gotten a chance to finish the champagne soaked laundry – there’s zero doubt it smelled something horrid and yet something beautiful when he got around to it, drenched in equal parts sweat and victory, because Murphy had been doing the Giants’ laundry since they came to the City in 1958 and not once had his last load of the season been sopping with alcohol – when the heroes of the 2010 season like Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, and the heroes of the NLCS and World Series, Juan Uribe and MVP Edgar Renteria, became free agents.
And no sooner than could these players sit back, smile, and reflect on what they’d done, they were already being surveyed, their stats prodded and their futures discussed by the Giants’ front office. And who can blame them? It’s not a matter of, “What have you done for me lately?” It’s a matter of, “What can you do for me next year, and the year after?” Such is life in the business of baseball, when plan C first baseman put up MVP numbers for four months and finish a top 10 NL player on a slight salary of just $3 million, and former Cy Young award winning, $126 million dollar starters don’t even make the postseason roster.
PITCHING (STARTERS and PEN)
In terms of pitching, the Giants are the envy of pretty much every team in the Major Leagues. It was interesting to see the opposing teams fans and writers wonder, “Where did our hitters go?” all postseason long. They didn’t go anywhere; the Giants’ staff simply shut them down. They owe their World Series rings to this.
The Giants will throw out one of the best five-man rotations in baseball in 2011. Their top four are all homegrown – as everyone should be well aware of by now following the World Series – and are extraordinary in one or more of the most important factors to pitch effectively.
Lincecum is dominant and my pick to reclaim his Cy Young crown in 2011. He limits the long ball, decently keeps walks down and – armed with one of the best strikeout pitches in the game, his changeup – is the class of the Senior Circuit in terms of striking out batters (10.07/9 IP career). And the slider he showcased in September and October (and November) will only help him to sustain his dominance, along with a new found motivation to condition hard. Cain is a solid number two starter on this staff, and would be number one for more than a few franchises. He did substantially better at not walking batters in 2010 (2.46/9 IP) and continued to strike out batters at an above average rate (7.13/ 9). What’s more, he has held batters to a suspiciously low average on balls in play (.274 career BABiP). That’s a sample of over 1,000 innings and something tells me he’ll continue the trend. His fly ball style works well in AT&T, but he pitches well on the road, too. Twenty-one year old Madison Bumgarner will likely surpass Jonathan Sanchez as the next reliable starter. It looks like he’s going to strike out just enough batters (7.14/9 IP career), at worst, and continue to limit the long ball decently and walk very few (2.11/9 IP in ’10). He’s a very rare breed in that he is a funky, three-quarter lefty that throws across his body but manages to throw a pretty hard fastball (91.3 MPH average), and most miraculously, he’s a strike thrower. If his fastball stays where it’s at or even increases a tick, and he sharpens his changeup and slider as strikeout pitches, he may well reach his number one starter ceiling. The Giants’ fourth starter, Sanchez, has the ability to throw a no hitter on any given evening. He’s always going to walk too many batters but his ability to strike out so many batters (9.41/9 IP career) gets him out of trouble, making him one of the very best four starters in baseball.
And then there’s Barry Zito. When discussing him, it’s very important to take his contract ($126 million) and throw it out the window. If you’re able to do that, you’ll see that Zito is one of the best five starters in baseball and hasn’t missed a start since little league. He’s more than likely going to throw 200 or so mediocre innings and smile each time he checks his bank account. But when the rest of the league is playing “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” at the end of Spring Training to pick a fifth starter, the Giants won’t be – and that’s worth something.
These five starters posted a combined WAR of 15.8 in 2010, or a 3.16 on average, and Bumgarner was only the fifth start for half the season. If he’d pitched 200 innings with similar numbers, he’d have finished with a WAR of 3.7, bringing the Giants’ 2010 rotations cumulative WAR to 17.5, or 3.5 on average. That would have been the equivalent of having the 2010 version of Johan Santana pitch each day – granted, not the Cy Young version – and something tells me that gives your ballclub a decent shot to win.
