Offseason Outlook: San Francisco Giants

After missing the playoffs in 2013, the Giants added yet another chapter to the “Even Year” saga by capturing their third World Series victory in the past five seasons. They’ll have plenty to address in the offseason, however, with several key free agents coming off the books and a need in the rotation.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

The early portion of the Giants’ offseason focused largely on the team’s efforts to retain Pablo Sandoval, but the news came in on Monday that Sandoval will sign a five-year pact with the Red Sox, and he won’t be alone. Also going to Boston is one of the primary free agent alternatives to Sandoval — Hanley Ramirez. That leaves the Giants with limited options to address third base on the free agent market and leaves the team with holes in both its lineup and pitching staff.

The Giants have several spots on the diamond figured out; Buster Posey will share time with Andrew Susac behind the dish and also spend some time at first base along with Brandon Belt. The double-play tandem figures to be composed of standout defender Brandon Crawford and sophomore Joe Panik. They’ll form a defensively sound middle infield, though neither brings an overwhelming amount of offensive upside to the table. A healthy Angel Pagan should man center field in San Francisco, and Hunter Pence, of course, will be in right field.

The Giants will have to address third base and look for a new left fielder with Michael Morse a free agent as well. In Morse and Sandoval, San Francisco lost two of its more potent bats, so there should be a great deal of emphasis on replacing that offense. Rumored options in the wake of Sandoval’s departure include Chase Headley and Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas (who has worked out for the Giants at third base but is probably better suited to play left field). Headley would provide shutdown defense at the hot corner and is a familiar option given his extended tenure with the Padres. Tomas, however, carries more offensive upside, as he’s said to possess 70-grade power and could provide 25-homer pop even in the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park. If the Giants are looking for free agent alternatives in the outfield, a reunion with Melky Cabrera could provide some punch to the lineup, and Colby Rasmus brings some pop to the table with the ability to play center field should Pagan struggle with his health again. Of course, Rasmus is coming off a down season, and the Giants may want more certainty as they look to return to the World Series.

The trade market offers a number of alternatives. The Giants probably don’t have the MLB-ready pitching prospects that the Braves are believed to be seeking for Justin Upton, but they could look to Michael Saunders and Matt Joyce as low-cost upgrades. If they care to set their sights a bit higher, Jay Bruce is said to be attainable, though Cincinnati’s asking price will be significant. The Red Sox, of course, have a bounty of outfielders available and could send anyone from a group of Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava to San Fran.

A trade for a third base replacement may be a bit easier to come by, with names like Luis Valbuena, Will Middlebrooks, David Freese, Pedro Alvarez and Casey McGehee all potentially available. I speculated at one point that Trevor Plouffe could be a trade candidate as well, and one would think that the rebuilding Twins would indeed be willing to listen as his price increases and Miguel Sano looms.

While left field and third base are now obvious holes to be filled, another area of need for the Giants is in the rotation. Madison Bumgarner’s October heroics aside, the Giants have a lack of stability within the rotation. Former aces Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are wild cards, to varying extents (Lincecum more so than Cain), as Cain is returning from surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow, while Lincecum’s past dominance has evaporated (4.76 ERA from 2012-14). Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong are free agents, and Tim Hudson will turn 40 next July.

With that level of uncertainty and the loss of one potential cornerstone already in the books, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Giants were recently connected to Jon Lester. The Giants likely have the financial means to pursue any of the “Big Three” starters, with Max Scherzer and James Shields posing legitimate options. However, the second tier of this year’s free agent class runs deep, and a pitcher-friendly ball park pairs well with a 2014 World Championship when it comes to luring free agents. The Giants could look to any of Brandon McCarthy, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano (the cousin of Santiago Casilla) or perhaps Japanese star Kenta Maeda (assuming he is posted). A reunion with Peavy can’t be ruled out after he pitched exceptionally well for them in the regular season following a July trade.

As is the case with the trade markets for both left fielders and third basemen, many names figure to be kicked around by the Giants’ brass. In Cincinnati, a trio of starters is said to be available — Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon — and the Giants are well equipped to absorb the salary of a bigger fish like Cole Hamels. If the two sides can look past the divisional implications, Ian Kennedy is a good fit as well. Other potentially available names such as Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Scott Kazmir may require San Francisco to part with Major League ready help, as their current clubs are clear contenders, making them a trickier fit.

