Part 2: Where Do They Go From
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
November 20, 2011
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The most obvious and glaring need for San Francisco is to
acquire more offense. Too many great pitching performances went unrewarded this
past season thanks to the Giants' hapless hitters and that simply cannot be
repeated in 2012, not if the goal is another championship. Acquiring Melky
Cabrera from the Royals in exchange for the talented-but-inconsistent
Jonathan Sanchez (along with minor leaguer Ryan Verdugo) was certainly a
step in the right direction. At the same time, however, they cannot overlook
what got them their first championship in 54 years: their pitching.
Lincecum is once again arbitration eligible after finishing
up a two-year, $23 million deal while Cain is due to make $15 million in 2012,
up from $7 million in ’11, entering the final year of his contract.
Locking up that pair of aces is Sabean’s most immediate priority this winter, as
it should be. While Lincecum has stated a preference for a shorter deal, it
would behoove San Francisco to reward their two-time Cy Young winning ace with a
deal of at least three years, back-loaded to ease the financial constraints of Zito’s mind-bogglingly bad contract, which still has two-years and $46 million
remaining (including the $7M buyout of his 2014, $18M club option). Such a
move would also buy out a year or two of free agency. A similar multi-year deal
with Cain would ensure several more seasons of high expectations beyond 2012,
especially with Bumgarner under team control through 2016.
But while re-signing that dynamic duo is their first
priority, the Giants also need to focus on rebuilding the bullpen, which began
the winter facing plenty of uncertainty with Romo, Ramirez, and Casilla
all arbitration eligible; Lopez and Mota potential free agents; and the club
holding a pricey $5 million option on Affeldt.
As to the latter two players, Sabean moved quickly to keep
the status quo, exercising the club’s option on Affeldt and re-signing Lopez to
a two-year, $8.5 million deal. The team is certain to offer Romo a contract, but
Ramirez and Casilla could be non-tendered in order to save money as the team
looks to younger pitchers such as Steve Edlefsen and Dan Otero and
possibly even 2010 draftees Heath Hembree and Seth Rosin. The
38-year old Mota most certainly would have to accept another minor league deal,
as he did last winter, in order to return.
It won’t be an easy task to keep the bullpen intact. Wilson’s expensive $8.5 million price tag for
2012 - up from $6.5 million this past season - could further complicate matters. Examining salary numbers exemplifies why trading Wilson
might be in the Giants' best interests going forward. Payroll is expected to be
in the $125 million range. With Affeldt’s option exercised and Lopez
re-signed, the club now has over $81 million committed to just seven players,
including the $13 million still owed to Aaron Rowand. And that doesn’t include
Lincecum, who is sure to approach or top the $20M mark after earning $13
million in ’11.
Additionally, no fewer than 13 Giants are up for
arbitration, although only Lincecum, Sandoval, Romo, Schierholtz, Vogelsong and
the newly acquired Cabrera are certain to be tendered qualifying contracts.
That leaves Casilla, Ramirez, Torres, Keppinger, Fontenot, and Emmanuel
Burriss on the arbitration bubble. Eli Whiteside is sure to be non-tendered.
Once all arbitration raises are accounted for, there won’t be much left over to
bring in outside talent.
Trading Wilson and acquiring a less expensive option to
close would give San Francisco the payroll flexibility to add more offense. The Texas Rangers, with
offense to spare, have long contemplated moving Neftali Feliz to the
rotation and acquiring Wilson (in exchange for David Murphy?) would allow
them to do just that. They could also choose to let this winter’s loaded free
agent closer carousel play itself out and see if there is any interest among the
teams left standing when the music has stopped. The Giants could then turn the ninth inning over to free
agent Heath Bell (3-years, $24-27 million, back-loaded?) or possibly even
Joe Nathan on a one-year, incentive laden deal. With Hembree (41 saves in
66 professional appearances) looming on the horizon, a short-term option might
be the most appealing.
Wilson has proven himself to be one of the best closers in
the game, having collected 163 saves since 2008, the most in baseball. He has
been a force in the bullpen and in the clubhouse, becoming a fixture in Giants
lore by closing out the final game of the 2010 World Series. Yet despite being used more judiciously in 2011 by manager
Bruce Bochy (Wilson had ten saves of four outs or more in 2010 but none
in 2011), he missed four weeks in August and September with inflammation in his
elbow after opening the year on the DL with a strained oblique. And while he
posted a respectable 3.11 ERA, his strikeout numbers were down and his walk
The shelf life of a closer can be precariously short and at
it would behoove Giants management to at least consider the option of dealing
their All-Star closer.
