The Giants have money to spend on a pitching-heavy free agent market. But what else can they do to set up another even-year World Series run?
- Buster Posey, C: $130MM through 2021 (including buyout of 2022 club option)
- Hunter Pence, OF: $55.5MM through 2018
- Matt Cain, SP: $47.5MM through 2017 (including buyout of 2018 club option)
- Madison Bumgarner, SP: $22.75MM through 2017 (including buyout of 2018 club option; club also has 2019 option)
- Angel Pagan, OF: $11.25MM through 2016
- Jake Peavy, SP: $13MM through 2016
- Sergio Romo, RP: $9MM through 2016
- Santiago Casilla, RP: $6.5MM through 2016
- Javier Lopez, RP: $5MM through 2016
- Gregor Blanco, OF: $3.9MM through 2016
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections by MLB Trade Rumors)
- Yusmeiro Petit (5.016) – $2.4MM
- Brandon Belt (4.128) – $6.2MM
- Brandon Crawford (4.094) – $5.7MM
- Hector Sanchez (3.113) – $900K
- George Kontos (2.171) – $1.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Sanchez
The 2015 Giants didn’t quite match the World Series run of their predecessors, but that grand finish in 2014 came from an outfit that won only 88 regular season games. This year’s unit took home 84 victories, and was slightly better by measures such as BaseRuns and Pythagorean win-loss.
Importantly, GM Bobby Evans and his staff were able to stay in contention even without having made any large financial commitments before the season. The Giants reportedly tried for, but lost out on, players like Pablo Sandoval, James Shields, and Jon Lester. Instead, the club added older, short-term options: Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo, Nori Aoki, Ryan Vogelsong, and Casey McGehee.
As a result of that relatively quiet offseason a year ago, the Giants now have ample future spending capacity to deploy this winter. The team has a fair amount of cash on the books already for next year (about $120MM, before arb) and 2017 (~$73MM, pre-arb), but little thereafter. And this is an organization that pushed its Opening Day payroll over $170MM last year.
As they begin to utilize that financial flexibility, the Giants will surely look first at the rotation. Beyond the excellent Madison Bumgarner and righties Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, the starting staff is unsettled. Chris Heston is still in the mix after an up-and-down rookie year, and the organization hopes it will be able to turn to some young arms (including Clayton Blackburn, Tyler Beede, Kyle Crick, Ty Blach, and Chris Stratton) in the near future. But that group of pitchers is in need of supplementation. Bringing back Tim Lincecum on a low-risk contract won’t be enough, though he and the solid Yusmeiro Petit could be useful as swingmen. Peavy and Cain have just one and two years, respectively, left on their deals. And it would probably be overly optimistic to expect those upper-minors pitchers all to work out — let alone to do so in the near term.
The Giants will find a free agent market loaded with starting pitching options. Mike Leake, who spent the last several months in San Francisco after a deadline deal, appears to be at the top of the team’s list. He’ll be expensive, though more because he’s young enough to command a lengthy commitment than due to his expected annual salary. If that match-up falls through, Japan’s Kenta Maeda might offer a similar cost and age proposition. Though San Francisco has not been one of the more notably active teams in acquiring MLB-ready talent from Asia, its location on the west coast makes it a plausible destination (at least in theory).
It’s not at all inconceivable, though, that the club could pursue an even higher-end arm, whether or not it gets Leake. Remember, the team reportedly was willing to pay Lester $168MM over seven years. David Price could well be a target, and even if he proves too costly, the market includes a variety of other top-of-the-rotation options. Zack Greinke is the consensus second-best pitcher, and the Giants have previously been connected with Jordan Zimmermann. If San Francisco doesn’t go that route, or if it adds such a pitcher but misses on Leake, there are a variety mid-tier arms (like Ian Kennedy and Yovani Gallardo) as well as a host of bounce-back veterans (such as Doug Fister, Mat Latos, and Kyle Lohse) who could theoretically be considered as well. It’s difficult to prognosticate what direction San Francisco will take — we’ve seen the club pursue high-cost arms and short-term veterans in recent years — but there will be no shortages of possibilities.
