The offseason positional group series continues to the outfield, where there’s sure been a lot of chatter going on lately. How will things shake out? Everyone has an opinion, and I’ll give you mine in due time. But first, let’s take a look at the five guys on the current 40-man.
Hunter Pence: RF, Age 32 – Baseball is such a tough game to predict. Pence played in 52 games last season… who saw that coming? He probably wasn’t going to play every inning of every game forever, but his absence made it rough sledding on the Giants in 2015. Despite that, I feel very good saying Pence will be back with a vengeance next year. Freak injuries happen, but the way he trains, he’s just not the kind of athlete you can keep down for long.
There seems to be a sense of urgency for the Giants to fill LF with a premier name this winter. Personally, I think a lot of people are forgetting the Giants had one of the best lineups in the NL despite Pence missing 100+ games. He’s the heart and soul of the club, he’s got 3 more years on his contract (earning $18.5M per through 2018), and getting him back on the field in 2016 should only improve this team.
Angel Pagan: CF, Age 34 – Pagan played in more than 100 games for the first time since 2012 (his first year after the trade), but his nagging injuries made 2015 easily his poorest season in orange and black. Are the Giants planning to replace him this winter? The local media sure seem to be giving off that impression, although the organization has given no recent indication those rumors are true.
Pagan is in the last year of his contract, and this might sound odd, but I’m not sure how well he fits in with the club anymore. He was basically only healthy for the first and last months of the season (and his numbers certainly show it), but it was pretty clear for most of the summer that Nori Aoki was a superior leadoff hitter, while Gregor Blanco was the better option in CF.
What the Giants plan to do with Pagan, I’m not exactly sure at this time. They obviously know he can be an impact player when he’s healthy, but I’d be surprised if they don’t at least bring in someone to provide more insurance for when he goes down again next year (as we all know he likely will at some point). At this point, CF seems like a much greater concern for me than LF… but we’ll get to that shortly.
Gregor Blanco: LF/CF, Age 31 (turns 32 in December) – Blanco’s 4th year with the Giants was his 4th valuable one with the club, though even he couldn’t avoid the late-season concussion bug that plagued the lineup. Despite missing time in June and eventually being shutdown in September for recurring symptoms, this may have been Blanco’s best season in San Francisco. By all accounts, he was the best CF on the team for most of the year, both offensively and defensively.
Blanco’s most production actually came out of the leadoff spot – where he hit .341 in 22 games started – putting to bed the idea that he can’t handle the #1 spot in the order. He’ll make just shy of $4M in 2016, his last contracted year with the team. Whether he’ll hit .290 again (career .262 average) remains to be seen, but there should be little doubt that he’ll find his 300+ plate appearances again. If he and Pagan are both on the roster again next spring, and there’s no other direct competition for CF, I have no doubt that Blanco will again be the super-utility OF. That will surely upset some folks, but at this point I don’t see Bobby Evans and crew changing their standpoint on the subject.
Jarrett Parker: OF, Age 26 (turns 27 in January) – What a year for Parker, huh? The guy who repeated both High-A and AA while playing in the shadows of Gary Brown for 4 seasons finally got his chance to shine in 2015, and he made the most of it.
I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t see any real future in the bigs for Parker during his first call-up last summer. He went back to Sacramento, however, where he proceeded to tear up the PCL before putting on a September power display with the Giants. His 3-homer game in Oakland was a pretty awesome moment in an otherwise somber final month, and there’s little doubt he made a strong impression on Bochy and the coaching staff.
Parker has always been a 3-true-outcomes type hitter (primarily homeruns, walks and strikeouts), but it was still pretty shocking to see him club 6 big flies in two weeks at the MLB level. Whether he can carry that momentum into the spring and earn a 25-man job remains to be seen at this point, but his power potential and athleticism (he can play a little center) should eventually make him an attractive bench option at the least. Can he earn a greater role in 2016? I won’t call it likely, but it certainly wouldn’t baffle me either.