The Giants already possess a strong bullpen, with veterans Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez all coming back into the fold. Jean Machi enjoyed a solid season in the bullpen, and George Kontos was successful in about a half-season’s worth of innings. And, for all of Hunter Strickland‘s postseason struggles, his 100 mph heater figures to be back in the mix as well. The Giants seem likely to take a look at retaining the popular Sergio Romo but could pursue another outside option to solidify the bunch. I’d think another right-handed arm would be on the wish list, with Lopez and Affeldt slinging from the left side, and some potential free agent targets include Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. The team reportedly plans to use Tim Lincecum in the rotation, but a somewhat more creative option raised by Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron in August was to give the ninth inning to Lincecum. As Cameron noted, Lincecum has had prolonged struggles with men on base throughout his career, and giving him the standard “ninth inning only” closer’s role would allow him to enter with a blank slate every outing, when his numbers have been significantly better. That’d also allow manager Bruce Bochy to use his top relievers in higher-leverage situations with the game on the line in other innings — a strategy that served him well in the playoffs this season.

Another somewhat outside-the-box suggestion for the team (though it’s certainly been suggested before) would be to install Susac as the full-time catcher with Posey becoming a full-time first baseman or third baseman, although that could potentially leave Belt without a position. He could, of course, be appealing to other clubs in trades that could help fill a different need, however. Susac does come with starting catcher upside, and a move from behind the plate could help Posey reach new career-highs in plate appearances (currently just 610) and games played (148). Of course, there would be certain defensive questions raised with a slide to third base, but filling an existing hole with current roster members could allow the team to spend bigger on an impact free agent such as Tomas or Lester.

The Giants have many routes they can take now that the Sandoval saga has come to an end. Though they’re the defending World Champions, they’re getting hit hard by free agency and unquestionably have holes to fill. Still, this is a team with a legitimate ace atop its rotation, some strong relief options in place and a perennial MVP candidate in Posey. The Giants had a $149MM payroll to open the 2014 season which only rose with the acquisition of Peavy, and they’re flush with cash following postseason revenues and a World Series victory. They were reportedly prepared to pay Sandoval in the range of $95MM over the next five seasons, and you can be certain that those dollars will be reallocated to address other roster needs.


White Sox Sign Adam LaRoche

The White Sox have officially signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25MM deal, as first reported on Twitter by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. LaRoche, a client of Relativity Sports’ Mike Milchin, will earn $12MM in 2015 and then $13MM in 2016, per a tweet from Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com.

Adam LaRoche

Left-handed power has been a priority for the Sox this offseason, and LaRoche will bring just that to the table, having averaged 26 homers per year over the past three seasons to go along with a solid .256/.346/.458 batting line in that same span. LaRoche will team up with American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu to create a formidable punch in the middle of manager Robin Ventura’s order. He’s regarded as a plus defender at first base, although he may see some more time at designated hitter with Abreu also figuring to log significant innings at first.

LaRoche has spent the past four seasons with the Nationals but will now move to a much more hitter-friendly environment in the form of U.S. Cellular Field, which should only serve to boost his already solid power marks. However, LaRoche does come with a sizable platoon split, having batted just .201/.269/.325 against southpaws over the past two seasons after a more promising line of .268/.319/.506 in his excellent 2012 season, when he finished sixth in the NL MVP voting.

The 35-year-old LaRoche reportedly had a two-year, $20MM offer from the Marlins and has also been connected to the Padres, but he’ll instead head to the south side of Chicago where GM Rick Hahn is acting quickly to build a team that has eyes on contention in the near future. (In a free agent profile for LaRoche, I was a bit more bullish, pegging him for $30MM over this same two-year term.) In addition to Abreu, the Sox have a pair of nice young outfielders in Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, and the rotation is fronted by a stellar combination of Chris Sale and Jose QuintanaCarlos Rodon, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, looms as a possible addition to that duo.

LaRoche is the second major free agent signing for Hahn and his lieutenants this week, as the Sox also inked southpaw reliever Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM contract on the heels of a dominant season that can be largely credited to altering his delivery. Chicago still figures to add at least one more relief arm and could entertain trades for shortstop Alexei Ramirez, as has been rumored of late, but Hahn’s aggressiveness signals a clear goal of putting a contending group on the field in 2015.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


White Sox Designate Scott Carroll

The White Sox have designated righty Scott Carroll for assignment to create roster space for the official signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche, the club announced (per a tweet from Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com).

Carroll, 30, filled a swingman role last year for Chicago in his first attempt at the big leagues, making 19 starts and seven relief appearances. Over 129 1/3 total frames, Carroll threw to a 4.80 ERA with 4.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 to go with a 53.4% groundball rate. ERA estimators thought that Carroll was slightly unlucky, as he registered a 4.77 FIP, 4.58 xFIP, and 4.54 SIERA.



