(UPDATED: 8/31 New looks at Shortstop and Outfield after today's big movies! Updates appear in italics, things that no longer matter will be
No matter what happens over the next five weeks, next year is looking better. Partially because we're running out of players, partially because Buster Posey, and partially because it can't really get much worse than tonight. So, a look at where we stand for next year and what we can possibly do this offseason. And because we never have to watch Aaron Rowand wear #33 and hit for the Giants again. Really. Thanks for the effort Aaron, but the past 6 to 18 to 30 to however many months of your contract have been painful.
Catcher (2): Buster Posey starts (and costs roughly $600k) with a choice between Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart as the backup. Whitey has been around longer, but Stewart's defense and Lincecum compatibility make him a tempting choice (either will cost around $400k). Total Positional Cost: $1 million. Total Team Cost: $1 million.
First Base (1/2): Aubrey Huff's .804 post-All Star break OPS, $10 million contract, and relentless support from Bochy make him the Opening Day starter, barring injury. Brandon Belt will be on the roster, but ideally will be starting in the outfield and so he will be discussed there. Total Positional Cost: $10 million. Total Team Cost: $11 million.
Second Base/Shortstop (3): While Freddy Sanchez's $6 million extension for 2012 makes him the starter at second base if he is healthy, the starting shortstop and backup middle infielder slots are up for grabs. Free agency only offers a wildly expensive Jose Reyes, an aging Jimmy Rollins, and an oft-injured Rafael Furcal, so my guess is the Giants go internal. Jeff Keppinger is arbitration eligible, though each of the past two years has avoided arbitration. Making $2.3 million this year, Keppinger will certainly be retained because of his production and versatility and will either be the starting shortstop or backup middle infielder at a cost of $3.5-4 million. The third middle infielder will likely be Mike Fontenot because Crawford will likely be starting in AAA and playing everyday and it seems unlikely the team would nontender Fontenot in favor of Burriss. With or without arbitration, Fontenot will cost about $1-1.5 million. Neither Orlando Cabrera nor Miguel Tejada makes sense to be retained. And now Miggy is gone! Total Positional Costs: $10.5-11.5 million. Total Team Costs:$21.5-22.5 million.
Third Base (1): Panda. That is all. In his first time at arbitration, he will likely make $3-5 million with the wasted season last year preventing him from making more. Mark DeRosa will likely retire as his wrist seems too messed up to continue playing with, though I doubt the Giants would retain him anyway. Total Positional Costs: $3-5 million. Total Team Costs: $24.5-26.5 million.
Outfield (5/6): The outfield is the trickiest part of the team going forward. Pat Burrell is the simplest piece: he will fade into the sunset as a Giant Hero for what he gave us in 2010. Carlos Beltran will likely want a multiyear deal paying him eight figures per year and the Giants simply are not in a position to take make that commitment. Cody Ross is a free agent coming off a $6.3 million one year deal, loves the city and has been featured in many advertisements, but has struggled to raise his average above .250 this year and currently sits in the .230s (though with a tolerable OBP above .330). He has often been compared to Aaron Rowand as someone who hits lefties better than righties, but with Rowand on the books for $12 million, retaining Ross is a luxury the team likely cannot afford in terms of costs and creating positional logjams. Keeping Ross would probably meaning getting rid of Rowand, which is great other than the Giants ending up having to eat most of Rowand's remaining contract, thus making Ross a $17-19 million player rather than a $5-7 million one.
There is a slight chance the team keeps both, platooning Ross in right field and letting Rowand pinch-hit and spot start against lefties. Brandon Belt deserves a chance to be this team's starting left fielder and as a pre-Arbitration player ($400k or so) he is the type of cheap commodity that is necessary if the team wishes to maintain its pitching depth. Nate Schierholtz has had a very serviceable year and is entering his first year of arbitration, so he likely has earned a roster spot if not at least a platoon in right field at a cost of roughly $1-2 million. The regression of Andres Torres means the team will likely be searching for an everyday center fielder this offseason, but at around $2.5 million he is a serviceable as a fifth outfielder. The problem is that the free agent outfield market is led by a bunch of old corner outfielders (Beltran, Berkman, Damon, Fukudome) and Coco Crisp/David DeJesus, who have not been particularly wonderful across the bay. I expect Sabean to see what he can find in the trade market as Gary Brown is probably at least another year away, so get ready to hear B.J. Upton's name show up in rumors along with Denard Span. Peter Bourjos is also an intriguing possibility as the Angels may be ready to commit to Mike Trout full time. Another option is to slide the Nate/Cody platoon to center field and sign a right fielder who can hit (maybe Jason Kubel), though at AT&T and other NL West parks having a rangy center field is a necessity and if the team was going to try Nate in center, it would likely have happened already. It seems reasonable to assume a mystery outfielder joins the team through free agency or trade at a cost of $5-8 million. Because the team cut Rowand, someone like Darren Ford who is making the MLB minimum will likely be on the roster to be a true fifth outfielder/pinch runner. Total Positional Cost: $29.6-33.6 million. Total Team Cost: $50.5-58.5 million, leaving $60-68 million available for pitching without increasing payroll.
