The Giants have been frequently speculated as a fit for Aaron Judge, but their offseason won’t entirely revolve around him. According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the club will be looking for two outfielders this winter and have checked in on both Brandon Nimmo and Cody Bellinger.
What sets Nimmo and Bellinger apart from most of the other free agent outfielders is the ability to play a competent center field. As noted by Slusser, the Giants’ outfield defense graded out poorly in 2022. The club used a hodgepodge of different options throughout the year, including Steven Duggar, Mauricio Dubon, Austin Slater, Mike Yastrzemski, Luis González, Jason Krizan, Stuart Fairchild, Joc Pederson, Bryce Johnson and Lewis Brinson. Defensive Runs Saved pegged them at -44, easily the worst in baseball with the Pirates next on the list at -33. Outs Above Average gave them a -25, tied with the Phillies for last. Only Ultimate Zone Rating was gentler, as their -21.8 in that category was 29th, edging out the White Sox. That’s a pretty unanimous assessment that says this is an area the club can upgrade, and having a reliable guy to pencil in there every day would certainly be appealing.
There are a handful of players who can provide help with the defensive side of things, such as Brinson, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brett Phillips, Bradley Zimmer, but they would likely be liabilities at the plate. Nimmo and Bellinger, however, have the potential to provide on both sides of the ball, though Bellinger’s offensive performance has been in quite an extended rut. Ever since injuring his shoulder during an ill-advised celebration in the 2020 postseason, he’s seemed lost at the plate. He mashed his way to MVP honors in 2019 by hitting 47 home runs and batting .305/.406/.629. His production slipped a bit in 2020 before he hit just .193/.256/.355 over 2021 and 2022 combined.
Whether he can get his offense back on track will be a key question, but he should have a decent floor thanks to his speed and defense. He was considered league average by DRS and UZR in 2022 while OAA was more enthused, giving him a mark of six for the year. He also swiped 14 bags this season, allowing him to be worth 1.7 fWAR despite the tepid work with the bat. Bellinger’s agent, Scott Boras, recently said that the outfielder will be looking for a one-year deal and it’s perhaps worth noting that this situation is at least mildly reminiscent of Carlos Rodón one year ago. Both players are represented by Boras and were entering free agency as talented players but with question marks about their consistency. The Giants and Rodón agreed to a two-year deal but with the southpaw afforded an opt-out to return to the open market after one season. Bellinger is apparently just looking for a straight one-year pact but perhaps the Giants will be the ones to step up and make that happen.
Nimmo’s case is less mysterious, at least in terms of his offense. He’s been fairly consistent at the plate, having an OBP of at least .367 in six straight seasons while keeping his wRC+ at 134 or higher over the past three. He had some durability concerns earlier in his career but has only had one significant injury absence over the past three years, which was due to a finger contusion in 2021. The defensive reviews are mixed, with both DRS and UZR giving him a negative number in 2020 and 2022 but a positive mark in 2021. OAA went negative in 2020 but has been positive the past two seasons. Wobbles from year to year with defensive metrics aren’t unheard of and it seems fair to expect Nimmo to provide at least average-ish glovework up the middle.
The problem with that stronger profile in recent seasons is that he will certainly cost much more than Bellinger. MLBTR projected him for $110MM over five years, or $22MM per season. Their payroll is currently around $133MM in the estimation of Roster Resource. That’s well shy of last year’s $155MM Opening Day figure and their franchise record of $200MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, but that doesn’t mean they will do everything they set their sights on. Given that the Giants have also expressed an interest in Judge, the top free agent shortstops and retaining Rodón, adding multiple nine-figure contracts is a bit tough to see. Then again, if the Giants end up missing on a few of their other targets, they should have plenty of payroll space to work with.