Red Sox Designate Ryan Lavarnway

The Red Sox have designated Ryan Lavarnway for assignment to clear roster space for the signing of Pablo Sandoval, the club announced (per a tweet from Alex Speier of WEEI.com).

Lavarnway, a 27-year-old catcher, was once considered one of the game’s top 100 prospects. But he has failed to earn a consistent chance at a big league role despite making appearances on the MLB roster over each of the last four seasons. Since first earning a call-up in 2011, Lavarnway has not demonstrated the kind of power and on-base ability that created such hope for his future.

Of course, that does not mean that other clubs will not be willing to take a shot on a still-young player with Lavarnway’s talent base. He slashed .283/.389/.370 with three long balls last year across 257 plate appearances at Triple-A. While those figures are a far cry from the 30-home-run onslaught he delivered back in 2011, Lavarnway’s ability to reach base and his demonstrated power ceiling remain interesting.


Jim Adduci To Sign With Lotte Giants

NOVEMBER 25: Adduci has signed with the Lotte Giants of Korea for $650K, according to Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net (Twitter links, citing Naver Sports article regarding salary details).

NOVEMBER 24: The Rangers announced that Adduci has been released and will indeed pursue an opportunity with an Asian club.

NOVEMBER 20, 10:20pm: Adduci is likely to be sold to a Korean or Japanese club, a Major League source tells MLBTR.

10:15pm: The Rangers announced that they have designated first baseman/outfielder Jim Adduci for assignment.

The 29-year-old Adduci has picked up 148 plate appearances with Texas over the past two seasons, batting a combined .189/.259/.242. His Triple-A batting line — .281/.352/.397 in 1157 plate appearances — is a significant improvement over those marks. Originally a 42nd-round draft pick of the Marlins, Adduci has also spent time in that organization as well as with the Cubs from 2007-12.


West Notes: Kantrovitz, Tomas, Saunders, Correia, Sandoval

Filling the opening left by the departing Farhan Zaidi, now-former Cardinals scouting director Dan Kantrovitz will return to the Athletics as an assistant general manager, Jane Lee of MLB.com reports on Twitter. Kantrovitz recently gave an interesting interview with David Laurila of Fangraphs, explaining his approach in St. Louis of viewing the draft as “a mechanism to save money.” He will now reportedly slot in alongside David Forst as one of GM Billy Beane’s top lieutenants.

More from out west:

  • The Diamondbacks have “legit” interest in Yasmany Tomas, a league executive tells ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). They are one of about a handful of clubs currently chasing the Cuban slugger. The Mariners, meanwhile, are nibbling around the edges at the moment, per Crasnick, but do not appear to be one of the core teams in pursuit. You can check out yesterday’s updates on Tomas here.
  • The Rangers have mild interest in Seattle’s Michael Saunders, Crasnick tweets. Texas has at least checked in on his availability while ticking through the team’s options in the outfield.
  • While his market still seems to be shaping up, starter Kevin Correia has drawn the attention of several teams, including the Rockies, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (via Twitter). Berardino notes that Correia has pitched well over his career at Coors Field. Despite his largely underwhelming numbers, the 34-year-old righty will appeal to many clubs as a durable innings-eater.
  • Pablo Sandoval (and new teammate-to-be Hanley Ramirez) will leave the NL West for Boston, but his former division made every effort to keep him. The Giants‘ offer to Pablo Sandoval included a sixth-year option, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on Twitter. Combined with prior reports indicating that San Francisco stood at five years and $95MM, with a willingness to bring that figure up, it appears that Sandoval preferred Boston on very similar financial terms (though it is worth noting that full details have not emerged).
  • The Padres, meanwhile, were willing to go past five years for Sandoval, according to a report from Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The report appears to indicate that the additional length included at least one more guaranteed year, though it may have delivered a lower overall AAV. GM A.J. Preller said that the team felt it had made a “respectful offer” and was comfortable with the outcome. “[Y]ou have to be prepared that, at the end of the day, he has other options he may take,” said Preller. “We took a good run, and now we have to move on to other options.”

Phillies To Sign Chris Nelson

The Phillies have reached agreement on a minor league deal with infielder Chris Nelson, according to a tweet from Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. Nelson, 29, now joins his sixth organization since the start of 2013.

