Going into winter, everyone has ideas on ways to improve the team. These are some of mine. I do not think they are the only way available, but I think that if everything could be pulled off--and no one ever really knows who will be available at what price, and how or why they might decide to take this or that offer--this would be a substantially improved and solid team.
The unknowables, which is to say the signings of people not under control for 2013, are two retentions, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt, and three free agents, Mike Napoli, Cody Ross, and Grady Sizemore.
I think the merits of Scutaro need no comment. About the only free agent of possible interest at second base would be Kelly Johnson; Johnson would probably cost a little more, but on the other hand is younger by a good bit. I suspect I would actually prefer Johnson, but I doubt his ultimate availability. Scutaro is well familiar with and (I believe) enjoys the Bay Area, and the prospect of being on another winning team.
Affeldt is easy to dismiss as "just another overpriced middle reliever", but I think one can scarcely over-value his ability to pitch effectively to both right-handed and left-handed batters, and to be plausibly able to go for either a strikeout or a ground ball. Those attributes make his already impressive quality of pitching all the more valuable.
Cody Ross is also known hereabouts. The Red Sox are apparently quite interested in retaining him, but he has said in so many words that the chance to be on a winning team will probably be his main consideration this winter, and that, coupled with his good time here before, makes the Giants attractive to him. If they were to offer him a decent contract (I have guesstimated $5 million a year) for a decent term, say two or three years, I strongly suspect they could get him.
Mike Napoli is important because of his ability to catch and desire to get at least some catching time wherever he goes. With the Giants wanting to keep Posey's catching time within some limits, the ability to sub in someone who is not death eating firecrackers at the plate is important. As I will discuss below, I could see the Giants, if they could snag Napoli, using him about 1/3 time as catcher. There are varying reports on his defense. Scioscia, who did not like him for various reasons, runs down Napoli's defense, but apparently those who watch him say that it is not bad; not outstanding, but decent, and he works hard at it. Acquiring Napoli would solve some problems at catcher, plus add a generally strong bat to the offense.
Finally, Grady Sizemore. Those not close to the situation might write Sizemore off as just flat done physically, but <a href="http://didthetribewinlastnight.com/2012/10/23/uncertain-future-ahead-for-sizemore/" target="new" style="color:#ff6600;" >sources in Cleveland</a> do not agree. A team that is willing to take a chance on Sizemore has a potential big payoff. Obviously, any contract needs to be structured around substantial play-time bonuses, and a medical report and possibly an "audition". But I think that if a team jumps in and makes a reasonable offer, even with contingencies, he'd be glad to take them up--and a team with the Giants' recent history, and this ballpark and City, is especially attractive. Mind, if Sizemore did do an el foldo, there's always Plan B as in "Blanco", and that's at least solid defense and not-dreadful offense.
OK, first, how would things look if all that actually were accomplished? I will structure the discussion around my belief that every player needs a day a week off to remain strong through the season and into the stretch run (and that a "week" is six games). Here's a pattern (on a six-day rotation basis):
<pre> C: Posey 4x, Napoli 2x
1B: Napoli 3x, Posey 1x, Belt 2x
2B: Scutaro 5x, Arias 1x
SS Crawford 4x, Arias 2x (platoon-based; LHP are about 2/3 of IP)
3B: Sandoval 5x, Arias 1x
LF: Belt 3x, Ross 3x
CF: Sizemore 5x, Ross 1x
RF: Pence 5x, Ross 1x
Or, by player (also on a 6-day basis):
Posey: C x4, 1B x1
Napoli: C x2, 1B x3
Scutaro: 2B x5
Crawford: SS x4
Arias: SS x2, 2B x1, 3B x1
Sandoval: 3B x5
Belt: LF x3, 1B x2
Sizemore: CF x5
Pence: RF x5
Ross: LF x3, CF x1, RF x1
A couple of comments there: I'd prefer Arias not have to get subbed in for Sandoval, especially as it would mostly be vs RHP (he plays SS against LHP), but it is more or less unavoidable. In the OF, there are other possible arrangements. Notably, Pence could play LF 3 times and RF 2, while Ross plays CF one time and RF four times, which might be a better defensive pattern.
Besides those ten men, there needs to be three more, so that any random two players can become unavailable without requiring badly out-of-position arrangements: Blanco would be the fifth outfielder, Whiteside would be the third catcher (Sandoval can probably no longer carry that role) and Brock Bond would be the emergency second baseman. None of those three would ever be expected to start a game (barring freak injuries or illnesses taking out two or more regulars at a time), but they would be the second-tier pinch hitters (because the first tier is always the two regulars on the bench resting for that day), and emergency or extra-innings backups.
Now let's see if this is wishful thinking or if the budget might realistically allow it. In this, I am using the actual 2013 salaries where they are known and already set by contract, and then various sources' ideas on the money men not now under contract seem to be expected to be in line for in 2013. It looks like this (numbers are millions, rounded to the nearest tenth), arranged in descending order of cost (where ?? indicates "not yet known, estimated", a leading # means "re-up", and a leading * means FA signing):
<pre> Lincecum 22.0
Pence 13.8 ??
* Napoli 13.0 ??
Wilson 8.5 ??
# Scutaro 6.0
Posey 5.9 ??
* Ross 5.0 ??
# Affeldt 5.0
Romo 3.6 ??
* Sizemore 2.5 ??
Mijares 1.6 ??
Blanco 1.3 ??
Arias 0.8 ??
Whiteside 0.6 ??
Well, gee, that looks high. The 2012 payroll was about $132; this is thus about a 12% increase. But the Giants' payroll has gone from $82 million in 2009, to $96 million in 2010, $118 million in 2011, and $131 million in 2012. So there is a clear uptick every recent season, and all on an order commensurate with 12% (2012 was up 12%, 2011 was up 23%, and 2010 was up 17%). And Rowand's $12 million is now finally off the books.
Even so, there might be room for some cuts. Wilson at $8.5 million seems, pundits notwithstanding, awfully high for his circumstances; at, say, $3.5 million (not beggarly for a man who will have lost the closer's role and is coming off a second TJ surgery), and that's $5 million off, bringing the proposed sum to $143.9, only a 9% increase.
The sharp-eyed will also have noticed that there is no Casilla here (and no H. Sanchez). The Giants can well afford to trade GasCan to whomever is blind enough to take a "proven closer type", and be pleased with whatever they can get back (which return is not figured into the lists above). For that matter, if Sanchez could bring any return value--on his own or in a package with Casilla--there's no reason to hesitate. Indeed, Runzler, a fire-throwing LHP, might also have more value in trade than as a "maybe this year" minor-leaguer. If the Giants could spin some combination of that selection into an actual everyday player, especially if it's a younger, low-salary type, that could help, too.
I would be interested in hearing responses (why else post?), but especially about the projected salary numbers and the likely 2013 payroll.