The Hitting Market: Buyer Beware

We’ll turn our attention now to the offensive market this offseason. The caveat here: it’s pretty bare – even more so than the pitching market in my opinion. But Sabean promised us more depth, despite his lack of confidence in free agency and potential trades. So, what should we expect this winter? Well, here are 10 players that might be of interest for Uncle Sabes during his shopping trip this offseason. Ok, it’s actually 12 players if you count all 3 of the Dodgers’ infielders, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities here. Some of these guys are a little more likely than others, of course, but each might be a reasonable name to file away in your offseason guide as we start to wade deeper into free agency.

If Sabean were to take up an ad in the classifieds this offseason, I’d expect it to look something like this:

WANTED

A Left fielder – right-handed hitting; defensive-oriented; home run power preferred (this is starting to sound a little like an oxymoron, isn’t it?) Draft pick compensation players need not apply.

A Utility Infielder – part-time starting position available. Must be willing to take a back seat to gritty NLCS MVP, but also available to step in on late notice when said gritty NLCS MVP wakes up with a stiff back… cagy veterans welcome, positional flexibility preferred.

That looks about right, you think? Now, we watch the applications roll in… but seriously, the Giants need some kind of an offensive upgrade in left field. Aside from filling the back end of the rotation, this is one of the greatest needs on the team going forward. Here’s what Baggs had to say about the situation in his weekly chat last week… “I think you’ll see the Giants either try to trade for a left fielder, or find a better right-handed bat (with some power) to platoon with Gregor Blanco…Defense remains a big part of the equation.” And “…that would mean Blanco would get most of the at-bats in that scenario. I think the Giants know they need to do a little better than that.”

Wow, I’m painting a picture in my head right now, and it looks something like a kindergarten splatter-paint masterpiece. A right-handed, defensive-minded, power bat… in this market, that won’t be easy to find, folks. That’s just the way it goes. Even Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, the top outfielders available this winter, don’t fit that description. They are both left-handed… they both received the qualifying offer as well, so the masses out there wishing for a Choo or Ellsbury signing almost assuredly aren’t going to get their wish. Sabean already spent his big money in the outfield, and it’s sitting in the bank account of the Rev. Hunter Pence. There’s not much dough left for the opposite corner at the moment. It’s going to take some creativity to get better production out of left field next year, that’s for sure.

The utility infielder spot actually shouldn’t be all that difficult to fill. And it shouldn’t take a whole lot of money. The Giants have quite a few in-house options to consider as well. If they still see Marco Scutaro as the primary starter, they’re really only looking for a player to come in and make roughly 50 starts… essentially a Ryan Theriot role.

Those are your needs… now, who’s going to fill them? I’ve listed a handful of players who might fit, whether through free agency or trade. I even added a couple of wildcard candidates to consider as well.

*One thing to note here: I included the 2013 and career OPS+ for each player to give just a quick snapshot of his recent production in comparison to what he’s done for the long haul. Remember, a 100 is average.

Free Agents:

Chris Young, CF, 30 yo | 2013: OPS+ 85 (94 career), 12 HR, 10 SB – career .837 OPS vs LHP. The A’s declined their option on Young last week, and if Sabean decides his best bet is a platoon partner for Blanco, he’s probably one of the better fits. He offers center field-caliber defense, some potential for power, and a little speed to boot. He should come cheap, but you have to remember he only hit .209 against lefties last season.

Mike Morse, 1B/LF, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 84 (119), 13 HR – career .819 OPS vs LHP. If the Giants want defense, Morse may not be a good fit. He had a pretty messy 2013 campaign, and his wrist injury is a concern. If he’s healthy, he could be a great offensive bounce back candidate.

Marlon Byrd, RF, 36 yo | 2013: OPS+ 138 (102), 24 HR – career .804 OPS vs LHP. Byrd resurrected his career last season, and could definitely be the right-handed power bat the Giants are looking for. But do you trust him to post those numbers again next year? Maybe on a one-year offer…

Omar Infante, 2B, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 113 (93), 10 HR. Two weeks ago, Infante was my under-the-radar dynamite pickup… his bat and positional flexibility would fit perfect in the Giants’ infield, and he’d probably push Scutaro to a reserve role. Problem is, this is a very overpriced market, and a guy like Infante now stands to get close to $10 million a year… so much for that.

Dodgers MIF: Ellis, 36 yo, OPS+ 92 (94) /Punto, 36 yo, OPS+ 87 (76)/Schumaker, 33, OPS+ 90 (94). Dodgers, and plenty of them. All of these guys fit the reserve infielder, scrapper profile. Ellis was my first choice, but the more I think about Schumaker’s positional flexibility, the more I come around to the idea.

Trade:

Brandon Phillips: 2B, 32 | 2013: 92 (96), 18 HR. He’s as “good as gone,” in Cincy, according to one report. I’ve always like Phillips, and those damn Reds always seem to mash in AT&T… he stands to make $50M over the next four years, so the Reds would need to eat some money. Definitely a long shot, but he would certainly make the team better, both offensively and defensively.

Mark Trumbo: 1B/OF, 27 | 2013: 109 (114), 34 HR. Like Phillips, he’s available. You want a power bat from the right side? Here it is, with some contact issues as well. The Angels want starting pitching. I’ll give you a Kickham and a Surkamp, straight up… just kidding… but seriously, they’re on the table.

Justin Ruggiano: CF, 31 | 2013: 90 (102), 18 HR, 15 SB – .834 career OPS vs LHP. He’s a late bloomer who’s kind of bounced around organizations. But the last two seasons in Miami have been very intriguing. The batting average fell off quite a bit in 2013, but he’s got all the makings for a very realistic trade candidate. Power against lefties, speed, and CF defense. Also, the dude had a (short-lived) Marlins’ blog named after him… so there’s that. Credit to DrB of When the Giants Come to Town on the initial find of what could be a very under-valued trade candidate.

