Henry Schulman interviewed Farhan Zaidi on New Year’s Day and the Giants’ new President of Baseball Operations confirmed what we’ve all been feeling about the team this offseason: they’re boring and they’re not better.
The Giants’ front-office overhaul wrought expectations that Zaidi would make changes that largely have not happened yet.
“I think that’s fair,” Zaidi said, before insisting he is not sitting on his hands.
”From a timing standpoint, plenty of deals get done in January and some deals get done in February,” he said. [...]
”We’re very motivated, obviously, to fill those needs and get better. But we don’t want to get into that mode of desperation, which will hurt us more in the long run.”
Schulman reiterated the common notion that once the big names — Harper, Machado, Kimbrel, Ottavino — come off the board that trades and lesser signings will flow. The top of the market needs to be set before the mid-tier players can gauge their worth. In the meantime, the players who’ve already signed weren’t keen on signing with a losing team anyway.
So, the Giants are in a spot where they can’t really get better this season unless they pay a lot for a player, and in order for them to figure out just how much they’ll have to overpay, they need to wait for the All-Star types to sign. Who are these non-All-Star types who are willing to not win for the next few years but make a lot of money from the Giants?
Last week, I looked at the pitchers who might be on the Giants’ radar, given the news that they had pursued Mike Fiers, but now let’s take a look at the most obvious area to upgrade and where the team will likely want to spend some money: the outfield. As Schulman mentions, “Zaidi still sees a ‘deep’ pool of free-agent pitchers and outfielders.”
The outfield depth chart is currently Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, Mac Williamson, Steven Duggar, Drew Ferguson, and Mike Gerber. That’s a whole lot of replacement level with not too much upside. For example, FanGraphs projects that entire bunch to combine for a 0.9 fWAR. 2018’s outfield of Parker/Williamson-Hernandez-Pence was projected for 3 wins above replacement — just three! — and posted an actual fWAR value of 0.1 to end the season. In 2017, it was a 6 projected and 0.6 actual! So... the outfield has just gotten worse year after year.
Virtually any addition will be an upgrade. And yet, as Schulman’s article indicates, Zaidi wants fans to lower their expectations. No — even lower than that.
They’ve already missed out on Michael Brantley and Andrew McCutchen, Schulman’s article confirmed there’s no chance of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado coming aboard, and the above quote strongly suggests the team won’t get into a bidding war for any player and that they’re really looking to add versatile (read: multi-position) players who can help the team just as much in 2020 and 2021. Without factoring in trade possibilities, here are the best of the remaining free agents who fit this general critera:
Marwin González - LF / 1B / 2B / 3B / SS
2018 Line: 552 PA | .247 / .324 / .409 | 16 HR, 68 RBI, 53 BB:126 K | 1.6 fWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 558 PA | .260 / .327 / .428 | 17 HR, 61 RBI | 1.6 fWAR
Why it could happen: Henry Schulman went out of his way to specifically mention him last night in a thread on Twitter (which came after this interview would’ve happened) and again in this morning’s article, suggesting that maybe he knows more than we do or simply knows what we know: Zaidi likes players who can play multiple positions, and Gonzalez can certainly do that.
FanGraphs likes him a lot in the outfield (12.3 Defensive Runs in left field this past season) and only likes him at first base on the infield (6.2 Defensive Runs in 2018), but his general defensive versatility gives him a little bit extra value, as does his switch-hitting. What stands out a bit more is the 22.6% line drive rate in 2018, good for 10th in MLB for left fielders, behind Corey Dickerson, Matt Kemp, Alex Gordon, Michael Brantley, Christian Yelich, Jon Jay, Tommy Pham, Andrew Benintendi, and Derek Dietrich.
The Giants need players who can hit the ball hard. His rate would’ve been 4th-best on the Giants, just ahead of Buster Posey.
Why it won’t happen: I still think there will be multiple suitors for his services which would drive up the price. Do the Giants want to spend $12-$14 million a year on a player who might — I really do stress might — be able to secure a 4-year deal? He’ll turn 30 on March 14th, which in modern baseball terms means he’s legally dead, so signing a player like this, despite his versatility, just doesn’t seem to fit for a smart office trying not to hamper its future efforts.
Derek Dietrich - LF / 1B / 2B / 3B
2018 Line: 551 PA | .265 / .330 / .421 | 16 HR, 72 RBI, 31 BB:140 K | 0.8 fWAR
2019 Baseball-Reference Projection: 522 PA | .255 / .333 / .416 | 14 HR, 51 RBI | 39 BB: 121K
Why it could happen: Despite a ridiculous career strikeout rate of 22.6%, his career on base percentage is .335 and he’s been an above league average hitter since he became a full-time player in 2015 (career wRC+ of 109). A lot of that on base percentage is buoyed by a propensity for getting hit by pitches. He’s really, really good at it, in fact averaging 21 a year over the past three. How does he do it? FanGraphs did a deep dive on him back in 2016 (when he was hit by a pitch 24 times):
Based on my review of the entire collection, it’s not that Dietrich is a particularly inviting target, it’s that he hangs in exceptionally long when a projectile is approaching. There are instances in which he leans in, but in a lot of the cases he’s simply not bailing out.