The Giants have a shutdown bullpen with lots of weapons. Brian Wilson (11.21 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, ratio 3.58, .36 HR/9, 2.19 FIP. 2.7 Wins Above Replacement) is the type of closer that everybody wants but no team really wants to pay for in terms of salary and draft picks, and for good reason. But much like the core of starters San Francisco has, he’s homegrown and developed and still relatively cheap, though he’ll go through arbitration once again this winter. He’s one of the best closers in the league. He’s fearless, throws strikes, gets lots of punch outs and rarely gives up dingers. Romo will continue to spin Frisbee sliders, strike out batters and throw tons of strikes (10.16 K/9 and 5.0 K/BB). The Giants will have three decent lefties in Lopez, Runzler and Affeldt, though there’s some talk to make Runzler a starter. And they’ll have Santiago Casilla back as well, with the option to retain Chris Ray and Ramon Ramirez to round out the bullpen. Sabean will have very little worrying to do over his arms. And given the volatility of relievers, Sabean will have a few interesting and somewhat promising arms to pick from in the minor leagues.
OFFENSE (and DEFENSE)
I feel very confident in saying the Giants are comfortably set at 4 of 8 everyday positions. They will have NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey – I hope; not that he will be there, he will be, but that he’ll be reining NL RoY – as catcher for 2011 and far, far beyond. They will have Andres Torres (who is arbitration eligible) in center field and batting leadoff. Hopefully, he continues to stay healthy and put up Wins Above Replacement (WAR) north of 4.0, because I think it’d be greedy to hope he repeats his 6.0 WAR from 2010. The Giants will return second baseman Freddy Sanchez and hope for a full season of quality defense and streaky offense. The Giants will also more than likely place NLCS Most Valuable Player, Cody Ross, in right field. His October heroics notwithstanding, Ross was an average hitter in 2008 and 2009 but struggled in 2010. He’s averaged a decent 2 Wins Above Replacement the past two seasons. He has a little bit of pop and can play above average D in either corner outfield spot, including within the tricky AT&T, as well as fill in at center field without hurting the team too much.
Third base is a position that is a question mark at this point. It’s hard to imagine the Giants might have an MVP caliber player at the position, or if not, a player that can’t play the position defensively or carry his weight with the bat. But then that’s the exact position they’re in. If Pablo Sandoval was able to make the necessary lifestyle changes and get himself into shape, he could easily be the middle of the order bat he was in 2009. If not, he could easily find himself as a bench player or a minor leaguer trying to claw his way back to the show. It’s probably also not out of the question for the Giants to move Pablo to a team willing to take the risk on him and give something valuable in return. I’ll bet the Diamondbacks would take Pablo for Stephen Drew, and the Giants sure need a shortstop. But this is the type of trade you hate to do, because Pablo could very well return to form and terrorize them for the next 8-10 years for an in-division team. Another possibility would be moving Panda for Dan Uggla. That would be assuming Uggla doesn’t take an extension from Florida – he already turned down 4 years, $48 million – and that would potentially be an awful lot to give up for a free agent to be.
The Giants have three positions that need to be filled by free agents or in-house options. One such position is left field. Pat Burrell could return but likely isn’t an everyday player any longer. The Giants also have Mark DeRosa returning from wrist surgery, but it’d be more than foolish to assume he can immediately return to being a quality player and meaningful presence in the lineup. I like him better as a super-utility type. The FA market contains Carl Crawford (.378 wOBA, 19 HR, 47 SB, 6.9 WAR)*, Jayson Werth and Johnny Damon among others. Crawford would fit beautifully into the Giants’ lineup and immediately make their pitchers even better with breathtaking outfield defense (to go with Torres and Ross); very few balls would be dropping. He’d very easily slide right into the three spot in the order, instantly making the Giants more athletic while providing extra base power and installing a huge stolen base threat. But, in all likelihood Crawford will be too expensive – he’ll likely take home greater than $100 million – for the Giants to stomach and will sign elsewhere.
*Crawford is sort of a 1992, Barry Bonds lite. He has power (though not as much). He gets on base (though not as much). He can steal 40 bases. He plays remarkable defense in left field. He’s very, very similar to pre-juiced Barry Bonds, though very obviously not on the same level. But who is?
Jayson Werth does a lot of things the Giants could use. He could slip into right field and middle of the order, making room for Ross in left. He hits for power, runs the bases well, is patient and is a good defender. That being said, he apparently hates hitting at AT&T and the Giants prefer a left handed bat. He’ll command a Jason Bay like contact of 4 years, $60 million as a floor and have lots of action from teams like the Red Sox. Furthermore, he’s had some pretty significant splits while hitting in the hitter haven Citizens Bank Park. Having witnessed the enormous drop off of Aaron Rowand first hand, it seems unlikely the Giants would go back to the stove after being burned once. Both Werth and Crawford would cost them their first round draft pick.
