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It turns out an even year had nothing to do with the Giants winning a World Championship. The secret formula all along had been a combination of great starting pitching, timely hitting and a reliable bullpen. While they did win 87 games and clinch a Wild Card berth before losing to the Cubs in the NLDS, it was clear that the “reliable bullpen” portion was a missing ingredient in 2016.
- Buster Posey, C: $110MM through 2021. Contract includes a $22MM club option in 2022 with a $3MM buyout.
- Johnny Cueto, SP: $115MM through 2021. Cueto can opt out after the 2017 World Series. Contract includes a $22MM club option in 2022 with a $5MM buyout.
- Brandon Belt, 1B: $72.8MM through 2021.
- Brandon Crawford, SS: $69MM through 2021.
- Jeff Samardzija, SP: $79.2MM through 2020.
- Hunter Pence, OF: $37MM through 2018.
- Denard Span, OF: $28MM through 2018. Contract includes a $12MM mutual option in 2019 with a $4MM buyout.
- Matt Cain, SP: $28.1MM through 2017. Contract includes a $21MM club option in 2018 with a $7.5MM buyout.
- Madison Bumgarner, SP: $13MM through 2017. Contract includes a $12MM club option in 2018 with a $1.5MM buyout and a $12MM club option in 2019.
- Matt Moore, SP: $8.75MM through 2017. Contract includes a $9MM club option in 2018 with a $1MM buyout and a $10MM club option in 2019 with a $750K buyout.
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Eduardo Nuñez, IF/OF (5.090) – $4.4MM
- Conor Gillaspie, 3B (4.028) – $900K
- George Kontos, RP (3.171) – $1.7MM
- Will Smith, RP (3.155) – $2.3MM
- Cory Gearrin, RP (3.136) -$1.1MM
- Ehire Adrianza, INF (2.131) – $513K
- Non-tender candidates: Gearrin
The Giants’ offseason needs are pretty obvious. Closer is priority number one. Left field, although not nearly as urgent, would be the other void that general manager Bobby Evans will likely fill this offseason. Other than that, they’re still in very good shape.
Future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy is entering his 23rd season as a Major League manager—2017 will be his 11th season with the Giants—and closing in on 1800 regular season victories to go along with his three World Series titles and four National League Championships. He’ll lead a group of talented players with a ton of playoff experience and still in the prime of their career.
The starting rotation remains the strength of their roster. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto might form the best 1-2 punch in baseball. Jeff Samardzija gave the team over 200 quality innings in year one of his five-year, $90MM contract. Matt Moore was very good after he was acquired on August 1st, especially when it counted the most. The 27-year-old lefty was dominant over his last three starts (23.2 IP, 3 ER, 11 H, 4 BB, 27 K), including Game Four of the NLDS.
Matt Cain should get the first shot at filling the No. 5 spot in the rotation, mostly because he’s making close to $21MM in 2017. The three-time All-Star, who averaged 32 starts from 2006-2013, has been on the disabled list more often than not over the past three seasons. When healthy enough to take the mound, he’s nowhere near as effective as he once was. While the walk and strikeout rates haven’t changed much, his WHIP and ERA have skyrocketed. It’s unclear how much the injuries have to do with his decline and whether he can bounce back at age 32. Fortunately, the Giants have plenty of depth and several young candidates who could step in if necessary.
Chris Heston, who missed most of 2016 with an oblique injury after an impressive rookie season, could be Cain’s top competitor. Clayton Blackburn, Ty Blach and Chris Stratton have nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level and figure to get a long look in Spring Training. None of the three, as is the case with Heston, has more than mid-rotation potential, but won’t be asked to be more than a No. 5 in the Giants’ rotation.
Top pitching prospect Tyler Beede, the 14th pick in the 2014 draft, could also force himself into the picture after posting a 2.81 ERA with 3.2 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9 in 24 Double-A starts in 2016. Former Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013 because of injuries and will turn 33 in January, will also be in MLB camp.
Despite the struggles of the bullpen in 2016, the group of pitchers expected to bridge the gap to the yet-to-be-acquired closer can be quite good. Lefty Will Smith, another August 1st trade acquisition, is one of the top lefty setup men in the league, though he wasn’t necessarily treated that way upon arriving in San Francisco. Fellow lefty Steven Okert has the potential to be one of the best rookie relievers in 2017. Derek Law and Hunter Strickland, while not able to step in and solidify the closer role once Santiago Casilla floundered late in 2016, were still very good overall and should be more than adequate in late-inning setup roles. George Kontos has a 2.49 ERA in 154 relief appearances over the past three seasons and the versatile Albert Suarez should also contribute.
With three of the best closers in baseball available on the free agent market, the Giants are expected to pounce on one as quickly as possible. However, they’ll have to outbid several teams that also have a need at the closer position. The Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Nationals and Yankees could all make aggressive bids for Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. Even if the closer market is limited to those six teams — which is no sure thing with other organizations possibly looking to bolster their pens –three of them will be left to choose between Greg Holland, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, and a long list of much less appealing former closers, including Jonathan Papelbon, Fernando Rodney and Koji Uehara. Jeremy Jeffress, who was an effective closer for the Brewers before a mid-season trade to the Rangers, is a potential trade candidate. The Orioles and Royals could also shop their respective closers, Zach Britton and Wade Davis, albeit with lofty price tags that would likely scare off any suitors that weren’t absolutely desperate.
The 2017 Opening Day lineup will look a lot like the 2016 version—Denard Span, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik are all penciled into starting spots once again—aside from a new third baseman and, unless Pagan is re-signed, a new left fielder.
Late-season hero Conor Gillaspie, who went 7-for-14 with a homer and two doubles in his last five regular season games and 8-for-19 in the post-season, including a game-winning homer in the Giants’ Wild Card game victory, probably did enough to put him in the mix at third base in 2017. Eduardo Nuñez, an All-Star in 2016 before he was acquired from the Twins in late July, could prove to be the better option, though. Regardless of whether he wins the starting job at third base, his speed (40 SB), power (16 HR) and versatility (he can play 2B, 3B, SS, LF and RF) will ensure he’s in the lineup on a regular basis.
A platoon in left field with Jarrett Parker (.942 OPS in 151 career plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers) and either Gorkys Hernandez or Mac Williamson isn’t out of the question, but there are several proven options on the free agent market that the Giants could sign.
If the Giants are willing to pay top dollar and significantly increase their payroll, Yoenis Cespedes could be on their radar. The cost of finding a good closer likely decreases those chances, though, which would make Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Josh Reddick more likely targets. If the plan is to not increase their payroll significantly, Jon Jay or Matt Joyce could be more cost-efficient options, as would bringing back free agent Angel Pagan. The trade market should also present some options with Jorge Soler one of the notable players expected to be shopped.
Keeping this veteran core of talent together isn’t cheap. Even with the salaries of Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo and Pagan coming off the books, the Giants are projected to be very close to the 2016 payroll total before making a move. My current projection has them around $170MM, the fifth highest total in baseball. Signing one of the top free agents this offseason would require either a payroll increase, creative contract structuring or a trade. If Evans can make it happen, though, the Giants will enter the 2017 season with one of the most talented and well-balanced rosters in the league.