Nelson has seen his opportunities at the MLB level diminish since a highly productive 2012 season with the Rockies in which he slashed .301/.352/.458. But that line was BABIP-driven and inflated by playing in Coors Field, and Nelson has fallen well shy of that pace since. Over the last two seasons, Nelson has carried a .229/.279/.313 line acrosss 308 plate appearances.

Nelson would seem likely to provide Philadelphia with a utility bench option. Though he has seen only scant time at short, he does have a good number of innings at second and, especially, third base.


Rangers To Sign Ross Wolf

Right-hander Ross Wolf has inked a minor league deal with the Rangers that includes a Spring Training invite, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. The 32-year-old had been a reliever for virtually all of his professional career, but has functioned in a swingman role over the last several seasons.

Wolf spent 2013 with the Rangers, accumulating the most extensive MLB action in his career. Over 47 2/3 frames, including three starts and 19 relief appearances, Wolf carried a 4.15 ERA with 4.0 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 to go with a strong 47.3% groundball rate. He has also had partial-season runs with the Athletics (2010) and Marlins (2007).

Last year, Wolf exercised an out clause in his deal with Texas to move to Korea. Over 85 1/3 frames with the KBO’s SK Wyverns, including 13 appearances as a starter, Wolf pitched to a 4.85 ERA. (That mark is actually above-average for the notoriously hitter-friendly league environment.)


AL East Notes: Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays

The action today was in the AL East, with the Red Sox reportedly reaching terms with both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. The day’s moves could well set up a series of others in a division that is setting the early pace in spending. Here’s the latest:

  • With the Red Sox taking on gobs of new salary obligations and seemingly prepared to add more, attention has naturally turned to the question of how much the team could be willing to spend. Owner John Henry mentioned last year that going over the luxury tax line is not necessarily a devastating event, notes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Boston has relatively little committed in the future, but is already well north of $100MM in obligations for 2015 even before accounting for Sandoval and Ramirez.
  • WEEI.com’s Alex Speier takes a closer look at the team’s possible methods for freeing salary to devote to pitching. He notes that the cap may not be a hard ceiling for the Sox, though the roster will need to be trimmed regardless of financial considerations. Speier’s colleague, Rob Bradford, evaluates the expected addition of Ramirez in terms of the many moving parts that the organization must account for.
  • Boston’s moves will test the Yankees‘ restraint, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. New York is still putting out the vibe that it will not play in the top of the free agent market, but the temptation is obvious. As Sherman rightly notes, also, the bidding for return targets like Chase Headley, Brandon McCarthy, and David Robertson could well shoot up rather quickly.
  • Sources also tell Sherman that the Bombers are pushing harder to acquire a shortstop than a third baseman. The club has made “a series of trade offers” to land one, per Sherman.
  • The Blue Jays are “talking about” Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, according to a tweet from Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. While the report is not entirely clear, it seems to refer to internal discussion among the Toronto brass, rather than trade chatter between the clubs. While a recent report indicated that Cincinnati would listen on Bruce, it is difficult to imagine a trade scenario that would entice the Reds and a team looking to add the talented 27-year-old at a discount.

Released: Jose Molina, Cole Figueroa, Ramon Cabrera

Here are the day’s minor moves …


Latest On Jon Lester And Cole Hamels

Earlier today we heard that the Giants have shown interest in Jon Lester, and that interest may now increase with Pablo Sandoval reportedly set to join the Red Sox. San Francisco would make another entrant in a Lester race that has begun to take clearer shape over the past week or so. And, of course, the connection to the Phillies‘ trade market for Cole Hamels cannot be ignored, with several reports suggesting that the two southpaws’ fates are intertwined.

Here are today’s Lester and Hamels rumors…

  • Two NL GMs told Peter Gammons over the weekend that Lester is nearing a deal with the Red Sox. However, Gammons writes that the info doesn’t appear to be accurate at this time, as Lester is set to meet with the Cardinals sometime next week. According to Gammons, Lester might wish to have a deal in place in advance of the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 7 in San Diego. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford echoes that there’s nothing close between the Red Sox and Lester at this time (Twitter link).
  • Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that the Red Sox and Lester are still “very much engaged” and it does appear possible for the Sox to add Lester, Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez (who agreed to a four-year, $88MM pact with Boston earlier today).
  • The Red Sox and Cubs are interested in Hamels, and both could “jump” at the chance to acquire him if they miss on Lester, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Boston has had the “most serious talks” with Philadelphia, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter), with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweeting that the Phils are confident in striking a deal if Lester does not return to his former club.
  • The Dodgers are also in on Hamels, according to a tweet from Nightengale. Los Angeles represents a potentially powerful new entrant to that market, of course, and could shake up the pursuit if it decides to commit significant resources to adding a third stellar lefty to its rotation.