Top Priority: Offense
With the acquisition of Cabrera, the Giants have added a 27-year old who is
coming off a breakthrough season and can play all three outfield positions. He
attained career highs in hits (201), doubles
(44), home runs (18), runs (102), runs batted in (87), stolen bases (20),
batting average (.305), slugging (.470), OPS (.809), and OPS+ (121), all while
making just $1.25 million. The switch-hitting Cabrera even hit over .300 from
both sides of the plate. In line for a nifty raise in arbitration, Cabrera is
still likely to represent a savings of $1-2 million from what Sanchez would have
earned in ’12.
His versatility gives the Giants options as they look to
upgrade their offense, though his shaky defense increases the chances that they
will offer arbitration to Torres, who could serve as a fourth outfielder and
defensive replacement for Cabrera in centerfield late in games. A
better (and cheaper) option for that role than Torres could be Endy Chavez.
Defensively strong and versatile enough to play all three outfield positions, Chavez,
is a .274 career hitter who batted .301 for the Rangers last year while making
just $1.25 million. Torres made $2.2 million, and would be sure to receive
a raise through arbitration despite his poor production.
Another option to improve the offense, and certainly the
most discussed one, would be to re-sign Beltran, although the cost might be
prohibitive. While Beltran posted solid numbers after his
acquisition, I have to confess that he did not impress me as much as he did
other people. Be it his slow start for San Francisco (.244/.261/.356 in his
first 11 games before going on the DL), the fact that he hit just .238 with
runners in scoring position for the Giants, or his seemingly
indifferent attitude, I can’t really say I’d be fussed if the club went in
another direction. One way or another they’ll need to add another
potent bat and short of landing a pipe-dream such as Prince Fielder or
Albert Pujols, Beltran is probably the best option that exists on the free
agent market. But certainly not the only one.
Versatile free agent Michael Cuddyer could also appeal to the Giants,
both as a corner outfielder and as insurance at second base in case Freddy
Sanchez is not ready. Grady Sizemore could also be a
potential option as a short-term bridge to top prospect Gary Brown,
although he seems likely to end up back in Cleveland. And Josh Willingham,
who belted 29 home runs across the Bay for Oakland, has also been widely
speculated upon, as has his teammate, Coco Crisp.
Far less likely, yet far more appealing, would be 26-year
old Cuban and soon-to-be free agent
Many Giants fans have been clamoring for Jimmy Rollins
or Jose Reyes to play shortstop, but both would be too expensive and, in
my opinion, bad acquisitions. While I would have been
willing to go all out in a deal to acquire Reyes this past July for a
short-term run at glory, I would not be willing to commit the years and dollars
necessary to acquire him now as a free agent. The same goes for the soon-to-be
33-year old Rollins, who is said to desire a five-year package.
Instead, I would propose the Giants sign a stop-gap that
could provide stable defense and some measure of respectability on offense at a
reasonable price, while splitting time with Crawford, a defensive wiz whose bat
needs more seasoning; someone who they can run out there 75-100 times a year and
who, ideally, would possess the versatility to play second base as well.
This description fits free agent Clint Barmes to a
tee. Barmes made just shy of $4 million in 2011 and would be far less expensive
than either Rollins or Reyes, and his .244/.312/.386 slash line, far better than
what the Giants shortstops were able to muster, was supplemented nicely by well
above average defense for the Astros. The right-handed hitting Barmes would be
an excellent platoon partner with the lefty swinging Crawford and he would also
provide insurance at second base if Sanchez’ shoulder doesn’t hold up. The
Giants, however, have competition for Barmes’ services from both Milwaukee and
An alternative to Barmes would be free agent Ramon
Santiago, who can play second, third and short, and batted .260 last season
while playing for Detroit. Santiago is steady defensively and made just $1.25
million in 2011.
As for players returning from injury, all signs are
pointing towards a successful return for Posey. Nevertheless, the team ought to
insure themselves while at the same time
upgrading their depth by signing a guy like free agent Ramon
Hernandez. Hernandez, who has not started more than 85 games in a season at
catcher since 2008, was an oft-mentioned target after Posey went down and would
be a much better alternative than either Whiteside or Stewart. Hernandez batted
.282 with 12 home runs in 2011 after batting .297 in 2010, settling nicely into
a role position behind the plate for Cincinnati the past three seasons, and
would provide insurance in case Posey’s ankle gives him trouble next spring.
