We don’t know when the Giants will hire their new head of baseball operations, so it’s perhaps a bit foolish to make up a post like this where I look at possible moves the team could make. If Bobby Evans or Brian Sabean were definitely going to be running the team through next season, a post like this would be even easier to write because of the sheer tonnage of their transaction history. Sure, they might throw in a surprise McCutchen trade or something, but for the most part, the front office has been aggressive in its pursuit of veterans.
I don’t expect that to change much in the new GM’s first year, particularly when the edict will be to “win and develop” and Bruce Bochy will be serving out the final year of his contract as a sort of farewell tour. But there might be some wrinkles — maybe some old favorites and quality players will go in exchange for others. Maybe the free agent dollars won’t be so “top heavy” and the team will spread the money around.
Nick Cafardo’s report in the Boston Globe yesterday that the Giants are expected to pursue LHP Patrick Corbin, for instance, strikes me as a move Brian Sabean would make, but the new front office might shy away from. Although no free agent hitter of any value will ever consider coming to San Francisco, there’s always the chance that a sharp pitcher like Corbin would jump at the chance. I don’t think that’s the case. The team’s loser stench is strong right now and previous aces like Jon Lester and Zack Greinke had no trouble turning down the team’s aggressive overtures and deep pockets. Beyond that, a new front office might not want to follow the old front office’s practice of loading up the books with expensive starting pitching that will make future moves difficult or impossible.
So, if you consider that the Giants have no shot at Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Patrick Corbin, then you might think there’s no point in the Giants trying to half-reload via free agency just to get through 2019. I think there’s a way they can do it without screwing them long-term. I mean, the thing is, all of the people who run the Giants and every other Major League Baseball team are far, far, far, far, far, far more intelligent than any of us and have way more knowledge, so this is a shot in the dark while blindfolded and a soothing voice whispering in your ear that you’re a garbage idiot. None of this will matter in a month or two, but let’s give it a shot anyway.
Obviously, some of this will change once the Giants hire their new head of baseball operations and that person gives the public some sense of The Plan going forward, but for now, here’s a rough sketch of a plan for improving the current Giants team.
Oh, it’s important to know two things: the Giants’ payroll commitments next season (including Bumgarner’s $12 million option but not arbitration-eligible players) is about $144 million. The competitive balance tax threshold for 209 is $206 million. Since the Giants reset their penalty, they’d owe a 20% tax on ever dollar over $206 million.
Improve the team’s on base percentage by adding players who are good at getting on base
This seems fairly obvious, but the Giants have been so incredibly resistant to targeting above average on base percentage players in the Brian Sabean era (at least since 2008, the Giants’ team OBP is .316, 26th in MLB) that it’s gone from weird to hilarious the really funny but now it’s back to being kinda sad. I suppose the new GM could just continue this practice and make it all seem funny again, but let us assume that the Giants’ search for an analytics-minded front office will mean the team reconsiders its long-standing position.
To that end, here are two high on-base guys the Giants could target:
Michael Brantley - LF
Although he’s been oft-injured and seemingly put together a “career year” just before hitting free agency, I like the idea of adding Cleveland left fielder’s Michael Brantley to the Giants’ mix. He’s not as good of a defender as, say, Lorenzo Cain, who also left his team in free agency two years after a World Series appearance and also at age 31, but his career on base percentage of .351 is nearly 30 points higher than league average since he entered the league in 2009 (career 114 OPS+).
Cain got 5 years at $16 million per. Perhaps a bit steep, but his above average offense and strong defense in center field made him worth the risk (he’ll be 36 when his contract ends). The Giants could offer that much, although Brantley’s injury history (he missed 223 games from 2016-2017 before playing in 143 this past season) certainly makes Brantley even riskier. He’s also not that great a defender in left field, either (FanGraphs’ defensive rating has him at a -52 runs for his career). American League teams could DH him occasionally, and smarter teams can offer more competitive rosters, but let’s just say for now that Brantley makes sense for a team sorely lacking in on base percentage.
Now before you, the staunch Sabeanist, laments that I’m advocating for someone who walks a lot but doesn’t make contact to put the ball in play — Michael Brantley walked all of 48 times in 631 plate appearances this past season (7.6% of the time), but he had a contact rate — that is, the rate at which he made contact when he swung the bat — a Major League-leading 90.9%. Michael Brantley puts the ball in play and he gets on base.
César Hernández - 2B
As noted last month, the Phillies might be looking to shake up some of their roster to “win and compete” and Hernandez in particular looks like someone the team might want to trade. He’s arbitration eligible (for the final time), and MLB Trade Rumors (which tends to be pretty accurate in its projections) indicates he might be due for a raise that puts his salary at $8.9 million. That’s a good reason to move a player, and a good reason for a struggling / rebuilding team to swoop.
Hernandez’s career on base percentage is .357 and he’s a plus defender at second base. He’s also a switch hitter, which means Bruce Bochy will feel he’s versatile. Do the Giants swap Joe Panik and Hernandez? I don’t see the Phillies doing that. They faded down the stretch in part because of a weak bullpen. Would Sam Dyson entice them? He’d give them some late innings help and save them some money in arbitration (Dyson’s projected arbitration figure is $5.4 million).
Wild card: Andrew McCutchen
He’s a free agent, played well for the team, they might be able to re-sign him for the same annual value they paid him in 2018 ($14.5 million).
Swap bad contracts
This idea has been repeated many times already, but here are three swap plans:
Joe Panik for Sonny Gray
Gray’s set to earn $9 million next year in the final year of his deal and the Yankees could save some money by swapping him for arbitration-eligible Joe Panik, who’s set to earn far less. Also, Panik would replace Neil Walker on the roster (who earned $4 million this past season and is now a free agent) and serve as middle infield depth while Didi Gregorious works his way back from Tommy John surgery.
The Giants could certainly Sonny Gray as depth in the rotation, but as obvious as this deal is, there’s every chance other teams could offer the Yankees more or the Yankees would want more from the Giants than Joe Panik, even though the Yankees have already said they’re ready to move on from Gray. Brian Cashman didn’t execute his stealth rebuild by playing straight up, and it’s all a matter of what the Giants feel they need and how other teams can exploit them.
Jorge Soler ($4.7 million) / Ian Kennedy ($14 million) for ???
This is less a swap of bad contracts and more of a taking on a bad contract to get a decent player. Jorge Soler plays right field and will be 27 next year. He posted a .354 on base percentage in 257 plate appearances last season, which ended with a 60-day disabled list transaction due to a broken toe. His deal runs through 2020 for that same AAV number, so there’s the potential for extra value there.
I’ll grant you that Soler’s meager track record (career OBP of .326, some injuries, but lots of inconsistency) doesn’t make him a tremendous candidate, and acquiring the last two years of Ian Kennedy’s deal also doesn’t make him all that attractive, but he could easily slot into that innings eater role abandoned by the injured Jeff Samardzija.
Both players carry injury and downside risk and Ian Kennedy struggled with oblique injuries all of last season, so this would be a high gamble deal. As a result, maybe the Giants wouldn’t have to give up much in trade and be able to save better trade chips (Dereck Rodriguez, Andrew Suarez) for less risky deals.
Remember: the Giants aren’t going to tear it all down. Given that, what do you want to see them do?