When news broke that Melky Cabrera had been suspended for failing a drug test, my initial reaction was that although the move would hurt the San Francisco Giants this season, it would help them retain Cabrera at a discount going forward.
However, when the New York Daily News reported the bizarre news on Sunday that Cabrera and his representatives hatched a scheme to explain away the positive test by creating a fake website selling a supplement that doesn't exist, it became clear that Cabrera would likely not be back with the Giants.
Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that he was getting a "strong sense" that the Giants would not bring back Cabrera after news unfolded about the cover-up attempt. As the saying goes, the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
A lot can change between now and Opening Day next season. Perhaps the Giants will forgive Melky with time; but for now, it appears the organization will likely move on.
Thus, the Giants will need to replace Cabrera in left field next season. They may also have to replace impending free agent Angel Pagan in center field. If Pagan bolts, the Giants can turn center field over to top prospect Gary Brown next season, although Brown has had just an average season at Double-A Richmond, hitting .280/.350/.396 entering play on Wednesday.
Giants' general manager Brian Sabeanwas able to replace all three outfield spots last season by trading for Cabrera and Pagan, then signing Gregor Blanco to a minor league deal. At the deadline, Sabean acquired a fourth new outfielder by dealing for Hunter Pence. Pence and Blanco will remain under team control next season.
Here are three free-agent outfielders that I think the Giants could look at over the winter to replace Cabrera's production in the outfield.
If the Giants determine that Brown is never going to be more than an average regular in center, they could use the money they may have been intending to spend on Cabrera to make a run at Michael Bourn.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported last month that the Giants are a probable suitor for Bourn in free agency this winter.
Bourn, 29, is an elite defensive center fielder and baserunner in the midst of a career season. He's hitting .288/.353/.422 with 33 steals for Atlanta this season.
According to FanGraphs, since 2009 he's never finished with fewer than 4.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). This season he's put up a career-high 5.8 WAR already, largely due the 17 runs that he's saved with his glove.
Players like Bourn who build their games around speed are not always great bets to age well. He strikes out more than average (20 percent career strikeout rate), which is too much for a guy with his lack of home run power. He walks a decent amount, but not enough to carry a lower batting average.
As his speed declines and he gets fewer infield hits, he could see a significant drop in his career .274 batting average unless he improves his contact rate.
While Bourn may not age particularly well, he's an elite player right now because of his speed. As long as he maintains his speed, he'll provide value.
Then again, with a similar, younger player in Brown nearly ready for the big leagues, and thus under team control for at least six seasons at lower prices, does it make sense to spend possibly $100 million on Bourn?
Cody Ross, or as Giants fans know him, Mr. October, did not follow up his postseason heroics with a good season in 2011. He hit just .240/.325/.405 for the Giants, though he did put up a career-best 10.6 percent walk rate.
Signed to a cheap one-year deal in Boston, Ross has taken to the friendlier confines of Fenway Park by hitting .273/.339/.518 with 18 home runs this season.
At 31 and with an inconsistent track record that has included DL stints in each of the past two seasons, Ross is not due for a huge payday.
However, there are reasons he might not be worth a lot of money besides just his age and inconsistency. Outside of Fenway Park, he's hit just .233/.305/.393 for the season compared to .306/.366/.622 in front of the Green Monster.
He also doesn't hit righties well. For his career, he's hitting just .253/.313/.414 against same-sided pitching compared to .288/.356/.587 against southpaws.
As the right-handed portion of a platoon, Ross would be a great addition. As an everyday player in a spacious ballpark, he'll get exposed just as he was in 2011.
Victorino, 31, had a career year last season when he launched 17 home runs, led the league with 16 triples and batted .279/.355/.491.
This season, those numbers have come crashing down as he's hit 10 home runs, five triples and batted just .259/.320/.393.
Victorino's true talent is probably somewhere in between his monster 2011 season and the disappointing year he's endured this season. There's always the risk that he could be undergoing an erosion in his speed and power as he moves past age 30, but he may have a few good seasons left in the tank.
The reason I think Victorino could be a fit for the Giants is because Sabean has a history of acquiring players with similar walk and strikeout totals. Victorino has walked about 7.7 percent of the time during his career, which is slightly below average, while striking out in just 11.5 percent of his plate appearances.
Cabrera (7.3 W%, 12.1 K%), Pagan (7.4 W%, 14.8 K%), Ryan Theriot (7.9 W%, 10.6 K%) and Marco Scutaro (8.8 W%, 11.0 K%) are four players that Sabean has acquired over the past calendar year that don't walk a ton but put the ball in play at exceptionally high rates.
Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and B.J. Upton are three other big-name free-agent outfielders hitting the market this winter. However, Hamilton and Swisher may prove to be too expensive, while the declining Upton would not signify an upgrade over whatever Brown could provide.
This is a very premature look at what the Giants may do in the outfield this winter, but the sudden suspension of Cabrera has made this a timely topic.
No matter what course of action the Giants take, they aren't likely to get the type of production Cabrera provided this season, regardless of how much his success was fueled by drug use.