The lineup could then look something like this:
Mystery CF / Freddy 2B / Sandoval 3B / Posey C / Huff 1B / Belt LF / Ross or Nate RF / Keppinger SS / Pitcher
Which leads us to the pitching staff:
Starters (5): Tim Lincecum is arbitration eligible for two more years, although the Giants would surely love to sign him long-term. Either way, his 2 Cy Youngs, 1 Postseason MVP Award, and likely 4 years of over 200 strikeouts will ensure he comes close to making the $17 million Jered Weaver hometown discount, though that number may well end up in the $20-25 million per year range if they sign him to an extension. Matt Cain has one more year on his contract at $15 million and will be a dominant #2 starter. Madison Bumgarner still is not arbitration eligible, though he may receive a Buster Posey-like bump up to $600k or so. This leaves three current starting pitchers for two spots. Ryan Vogelsong deserves a nice raise and a spot in the rotation and seems like the player that would happily accept a multiyear deal to stay in San Francisco with his mentor, Dave Righetti. Though Vogelsong is arbitration eligible, it would be unsurprising for the player who has had such a tumultuous career skip out and sign a 3 year deal in the range of $10 million. The final rotation spot comes down to Barry Zito or Jonathan Sanchez. Zito is owed $19 million next year while Sanchez would likely jump to $6-8 million in arbitration. Both are terribly maddening to watch pitch, though provide some value as fifth starters. Sanchez is a luxury as a fifth starter being only a year removed from a line of 193.1 IP, 205 K, 3.07 ERA and will certainly be mentioned in trade talks. As the Giants owe Zito $20 million in 2013 and a $7 million buyout in 2014, he is not likely to be waived and will either be the fifth starter or the long man in the bullpen. A trade package of Jonathan and Hector Sanchez could potentially bring in that other outfielder, and with Eric Surkamp dominating AA this year the team does have a little wiggle room to get rid of Dirty. Total Positional Cost: $45.6-52.6 million. Total Team Cost: $96.1-111.1 million
Bullpen (7): Brian Wilson returns with his beard to close at a cost of $8.5 million. Jeremy Affeldt has a $5 million club option with a $.5 million buyout that stands a real possibility of being picked up, unless the club opts to re-up Javier Lopez and use Dan Runzler as the second lefty. Lopez, who hits free agency for the first time, has pitched well again this year and could find himself asking for Affeldt money, though likely will end up at $3-4 million. Ramon Ramirez has avoided arbitration each of the past two years and the Giants would do well to retain him for $2-2.5 million. Santiago Casilla avoided arbitration and received $1.3 million this year, and could be in line for $1.75 million. Sergio Romo will be arbitration eligible for the first time and will likely be in line for $1-2 million. Guillermo Mota has deserved every bit of his roughly $1 million deal this year and should be welcomed back, unless the team tries to slide Zito into the bullpen. While this pen is set if the team keeps its current seven, it would push the payroll at least above the $120 million mark and likely over $125 or even $130 million, which would mean increasing payroll by $7-12 million over 2011. This bullpen has a couple of luxuries that the Giants may choose to forgo, such as two top-notch and well-paid lefties in Lopez and Affeldt as well as Ramon Ramirez and Santiago Casilla each being on the roster since both are good middle innings guys. The club could choose to decline Affeldt's option, allow Lopez to walk, or trade one of Ramirez/Casilla and instead use Dan Runzler or someone who surprises in spring training with a minor league deal as Casilla did in 2010. Assuming the team ponies up and retains its current elite bunch, the Total Positional Cost is $22.75-23.75 million and the Total Team Cost is $118.85-134.85 million.
A few closing thoughts:
- Shedding $13.5 million from Mark DeRosa, Miguel Tejada, and Pat Burrell will allow the team to cover Lincecum's salary increase and a few other arbitration raises, but will not be able to go towards a bat
- The offensive improvement that is necessary will likely come from the returns of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez and the possible trade for or free agent signing of an outfielder
- Between Keppinger and Fontenot who can each play three infield positions and Belt and Sandoval being able to play first base, the team has little need for an additional utility player, especially with Burriss in AAA
- The organization needs to find a way to turn its organizational depth at catcher, starting pitcher, and relief pitcher into a center fielder and table-setter for Sandoval and Posey
- Selling out every game so far this season will hopefully mean that the team does not need to cut any payroll, because it is hard to imagine a way where that is possible and the team remains intact
Anyway, that is my 1800 word analysis of what the Giants can and should do this offseason--mainly add an outfielder, not splurge on a shortstop, and lock up Lincecum long term. Hopefully it starts some conversation or at least makes you feel better about the putrid 2011 offense.