The Giants bolstered their title team through trades for Pagan and Pence last season.
Trades and bargain free agents built around a homegrown core have been the main tools in propelling the San Francisco Giants to two World Series titles in the last three seasons.
Rather than spending big dollars on marquee free agents, the Giants have looked for bargains. Prior to the 2010 season, they signed Aubrey Huff to a cheap one-year deal while also bringing back Juan Uribe and Andres Torres, two minor league free agents that the team signed on the cheap prior to 2009.
During that season general manager Brian Sabean bolstered the team by signing Pat Burrell after he was released by Tampa Bay, claiming Cody Ross off waivers from Florida, and then trading for Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez and Jose Guillen.
Last season Sabean traded for Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro, claimed Jose Mijares off waivers from Kansas City, and signed minor league free agents Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias. The team also received tremendous production from former minor league free agent Ryan Vogelsong.
If the past is any guide, Sabean will likely bolster the team through trades again this winter. In trading for Pagan, Cabrera, Pence and Scutaro, Sabean acquired players that were nearing free agency.
Pagan and Cabrera were arbitration eligible for the final time last season before entering free agency this winter, and Scutaro was in the final year of his contract as well. Pence was acquired with just one and a half seasons of team control left before hitting the market after 2013.
Thus, if the Giants are going to explore the trade market again this winter, they will likely target players climbing the arbitration ladder and approaching free agency.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Martin Prado and Jed Lowrie are five players that are fast approaching free agency and would be ideal fits on the 2013 Giants. Let's explore each players' skill set, and the possibility of them getting dealt this winter.
Asdrubal Cabrera is set to make $16.5 million over the final two seasons of his contract, which seems like the amount of money Marco Scutaro will get in free agency this winter.
The difference is that Cabrera is a decade younger than Scutaro, so he's a better bet to remain productive over the next two seasons. However, Scutaro will just cost the Giants money, while Cabrera will cost them money plus prospects.
Cabrera has hit a robust .272/.335/.443 with 41 home runs over the last two seasons with the Indians, but he's been a below average defender at shortstop.
Trading for Cabrera and moving him over to second base would give the Giants a well-above average offensive player at the position to team with improving shortstop Brandon Crawford up the middle. A permanent move to the right side of the diamond would help Cabrera's defensive numbers, and boost his overall value.
As a small-market team with little chance of retaining Cabrera beyond 2014, Cleveland is open to trading him in addition to impending free agent Shin-Soo Choo for front-line pitching according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.
The Giants have three outstanding pitching prospects in Clayton Blackburn, Kyle Crick and 2012 first-round pick Chris Stratton. A trade built around one or two of those prospects would make sense for both sides if the Indians decide to rebuild and if the Giants cannot retain Scutaro.
A blockbuster trade built around two of those pitching prospects as well as a position player like Gary Brown for both Choo and Cabrera could make sense as well.
If the Giants lose out on Pagan in free agency, they'll have two holes to fill in the outfield unless they decide Gregor Blanco can continue to hold down a starting spot.
The aforementioned Choo would be an inexpensive alternative to big-name free agents like B.J. Upton, Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn. He's expected to make about $8 million in his final year of arbitration next season.
Choo would give the Giants an element of patience that they currently lack outside of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Blanco. He has a lifetime .381 on-base percentage, which would rank in the top twenty among active players if he met the minimum plate appearance threshold.
Choo isn't just up there looking for walks, either. He's also a career .289 hitter with gap power that would play well at AT&T Park.
If the Giants could acquire Choo, they could play him in left field with Pence staying in right and Blanco manning center field with his outstanding range.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald wrote an article about a month ago suggesting that the Red Sox should deal impending free agent Jacoby Ellsbury to the Giants for fellow impending free agent Tim Lincecum.
That's a trade that makes a ton of sense for both sides. The Giants might have to kick in some cash as well because Lincecum is due about $14 million more than Ellsbury next season.
On the other hand, the Red Sox should be able to absorb plenty of money after dealing away Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez last season.
Ellsbury has been an inconsistent player because of injuries, having played in only 18 games in 2010 and just 74 last season.
When he stayed healthy in 2009 and 2011, he showed what type of player he could be. He hit .301/.355/.415 with a league-leading 70 stolen bases in 2009, and then he finished second in the MVP voting in 2011 when he hit .321/.376/.552 with 39 steals and 32 home runs.
Lincecum has been more consistent throughout his career than Ellsbury, but he's coming off the one bad year of his career.
If the Red Sox think he can bounce back to the level he pitched at from 2008-2011 when he won two Cy Young awards, this would be a great opportunity for them to get a front-line starter without having to dole out another massive long-term contract this winter.
Ellsbury would give the Giants a younger, faster and cheaper alternative in center field to Pagan, and the Red Sox could replace him with top prospect Jackie Bradley.
The Giants don't have an obvious in-house alternative to Lincecum, but they could use any savings from this deal to sign another starter such as Brandon McCarthy, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Dempster or Shaun Marcum.
The Braves discussed trading Prado last winter as his price was climbing through arbitration, but they apparently haven't had any inclination to trade him so far this offseason. He's set to make about $8 million in his final season before free agency, so perhaps the Braves will reconsider.
Prado would offer the Giants insurance at second base and in the outfield because of his versatility. If they re-sign Scutaro, they could play Prado in left; if they re-sign Pagan, they could play Prado at second. The could also potentially trade for Prado to play left, re-sign Pagan to play center and re-sign Scutaro to play second.
Prado is a career .295 hitter with decent power and excellent contact ability. He's a similar hitter to Scutaro, but he's younger and more powerful.
The Braves are seeking a center fielder to replace Michael Bourn, and are currently in talks with B.J. Upton. If they lose out on Upton, perhaps they would consider a younger, cheaper alternative like Gary Brown by dealing away Prado.
A versatile, .300 hitter with gap power like Prado would be an ideal fit for the Giants.
Lowrie has yet to stay healthy enough to play in 100 games in his five-year career. When he has been healthy enough to play he's hit .250/.326/.417, which is above-average for a middle infielder.
If the Giants lose out on Scutaro, the switch-hitting Lowrie would be better than all of the middle infield alternatives on the free agent market if he could ever stay healthy for a full season.
The 28-year old Lowrie hit just .244 for the Astros last season, but he put up a .331 on-base percentage and .438 slugging percentage, which gave him the fourth best OPS among regular shortstops last season.
He'll also be arbitration eligible for the next two seasons at reasonable prices because of his lack of playing time.The injury history makes him a risky trade target, but his youth, talent and cost offer potential upside as well.
Whether the Giants target Cabrera, Choo, Ellsbury, Prado or Lowrie, or other players not considered here, will in large part depend on how their negotiations with Pagan and Scutaro play out. However, if they lose out on either or both players, their recent past suggests that they'll explore the trade market for replacements instead of enduring the sticker shock of the free agent market.
The cost of trades in terms of prospects or talent from the major league roster can be difficult to stomach, but it beats overpaying in free agency given recent flops like Aaron Rowand, Carl Crawford and Chone Figgins, among others.
Sabean has built a consistent winner around his homegrown core by finding cheap free agents and by being aggressive on the trade market. That strategy continues to pay dividends, so it would make sense for it to continue this offseason.