Rangers Sign Ed Lucas To Minor League Deal

The Rangers announced that they’ve signed infielder Ed Lucas to a minor league deal and invited him to big league Spring Training.

Texas claimed Lucas from the Marlins on waivers back in October but outrighted him at month’s end to clear a 40-man roster spot. The veteran utility man has played in 163 games for the Marlins over the past two seasons, batting .255/.302/.323 while appearing at all four infield positions as well as each outfield corner. Lucas, who turns 33 next May, didn’t reach the big until age 31 and has experience in parts of 11 minor league seasons. In 1482 plate appearances at Triple-A, he’s posted a .265/.338/.398 slash line.


Dodgers Acquire Juan Nicasio, Designate Ryan Jackson

The Dodgers announced that they have acquired right-hander Juan Nicasio from the Rockies in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. To make room for Nicasio, who was designated for assignment last week, the Dodgers have designated infielder Ryan Jackson for assignment.

The 28-year-old Nicasio has struggled as an on-and-off member of the Rockies’ rotation for the past four seasons, but he did post a handful of nice innings as a reliever for Colorado last year (3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 frames). Nicasio has averaged about 93 mph on his heater throughout his career, and a look at his velocity chart (courtesy of Fangraphs) from 2014 shows that his fastball jumped to nearly 95 mph when pitching out of the ‘pen late in the season.

Overall, Nicasio has a career ERA of 5.03 with 6.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 44.6 percent ground-ball rate in 381 innings. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected the arb-eligible righty to earn $2.4MM next season, which was likely a large factor in the Rockies removing him from the 40-man roster.

The 26-year-old Jackson has just two hits in 25 career plate appearances in the Majors. He was claimed off waivers from the Padres, and many speculated that former San Diego GM Josh Byrnes, now working in the Dodgers’ front office, had a hand in that decision. A shortstop by trade, Jackson is a career .274/.344/.369 hitter at the Triple-A level. He missed most of the 2014 season recovering from surgery on his right wrist.


Yasmany Tomas Rumors: Monday

Late last week, the Padres and Braves were rumored to be emerging as the favorites for Yasmany Tomas, and on Sunday it was reported that he’s received offers from the Braves, Giants and Padres with the Mariners, Phillies and Diamondbacks still lurking on the periphery of his market. We’ll keep track of Monday’s Tomas reports in this post…

  • Though Peter Gammons tweeted over the weekend that the Braves have made an offer, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was told that no offer has been extended (Twitter link). This may be a case of semantics, as Atlanta could have made its comfort level known without technically extending a formal offer.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that the Braves are traveling to the Dominican Republic to meet with Tomas again today. He adds that the Padres “just made a big push” for Tomas as well, and feels the Giants‘ interest will increase with Pablo Sandoval likely heading to Boston today. (Sandoval’s agents this morning said that no decision has been made, but one will be reached today. Most believe Boston to be the destination.)

Josh Willingham Announces Retirement

Josh Willingham will officially retire after an 11-year Major League career, the outfielder told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Willingham’s decision comes despite receiving what he termed a “substantial” offer from a contending club this offseason, Crasnick writes. Willingham explained his decision process:

“I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to myself, and more importantly to the team that was paying me a lot of money to perform at a high level, if there was a chance my dedication would waver — particularly as the season got longer. I’m honored to have played for as many years as I have, and I feel even luckier to walk away on my own terms instead of having the decision made for me.”

The 35-year-old Willingham (36 in February) was a late bloomer who didn’t become an MLB regular until his age-27 season with the Marlins. However, once he established himself as a presence in their lineup, he quickly became known for his excellent plate discipline and plus right-handed power. He found himself traded to the Nationals and then to the A’s before reaching free agency for the first time, where he ultimately signed a three-year, $21MM contract with the Twins.

Willingham’s best season came in his first year with the Twins, as he batted .260/.366/.524 with a career-high 35 home runs — earning him a Silver Slugger and making him just the third player in Twins franchise history to hit 35 or more homers in a season (along with Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew and former AL Rookie of the Year Bob Allison). In total, Willingham’s career comes to a close with a .253/.358/.465 batting line, 195 homers and 632 RBIs in 1147 games between the Marlins, Nationals, A’s, Twins and Royals. The “Hammer” earned more than $35MM in his playing career, according to Baseball-Reference.com. MLBTR wishes Willingham and his family luck and happiness in his post-playing days and congratulates him on a very nice career.