San Francisco Giants: 5 Players Who Should Be Replaced This Offseason
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While we don't know exactly what the Giants budget will be next year, we can take a guess based on their current payroll obligations and their past opening-day payrolls.
Right now, the Giants current payroll obligations to players under contract, players eligible for arbitration and players under club control total around $120 million by my unofficial estimate (h/t baseballprospectus.com).
Those players are Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias, Hector Sanchez, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, Jose Mijares and George Kontos.
Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt are the key players eligible for free agency.
Opening-day payroll has gone from $96 million in 2010, to $118 million last season and up to $131 million this year. Given that the Giants have won the NL pennant two out of the last three seasons and selling out AT&T Park every night, there's no reason to think payroll can't increase further next year.
While we don't yet know the Giants exact payroll parameters, we know that there's room in the budget for Pence and Angel Pagan because general manager Brian Sabean said as much (via mlblogs.com) when the Giants acquired Pence. At the time, Sabean was discussing Melky Cabrera, not Pagan, but Cabrera's suspension and Pagan's hot finish make them interchangeable in my view.
We do know which players are eligible for free agency this offseason, but we don't really know what the price tag will be, and we also don't have much of an idea as to which players currently under contact will be potential trade targets. Last winter Sabean improved the team by surpassing the free-agent route to instead acquire Cabrera and Pagan via trade.
Here are five players whom I would consider replacing this winter. These players aren't players whom I think the Giants will replace, they are just five guys whom I would personally look to trade or replace if I was the general manger of the Giants.
Thankfully, Sabean is doing a fine job, so you don't have to worry.
There's no such thing as a bad one-year contract, so I really wouldn't have a problem with the Giants tendering Pence a contract, even though it's probably going to cost around $14 million through arbitration to keep him.
The Giants are almost certainly going to keep him because he hit 24 home runs, drove in 104 runs and provided excellent team leadership. However, he only hit .251 with runners in scoring position, suggesting that his 104 RBI were the product of opportunity more than skill.
Buster Posey hit .340 with men in scoring position but drove in one fewer run than Pence because he had 60 fewer at-bats in those clutch situations.
Pence is only 29 years old, and he's a lifetime .283/.339/.475 hitter who is good for 25 home runs every season. Thus, there's reason to believe his struggles with the Giants were the outlier to what has been a very good career.
However, I'm going to bet that Pence is at the beginning of his decline. After hitting .271/.336/.447 with the Phillies before the trade, he hit just .219/.287/.384 with the Giants. During the postseason he's gone 9-for-48 with one walk, one home run and a .188/.204/.271 batting line.
His at-bats with the Giants have not been very good. He takes a big leg kick towards third base with his front leg, which causes his front side to fly open, leaving him off-balance and susceptible to fastballs and breaking balls away.
His at-bats have been a reminder of Aaron Rowand, who also had bizarre hitting mechanics that caused him to continually to strikeout, swing over the top of breaking balls and hit weak grounders to the left side of the infield, just like Pence.
Rowand had several good seasons before coming over to the Giants, including a breakout year before free agency with the Phillies in which the then-29-year-old hit .309/.374/.515 with 27 home runs. The Giants rewarded Rowand with a 5-year, $60 million deal which ended with him spending the fifth year on his couch after he had hit just .253/.310/.394 over four seasons with San Francisco.
Maybe Pence will rebound next season. However, my best guess is that because of his lack of plate discipline and increased strikeout rate, Pence is starting to decline. If it were up to me, I would try to trade Pence this winter rather than pay him millions of dollars to see if he can revert back to form.
If there were no takers via trade, I would probably tender him a contract, unless that precluded me from re-signing Pagan to player center and Cabrera to play left.
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I love Brian Wilson, but the success rate for a second Tommy John surgery is nowhere near as strong as it is after the first go-around.
Wilson is eligible for arbitration for the final time before becoming a free agent after next season, so the Giants will have to pay him close to the $8.5 million that he made this season in order to find out if he can come back. They can also not tender him a contract, then try to re-sign him at a lesser price as a free agent.
If the cost was low, I would certainly bring him back. However, if the cost is anywhere near the $8.5 million he made this season, I would allocate those resources elsewhere.
The Giants led the league by saving 80 percent of their games last season. When they had Wilson fully healthy in 2010, their success rate was 78 percent.
That's not to say that the team wouldn't be better off with a fully healthy Wilson in the ninth inning. If Wilson could come back healthy, that would move Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla down, lengthening the pen considerably.
However, there are other, cheaper ways to improve the bullpen that don't involve the risk of paying millions of dollars to a closer with two major elbow operations.
Re-signing Jeremy Affeldt and looking for scrap-heap pickups like George Kontos should be the priority in strengthening the bullpen.
If Wilson is willing to come back at a significantly reduced price, then it's a no-brainer to keep him. However, if the cost is over a few million bucks, I would move on from the beard despite his past success and high entertainment value.
Future of the Rotation
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I'm not going to waste your time suggesting that the Giants do anything with Tim Lincecum, because Sabean has already said the plan is to make some adjustments to his mechanics and keep him in the rotation next year.