Addition by Subtraction
It would be a bonus if the Giants brass could find a way to
move Huff and open up first base for Brandon Belt, Brett Pill, or both.
Huff will be 35 next season and cannot be counted on to reproduce his 2010
The left-handed hitting Belt struggled during his rookie
campaign, but still clubbed nine home runs in just 63 games and is swinging the bat
well in the Dominican Winter League, while the right-handed swinging Pill batted
.300 and slugged .560 in a long-overdue September tryout. Both are fantastic
defenders at first base, while Belt can also play left field. It’s not a stretch
to suggest those two could at least match, if not better, the production they’d
otherwise receive from Huff.
Above all else, however, the Giants need more than anything
to find a way, some way, ANY WAY, to rid themselves of Zito and his
ill-conceived, albatross of a contract. Zito has been an absolute bust
for the Giants, going 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA in 146 appearances since signing a
much ridiculed 7-year, $126 million contract prior to the 2008 season. His
performance has been so bad and deteriorated so far that he was even left off
the 2010 post-season roster entirely and spent much last season tucked
away on the DL with foot and ankle injuries.
Enough is enough. It has become apparent to anyone and
everyone that Zito cannot be counted on to produce even decent numbers for a
fifth starter, and is not well-suited for relief work. It would be in the best
interests of all parties involved for the Giants and Zito to part ways without
Zito ever donning the Orange and Black again. The clear impediment to that is
the nearly $50 million still owed Zito, and while it’s easy to suggest eating
that kind of money when it isn’t yours to eat, the Giants – short of finding a
trade partner willing to swap really bad contracts – need to be prepared to do
just that. This divorce needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Fixing the Fifth Starter
With Sanchez gone, the leading in-house candidates for the
role of fifth starter, currently, are Zito and Surkamp. Dealing Zito would leave
them with only Surkamp, and while the rookie left-hander with a big 12-to-6
curveball displayed brief glimpses of why the front office felt confident enough to
trade its number one pitching prospect last July, he also showed that he isn’t
ready to pitch yet at the big league level. With or without Zito, the Giants
will need to bring in a serviceable veteran pitcher or two on the cheap, looking
to catch lighting in a bottle for the second consecutive year. Rumors have even
tied San Francisco to free agent Roy Oswalt, though it’s hard to imagine
him taking enough of a cut in pay from the $16 million he made in 2011 to make
him a viable option.
Can Bam-Bam, Bring Back
Finally, I would suggest one more move by management, this
one regarding the coaching staff. In two seasons since hiring Hensley Meulens
as hitting coach, the Giants have finished 17th and 29th
in the majors in runs scored. This past season, San Francisco ranked 27th
(tied) overall in team batting average, 29th in on-base percentage,
26th in slugging and 27th in team OPS. The
team batted just .219 with runners in scoring position, and with two outs that
mark dropped to just .173, the lowest average,
according to Giants beat writer Andy Baggarly, by any team in the past 37
years for which such data is available. They even set a major league record by
hitting 21 consecutive solo home runs from July 6 through August 13, breaking
the former record of 20 straight set by the 1914 Philadelphia Phillies.
Not unlike how things were under his predecessor, Carney
Lansford, the Giants' offense under the direction of Meulens has shown
absolutely no improvement in plate discipline and routinely fails to execute
even the most basic fundamentals. In over 30 years of watching baseball, I’ve
never seen a Giants offense as inept at the basics as this most recent
incarnation. It’s time for Bam-Bam to go, and I can think of no better candidate
to replace him than former Giants first baseman Will Clark. An
experienced and respected hitter with a career batting line of .303/.384/.497,
Clark would bring exactly the kind of savvy, no-nonsense attitude to the job
that carried him through his 15 big league seasons.
The Final Word
One way or another, the Giants need to improve their
offensive performance if they want to get back on top. The return of Buster
Posey and Freddy Sanchez coupled with the addition of Melky Cabrera isn’t going
to be enough and they will have to make another move (or two) if they want to
win the NL West next year. With a lack of financial resources, Sabean will have
to get creative to add another couple of bats, but he’s got to find a way to do
it. The Giants' pitching held up its end of the bargain in 2011, but their hitters
consistently let them down. This winter Sabean has an opportunity to rectify
that situation. If he fails, it’ll be him that let the pitching down in 2012.
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