With just over three weeks remaining in the season, much of the focus in baseball is on the American League Wild Card race, historic winning streaks from the D-backs and Indians, and Giancarlo Stanton’s pursuit of 60 home runs. Fans and executives for a number of teams, though, are already beginning to look toward the future as they seek ways to remedy disappointing 2017 seasons that won’t result in a playoff berth.
With that in mind, MLBTR is re-launching its yearly Three Needs series, in which we’ll take a high-level look at a trio of pressing areas that need to be addressed on non-contenders with the offseason looming. We’ll take considerably deeper dives into each team’s flaws and possible avenues to improvement in our annual Offseason Outlook series, beginning next month, but this series will get the ball rolling for offseason content here at MLBTR.
In arbitrary fashion, the Giants are first up in 2017. With a 55-87 record, they need to go 8-12 down the stretch to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1985 and just the second season of triple-digit losses in the storied history of their franchise.
1. Outfield improvements, both on defense and offense. Much has been made of the Giants’ lack of power, particularly in the outfield. They’ve already been linked to Giancarlo Stanton on multiple occasions, but the Giants need more than a power upgrade in the outfield. (Moreover, gutting an already thin farm and taking on a significant portion of Stanton’s contract doesn’t seem especially prudent anyhow.)
San Francisco ranks dead last in the Majors in outfield Defensive Runs Saved, and they’re a bottom-three team in Ultimate Zone Rating as well. Denard Span shouldn’t be playing center field anymore, but he’s been at least a league-average hitter. If the Giants can find a way to trade him and/or Hunter Pence, it could go a long ways toward improving the 2018 roster by creating space for younger options and freeing up resources for free agency and trades.
That’s a tall order, though, and the Giants could be better off simply sliding Span into left field and pursuing a center fielder that can excel defensively while providing some offense. Lorenzo Cain will be a free agent that, at 32 years of age, won’t break the bank in terms of contract length. Adding another aging outfielder to the mix might not pay off in the long run, but the Giants are aiming to compete next season. One alternative would be paying down some of Span’s contract to flip him to a team with a left field need, then giving Austin Slater an earnest look in left field and perhaps adding a more cost-effective center field option. Jarrod Dyson would bring elite glovework into the fold, though he’d only exacerbate the team’s lack of power and would need to be paired with a right-handed-hitting platoon partner.
2. A dependable mid-rotation starter. Giants fans may perceive the bullpen to the bigger need — and it’s a need, to be sure — but the rotation as currently constituted has far too many question marks and not much in terms of readily apparent reinforcement options. Assuming Matt Moore’s improvements in the second half are enough for his option to be exercised, the Giants will deploy a rotation consisting of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto (whose injury all but rules out an opt-out), Jeff Samardzija and Moore. Candidates for the remaining slot include Ty Blach, who has the worst strikeout and swinging-strike rates in MLB, and 27-year-old Chris Stratton, who struggled in Triple-A this year and has walked 23 batters in 45 1/3 MLB frames. Prospect Tyler Beede could eventually surface as an option, but he didn’t perform especially well in Triple-A and missed the final chunk of the season with a back injury. More time in Triple-A could benefit him while buying the Giants some extra club control.
The free-agent market will be fronted by Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and possibly Masahiro Tanaka. The Giants may not be keen on spending at those levels with a number of other notable players on the wrong side of 30 still under contract, but the middle tier of arms has some solid names as well. Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Marco Estrada and Tyler Chatwood (who has been successful outside of Coors Field in his career) will all be on the open market, among others. As always, the trade market will feature myriad names that could step into the middle of the mix in San Francisco.
3. Infield depth, with a focus on third base. The Giants entered the year with Eduardo Nunez at third base, while Conor Gillaspie and Aaron Hill served as utility options. Korean star Jae-gyun Hwang headed to Triple-A with the hope that he could emerge as an option down the line. None of those players are with the organization anymore, leaving the re-signed Pablo Sandoval (who is in an 0-for-38 slump) and prospects Ryder Jones and Christian Arroyo as options at the hot corner. Neither Arroyo nor Jones has hit in the Majors yet. While both could emerge as long-term pieces eventually — Arroyo, in particular, has long been regarded as a quality prospect — neither has yet shown himself ready to handle regular duties for a (would-be) contender.
The Giants’ bench, too, is lacking in the way of infield depth. Kelby Tomlinson’s strikeout rate is a career-high 21.4 percent, and he hasn’t homered since 2015. Adding a player in the Jed Lowrie mold makes a good bit of sense for San Francisco. If Arroyo steps up and claims the third base role, a player of Lowrie’s skill set could easily slide into a utility role, potentially allowing him to spell Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford on occasion. (Panik has missed significant time with injuries in recent years, it’s also worth noting.) One option could be to re-sign Nunez, who enjoyed his time with the Giants and has said he’d be open to a return in free agency.