After being one of the best pitchers on the planet through 2011 with a World Series ring and two Cy Young awards on his resume, it all came crashing down for Lincecum this year. He went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA, a 1.47 WHIP, only 13 quality starts and career-highs in home runs (23) and walks allowed (90).
He set a career low in strikeout percentage, though he still generated a high rate of swinging strikes, suggesting that the stuff is still good enough to succeed even with a reduction in velocity.
The Giants are on the hook to pay him $22 million next year, so they're going to have to hope that his results revert back to what they were before 2012.
Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong can all become free agents after 2013. Zito and Vogelsong have club options for 2014, but Zito's $18 million option will almost certainly not be exercised given the cost. Vogelsong's $6.5 million option will be an easy choice if he throws well again next year.
It's been an incredible two-year journey with the Giants for Vogelsong, who had been out of major league baseball since 2006. He's gone 27-16 with a 3.06 ERA and 41 quality starts for the Giants after spending time in Japan and the minor leagues before his career was resurrected by the team that initially drafted him.
He's also been the Giants best pitcher during this postseason as the team has gone 3-0 in his starts. He's put up a 1.42 ERA.
However, he'll turn 36 years old next year, so it's unclear how much longer he can continue his resurgence.
Thus, while the Giants received 160 starts from their big-five starters this season and will bring them all back next year, there's no guarantee they'll be together beyond 2013. The Giants need to begin thinking about what the rotation is going to look like behind Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, who are both signed through 2017.
The trade of top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran last season created a gap at the top of the farm system, unfortunately.
Prospect Eric Surkamp is still recovering from elbow surgery, and top pitching prospects Clayton Blackburn, Kyle Crick and first-round pick Chris Stratton have all yet to pitch above A-ball.
Double-A pitching prospects Chris Heston (2.24 ERA) and Michael Kickham (3.05 ERA) are the two farmhands closest to contributing for the Giants' major league team.
The Giants don't have to replace anyone in the rotation this winter, but they may need to find as many as three new starters next winter. Thus, they may want to get a jump-start by signing an insurance policy this offseason.
I would try to sell high on Brandon Belt this winter. Again, as with Pence, I wouldn't just give him away. Instead, I would try to trade him to improve the team in other areas.
There's a lot to like about Belt. He's a very good defender, and he showed tremendous improvement at the plate from his rookie season to his second year with the Giants after dominating the minor leagues. He's only 24 years old and under team control for the next five seasons.
There are also some reasons to be concerned, however. He's struck out in nearly 24 percent of his plate appearances, which is too high of a rate for a guy who has hit only 16 home runs thus far in his career.
Like Pence, his swing mechanics are worrisome. His bat comes through the zone at an angle, rather than remaining flat, and it doesn't stay in the zone for very long. He also has a hard time keeping his lower half balanced. Pence and Belt often look like they're hitting on ice skates instead of cleats.
I wouldn't give Belt away because he's a cost-controlled asset who is already an above-average major league player. However, teams like the Oakland A's and Cleveland Indians which value patience and youth may be willing to overpay for a player like Belt, so I would test the market for him.
He's coming off of a good year, and there's a very good chance that more improvement is in store. If I didn't get a great offer for Belt, or Pence for that matter, I would be happy to keep both players on the roster. However, in both cases, I would test the market to see how the rest of the league values them.
Brandon Belt for Brett Anderson, who says no? Probably the A's, but a deal like that is worth exploring if you're the Giants.
Ryan Theriot, Aubrey Huff, Xavier Nady and the Bench
Sabean has a history of shrewd minor league free-agent pickups in recent years that includes Vogelsong, Blanco, Joaquin Arias, Juan Uribe and Andres Torres.
Arias and Blanco played key roles this season, and they'll provide the team with depth again next season. Hector Sanchez is a steadily improving switch-hitting catcher who can hit, hit for power and throw, but he needs to develop patience at the plate and better framing skills behind it.
The Giants only hit .218 in pinch-hitting situations this season, so they'll need to add some offense to the bench. A veteran like Scott Hairston, Reed Johnson or Juan Pierre could improve the team in that regard.
Ryan Theriot hit .278 as a pinch-hitter, but he can only play second base at this stage of his career, and he has virtually no power. Thus, bringing him back as a bench player doesn't make much sense, even though he provides a solid veteran presence.
Aubrey Huff hit .269 with six walks as a pinch-hitter, but, like Theriot, he lacks the positional versatility needed to be an asset off the bench in this age of seven-man bullpens.
Xavier Nady went 6-for-13 with two walks as a pinch-hitter, but defensively he's limited to left field, and he has had a long history of injuries.
The Giants might be able to keep Nady or Huff as a pinch-hitter extraordinaire, but they would be better served investing in bench players like Blanco, Arias and Sanchez, who are good enough to start in case of an injury. The positional flexibility of Blanco, who can play three outfield spots, and Arias, who can play three infield spots, is vital for a manager like Bruce Bochy, who loves to double-switch and play matchups.