San Francisco also could seek to add some depth to its pen, which will lose Jeremy Affeldt to retirement. The bulk of the unit should return, with Romo, Santiago Casilla, and Javier Lopez serving as a veteran core, accompanied by Petit, George Kontos and newer arms like Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich. A veteran pitcher or two — possibly including Lincecum, if he returns but doesn’t crack the rotation in the spring — probably wouldn’t hurt, but there’s not much work to do here.
There’s even less need for repair in the infield, where the Giants thrived in 2015. Matt Duffy made the loss of Sandoval seem like a blessing by putting up nearly five wins at a fraction of the cost. Brandon Crawford (shortstop), Joe Panik (second), Brandon Belt (first), and Buster Posey (catcher) rounded out what might’ve been the best infield in baseball. Then again, Panik dealt with back issues, while Belt had both a concussion and meniscus surgery late in the year, so they’ll need to get back to full health. Meanwhile, Duffy will need to prove that he isn’t a one-year wonder, and Crawford will look to maintain his ascendancy.
The outfield has some questions. While the situation looks straightforward at first glance, it may not be. Hunter Pence is a lock in right, and will hope for better health than he experienced last year. Gregor Blanco has been outstanding in a fourth outfielder role and will be back as well. Then, there’s center field, where Angel Pagan seemingly remains in line for regular duty.
It would be easy enough to say “add a left fielder” and call it a day, but it isn’t quite that simple. For one thing, Pagan had a wreck of a 2015 season and continues to deal with persistent injury issues. While Blanco has spent a good bit of time in center over his career, defensive metrics have always preferred him in the corner — especially the last two seasons. So, there’s an argument to be made that the Giants ought to consider adding a center field-capable player, whether as an upgrade or a platoon mate/back-up plan.
Even if the Giants simply look to add a left fielder, with the idea of continuing to use Blanco as an all-over-the-outfield sub, they face a tough decision on Nori Aoki’s option. That looks like a cheap pick-up, but his concussion issues could be problematic. And there are other options. The Giants hold a $8MM option over deadline acquisition Marlon Byrd. While that seems a bit too expensive, the team has expressed some interest in retaining both Byrd and Alejandro De Aza, who was also added over the summer. All of those players have their merit for San Francisco, but it’s also arguable that the club should look for more impact out of that roster spot. On the other hand, such short-term options hold increased appeal given that corner outfield prospects Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson are now near or at big league readiness.
In terms of targets, it’s really anyone’s guess for the reasons noted above. The market has a number of high-end options (e.g., Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon) and several shorter-term candidates with track records in center (such as Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus, Gerardo Parra, and Austin Jackson). And there is one free agent who might answer several of the team’s needs: Ben Zobrist. While the same can be said of many other clubs, and though the refrain has become tiresome, it nevertheless remains true that he’d offer a regular solution in the corner outfield in addition to providing coverage for the infield, where relative inexperience and injury questions are a factor despite the stellar 2015 performance.
Of course, it’s always possible to upgrade the bench, and that’s arguably more pressing with some injury questions surrounding multiple key regulars. Adding a reserve corner infielder/outfielder who can provide some pop might make sense, depending on how the team proceeds in left field, but the Giants have at least three important pieces covered. In addition to the aforementioned Blanco, 25-year-old Kelby Tomlinson impressed in his rookie year, and could serve a super-utility role.
Then there’s Andrew Susac, a very promising young backstop who could free Posey to spend more time at first. It’s certainly appealing to imagine a scenario where Susac, Posey, and Belt all play significant innings for San Francisco, but that may be hard to work out in practice without a DH — unless Belt spends more time in the outfield. While the current situation probably does not make for a serious roster crunch just yet, particularly as the team may prefer to wait another year to see how everything progresses, Susac could be a major trade piece for San Francisco if they look to add an arm through the trade market.
All said, there may not be a ton of pieces to add for the Giants. But deciding precisely which ones to pursue, and how to re-arrange the team’s in-house options to make that happen, won’t be easy.