Mac Williamson: LF, Age 25 – Every good blogger should make a bold prediction, right? Here’s mine: Mac Williamson will be the Giants primary LF for most of 2016. “But the Giants are rumored after Cespedes and Upton!” Personally, I’m not buying it. Do I think Evans will bring someone in to hold the job temporarily like he did with McGehee last year? Sure, and to be honest that’s why I was surprised they declined Aoki’s option. However, I do NOT envision a longterm signing for a LF this winter, next winter, or the next for that matter.
Parker may have left the greater impression at the MLB level this summer, but Mac’s .370 average (with a 1:1 BB/K ratio to boot) in the AFL certainly opened some eyes around the baseball community. That league was littered with guys blowing 95+ (Ray Black!)… the knock on Mac has always been that he wouldn’t make enough contact, yet he’s a near .300 lifetime hitter in the minors. Now the knock is his swing is too flat… that’s bogus, in my humble opinion.
I love this guy’s game. He’s big, strong, athletic, and powerful. Whether he starts the season on the 25-man, I can’t say (though a Duffy-like spring surge could sure force the organization’s hand). But I do believe he’s the future in LF, and I believe the front office’s strategy this winter will match that belief.
Departed from the Organization
Marlon Byrd – $8M was probably a tad too expensive, but Byrd sure made some fans in the organization last summer (he made a fan out of me too). When the team was decimated by injuries, Byrd’s bat really helped them hang around a little longer, and he wasn’t near as bad defensively as reports made him out to be. If it’s February and he hasn’t signed somewhere yet, I’m calling him to see if $5M would bring him back to SF.
Nori Aoki – As I said, a little surprising his option wasn’t picked up. Are the Giants saving that money for a big slugger? More likely they’ll try to use it to lure in Zack Greinke.
Alejandro De Aza – Not much to say here. You really could find worse bench options than De Aza, but it seems pretty unlikely Evans brings him back.
Free Agent Market
The Giants have an opening in LF and plenty of money to spend. Naturally, that connects them to big names like Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, and Alex Gordon. I really don’t buy those rumors. Pitching, pitching, pitching… that’s the priority. But Cespedes is a nice name to dream on for me, and Gordon’s defensive rep would seem to make for a nice fit at AT&T. I truly just don’t see a match here.
Speaking of matches… Ben Zobrist on a 2-year deal sure would tie the room together from this point of view. Problem is, Ben Zobrist isn’t getting a 2-year deal.
This isn’t going to earn me any points with the fanbase, but these are the free agents I think the Giants could have some realistic interest in (keeping in mind the greater need in CF at this point in my opinion): Denard Span (injury issues, doesn’t hit lefties, but a high contact guy who doesn’t strike out… I like him!); Austin Jackson (Boras client, young enough that he’ll likely get more money than the Giants want to spend, strikeout prone); Alex Rios (not sure how much he has to offer at this point, but the org. has had their eye on him before); Justin Ruggiano (reclamation project I’ve always liked); Daniel Nava (recent DFA, Bay Area native, switch hitter); and Drew Stubbs (athletic, usually hits lefties, probably strikes out too much).
The Giants have already signed Kyle Blanks, who if healthy should have the inside track at a roster spot (he’s rarely healthy… not even right now).
Evans has suggested the outfield trade market may be more favorable for them. Personally, I’m not seeing it… but you never really know who’s available until a trade goes down. If they want a CF, Billy Hamilton probably could be had for the right price. Baggs was pretty enamored with Cameron Maybin, who is now a Detroit Tiger, but I wasn’t too excited about that idea.
A few other names off the top of my head: Desmond Jennings (buy low), Jay Bruce (bigger ticket).
Two wild ideas for the road:
If the Giants are really looking to get into the Upton/Cespedes market, they could save themselves a couple years and some long term dollars and get similar offensive production by way of Matt Kemp (could he and Tyson Ross be pried away from rebuilding A.J. Preller’s Friars?).
Speaking of rebuilding, the Braves have some bad contracts they’d like toe give up. Nick Swisher is two years removed from his last decent season, he’ll make $15M next year… but could taking him off their hands help land Shelby Miller or Julio Teheran? Just something to consider.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to add your own ideas, or to fire away…