It seems likely the Giants would at least explore a trade for David DeJesus again. DeJesus was injured just before the deadline in 2010, and apparently, the Giants were somewhat close to acquiring him at the time. I have little doubt the Giants would wait to see DeJesus in the spring to see how he’s recovering from the torn thumb ligament before pulling the trigger on such a trade. Also, like Uggla, he’ll be a free agent after the 2011 season and thus a hefty price in prospects would likely deter Brian Sabean and the ownership.
The Giants also have a hole to fill at shortstop, and it won’t be easily patched. The Giants’ only in-house options are Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza, and neither is ready. Crawford probably isn’t going to hit enough at the major league level but is a good defender. He hurt himself midseason in 2010 and really hasn’t hit at all since reaching AA before the All-Star break in 2009. Adrianza has moved up a level in each of the last two seasons – he’ll likely start in AA in 2010 – but isn’t near ready with the bat. He may one day be an eight-hole hitter and fantastic defender, but he’s at least a year away.
The Giants’ best option might be potentially departing, NLCS hero, Juan Uribe. Uribe is a plus defender at third but just average at shortstop. He doesn’t have the speed and quickness to field the position and, making matters worse, has shown some wear and tear while playing every day the past season and a half. He often makes up for lack of quickness with a strong arm, but it’s not nearly enough to make him a great defender. Offensively, he will do enough to justify his defense. He can really run into mistakes and hit 24 homeruns in 2010. He’s an all or nothing type hitter and doesn’t get on base nearly enough, making him a frustrating hitter to watch when he’s slumping.
He may well be the best option because the market is barren otherwise. Orlando Cabrera, Cesar Izturis, the Giants’ own Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada, Adam Everett and Cristian Guzman head a lackluster class. The Giants’ best option is probably to sign Uribe and hope for the best. Otherwise, I think the Giants will probably have to acquire something via trade. I really like Stephen Drew and would imagine he could be had, but the price would likely be steep.
Finally, the Giants need a first baseman and they and Aubrey Huff have a mutual interest to hook back up, but Huff has every right to explore the FA market. This will be his last chance to earn some bread for his family (and new baby). If Huff is offered something beyond 2 years from another organization, the Giants should move on. Why? Because the Giants have one of the best first base prospects – see my previous post – in Brandon Belt. They could easily slide Belt in now if absolutely necessary, or at worst, sign someone like Lance Berkman to fill in as long as he’s mildly productive and healthy (and cheap). Belt will cost league minimum and is receiving rave reviews from scouts in the Arizona Fall League. If they went this route, they could save money for a big splash acquisition like Carl Crawford. This is unfortunately one of those things where the Giants have to be careful to not get nostalgic with a player that helped bring them their first World Series Championship after 52, often painful years in the City by the Bay. Huff had a career year, forgive me for saying this, but let’s maybe quit while we’re ahead on this one.
Other big names out there Victor Martinez, Carlos Pena, Adam Dunn and Adrian Beltre. Martinez would be an interesting addition. Stick with me here. Martinez could slide into a starting role at first base and play catcher when Posey needs a rest. This would make for an interesting situation where the Giants could forego keeping a backup catcher – meaning the punchless Eli Whiteside – and keep both hitters in the lineup every day. Unfortunately, I think Martinez will command too many years and he would only block Brandon Belt. The same blocking logic goes for Carlos Pena and Adam Dunn. Adrian Beltre put up MVP like overall numbers for Boston while hitting both at home and on the road. His premier defense and solid bat will probably net him the 3-4 year deal he was seeking last winter. He’d be an interesting sign for the Giants in that he could man third and push Pablo over to first, where his glove would play better. But, again, this would only block a productive hitter in Brandon Belt one way or the other eventually. Belt, Beltre and Sandoval would simply be one too many corner infielders. The final wild card in this regard, though, is that the Giants have toyed with Belt in the outfield. But his future is at first base, or at least should be.
The Giants have a difficult offseason ahead. Figuring out what to do with Pablo Sandoval is going to give them a headache all winter long. If Uribe bolts (and even if he doesn’t), shortstop is going to try the Giants’ intelligence (and Lady Luck). They have so many pieces to get right back into the playoffs in 2011. But, mark my words, if mistakes are made on contracts and player personnel and the Giants are struggling in 2011, the reprieve from ridicule and conditional, sincere love for Brian Sabean will disappear like seashells from a vicious beach, and there will be plenty of venom for Razor and Mr. T, F.P. Santangelo, and Marty Lurie on KNBR 680 to wade through again. Such is the nature of sports, and especially of sports talk radio.
Stats provided by Fangraphs