Dude gets on base and has a little bit of power. His .428 slugging percentage since 2015 would be third-best on the Giants, behind Brandon Belt and Buster Posey (0.06 points ahead of Brandon Crawford). He’s still arbitration eligible, so, if the Giants sign him, they’ll have “control” of him through the 2020 season (he’ll turn 31 midway through 2020), so that adds a little extra value.
Why it won’t happen: He’s a bad defender. His -23 defensive runs saved in left field since 2015 make him the fifth-worst left fielder in baseball during that same stretch, behind only Matt Kemp, Rhys Hoskins (who, admittedly, has been playing out of position), Robbie Grossman, and Khris Davis. In 2018, he was the second-worst left fielder in MLB behind Hoskins (who, again, was playing out of position). He’s not much better on the infield. But wherever he’s played, his defense has been a liability.
Jonathan Schoop signed a 1-year, $7.5 million deal after a sub-average offensive season. Dietrich’s track record could put him in line for the same or more. That might make him cost prohibitive for the Giants, in addition to his left-handedness being affected by the ballpark. For a player who might not have much value beyond a single win above replacement, it feels like Farhan Zaidi would be more inclined to role the dice on a bunch of waiver claims becoming the next Max Muncy or Chris Taylor to post the same value for far less.
Robbie Grossman - LF / RF
2018 Line: 465 PA | .273 / .367 / .384 | 5 HR, 48 RBI, 60 BB:83 K | 0.7 fWAR
2019 B-R Projection: 478 PA | .257 / .355 / .386, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 61 BB:96 K
Why it could happen: A switch hitter with a high degree of on base ability has a lot of value for a team lacking in on base ability. His on base split of .344 (RHP) / .378 (LHP) isn’t too stark and actually helps the Giants overall (team .294 OBP vs. lefties last season). Like Dietrich, he also has arbitration years left and won’t be a free agent until after 2020 (and won’t be 31 until the end of the 2020 season).
Why it won’t happen: Not much versatility or power. He was a solid defender in left field last season, but not spectacular, and he doesn’t play on the infield. He walks a lot and that could setup the team to score some more runs, but he might be a better fit for an AL team trying to contend, and if that’s the case, the Giants might come up short in both AAV and desirability.
Avisaíl García - LF / RF
2018 Line: 385 PA | .236.281.438 | 19 HR, 47 RBI, 20 BB:102 K | 0.0 fWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 510 PA | .264 / .319 / .442, 19 HR, 59 RBI | 1.1 fWAR
Why it could happen: The 27-year old is just one year removed from a season where he slugged .506 and posted an .885 OPS in the American League, good for a 137 wRC+. He’s a power-on base combo who’s more average than bad in the outfield but who is probably still best suited for the American League; still, as a youngish rebound candidate, Zaidi might waive the positional versatility and skill requirement for fielding (he considers left field in particular to not be too important, defensively) to gamble on a player coming off offseason knee surgery (a la Belt) for some “cheap power”.
Why it won’t happen: He made $6.7 million last year and might want the equivalent or a slight raise. Coming off knee surgery, that might be seen as too much of a gamble. His lack of versatility limits his usefulness, too.
Neil Walker - LF, 2B, 3B, 1B
2018 Line: 398 PA | .219 / .309 / .354 | 11 HR, 48 RBI, 42BB:87 K | 0.1 fWAR
2019 B-R Projection: 444 PA | .244 / .327 / .404 | 15 HR, 49 RBI, 45BB:91 K
Why it could happen: I still think this is the guy the team is most likely to add ahead of Spring Training. His age (33), versatility (okay all over the infield, maybe okay in left field), and effectiveness (career OBP of .339) alone should put him on the radar, but he also seems like one of those grizzled veterans coaches love and front offices love to snatch up to show that they “get it” when it comes to building a clubhouse.
He made $4 million last year to be a bench bat for the Yankees. He didn’t do too well in the role, as you see, but he was still a useful player and an intriguing one for a rebuilding team. He could very easily be the superutility guy the team is looking for and might not cost more than what he made last season, setting him up to be a trade chip at the deadline if he performs well once back in the National League (where he played 9 out of 10 seasons).
Why it won’t happen: After playing for the Pirates for so long and then getting a taste of the postseason with the Yankees last season, he probably wants to play for a winner.
Carlos Gomez - LF / CF / RF
2018 Line: 408 PA | .208 / .298 / .336 | 9 HR, 32 RBI, 25 BB:103 K | -0.5 fWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 330 PA | .229 / .303 / .385 | 10 HR, 37 RBI | 0.2 fWAR
Why it could happen: A veteran outfielder with a little bit of pop might just be what the Giants can grab before Spring Training starts. Gomez made only about $4 million last year with the Rays and was mostly unimpressive, but a right-handed hitter will do okay at AT&T Park. He might also be a little bit better than his year in Tampa Bay if only because he’ll be in the National League instead of the AL East. Also, he provides a little bit of life in the clubhouse, and for a team that looks pretty tired and bored these days, a little bit of life could go a long way.
Why it won’t happen: He is not very good. He does have positional versatility, though:
As you can see, the Giants have constrained themselves to a very modest list of possibilities. Given the nature of the franchise, that’s not the worst approach, but it’s certainly not very entertaining from the outside looking in.