I truly believe a Ruggiano deal could happen, and don’t think it would cost Sabean all that much in return. Kickham, Ehire Adrianza, Nick Noonan, Francisco Peguero… Pick any two, and size the newest Giant for a hat.

Wildcards:

James Loney: 1B, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 118 (106), 13 HR. Not finding a match in the right-handed hitter department? What about a 2-year offer for another former Dodger? He’d require Brandon Belt to move to LF against righties, but Loney’s been a pretty safe bet to hit .280 for most of his career. He’s got gap power from the left side, which is exactly how lefty hitters should approach AT&T Park. He shouldn’t cost much, and could really give Sabean and Co. a nice 7th hitter who adds depth to the lineup.

Brian McCann: C, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 115 (117), 20 HR.  “If you asked me right now, McCann is the only player who received a qualifying offer that I could see the Giants punting the draft pick to sign.” ~ Baggs. So, the Giants really are interested in McCann… fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your priorities), he’s got a very large market this winter, and reports have him signing for $100M+. It won’t be with the Giants, who should have a very good chance to use their 1st round pick on another power pitcher. Don’t get me wrong –McCann is a pro who’s going to help some team out greatly. But he’s not a good fit for the Giants right now, and kicking the draft pick for him would be a serious mistake, in my opinion.

There you go… free agents, trades, and a couple wildcards. 10 (ok, 12) potential players to fill two needs. Young or Morse might be the most likely fits for a short-term deal, but keep your eye out for Ruggiano in a trade if the free agent market turns sour after the New Year.

Happy shopping, Sabes… and good luck.

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Elimination

The Giants managed to avoid being mathematically eliminated from contention with a pair of walk-off wins on Sunday and Monday. They couldn’t avoid it last night, however, blowing a 6-0 lead over the Rockies. Trailing 8-6 in the 8th, Hunter Pence tied the game with a 2-run single, but Sergio Romo gave up a go-ahead home run to Michael Cuddyer in the 9th, and the Giants were cooked. To lose like that at home is both heartbreaking and embarrassing, regardless of the standings. So, the team that made it look easy down the stretch last season is now officially eliminated, with 3 weeks still to play… although realistically they were eliminated two months ago.

A tough night, in an even tougher season. But last night really highlighted a lot of the difficult decisions the Giants’ will be faced with in the offseason. Let’s look at a couple of them.

At the top of the list, Pence stayed red-hot with 4 hits and 6 RBI. That’s right, the Rev knocked in each of the Giants’ 6 runs last night. He did it with a 3-run HR, an RBI double, and the 2-run single in the 8th. The homer was his 20th of the year, and he’s the first 20-20 Giant (20 HR, 20 SB) since Barry Bonds 15 years ago, and only the 7th San Francisco Giant to accomplish the feat. That’s impressive stuff. That’s impact player stuff, and you can be darn sure the rest of the league is watching. The Giants want the guy back (as they should). Pence wants to be in San Francisco. He’s prime real estate in a thin outfield market, and someone is going to give him the big bucks. If the Giants don’t make a deal before he hits the open water this offseason, you can kiss his hustling behind goodbye. That’s the way I see it, at least.

So, how important is it to bring Pence back? Well, let’s take a look at the picture without him. If Pence leaves, what you’re left with is oft-injured Angel Pagan and a slew of guys who probably aren’t MLB starting material – Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Francisco Peguero. That absolutely will not cut it. Maybe they (the front office) makes a push for Jacoby Ellsbury or Chin-Soo Choo, the other top outfield names on the market. But if they aren’t willing to pay for Pence, why would they be willing to throw down big dollars for another fragile player in Ellsbury or a guy about the same age as Pence (Choo)? All three of these players are going to get big bucks, and the Giants have not been big into the bidding war for free agents lately. Ideally, I’d like to see them lock up Pence AND go after Choo as well. Will they? I’m really not sure.

Pence is 30 years-old, and he’s a career .286/.339/.475 hitter. After his down year in 2012, he’s back to .289/.340/.474 in 2013 – literally right on par with his career line. He’s also swiped 20 bases this season for the first time. He’s one of the best athletes in baseball, and one of the only guys who you can pencil in every single night. Put it this way; if the Giants give Pence 5 years, I’d be willing to bet he makes good on those 5 years, even playing into his mid-30’s. You just can’t say that about a lot of players these days. The dude wants a long term home. Lock him up, Sabean!

The next order of business is Ryan Vogelsong. Vogey pitched last night, and had a 5-0 lead going into the 5th inning. Then, it all fell apart, as it has in so many of his starts this year. He finished the 5th, but not before allowing 5 ER. He also didn’t record a single strikeout last night. A few weeks ago, it seemed pretty likely that the Giants would pick up Vogelsong’s option for next season (which I believe is in the neighborhood of $6-7 million), but now I’m not so sure. The Giants need starting pitching, it’s true. But are they really willing to spend that money on a 35 year-old journeyman with a 5.82 ERA? Don’t get me wrong, Vogey has been a huge part of this team for the past couple years, and he’s as competitive as they come. But right now, Yusmeiro Petit looks like a better option than he does.

Lots more decisions to be made for the eliminated Gigantes, and we’ll get to them in due time. But for now, I say give the Rev a home, and let Vogey walk if he can’t pick up the pieces in his final couple starts. If he wants to come back on a cheap, minor league deal, great. If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.