Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan or Shane Victorino: Who Is Best Option for SF Giants?

Mark Reynolds@@markreynolds33Correspondent IIDecember 2, 2012

If Pagan departs, the Giants will reportedly turn to Bourn or Victorino in center.
If Pagan departs, the Giants will reportedly turn to Bourn or Victorino in center.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants have narrowed their focus in center field to free agents Angel Pagan, Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The Giants' priority this winter has to been to retain Pagan, but it now appears that they will turn their sights to Bourn or Victorino if they can't reach an agreement with Pagan. 

Heyman also reported that the Giants have additional money to spend this winter after winning their second championship in three seasons. However, Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area reported on Friday that payroll will hold steady at $130 million next season.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean told Baggarly that the Giants had alternatives in place if Pagan and second baseman Marco Scutaro do not re-sign with the club.

They may not meet our needs or our schedule. But you have to play the game, I guess...We’ve created some options if either [Pagan or Scutaro] does not sign with us...It’s a fluid situation. We’re not close to a deal now because of how the jockeying is going on now.

Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports reported that two teams, believed to be the Giants and Phillies, have made four-year offers to Pagan. Buster Olney of ESPN also reported that the Giants have made a four-year offer to Pagan, but the offer is short of what Pagan is seeking in terms of average annual value.

Bourn is the youngest of the three options and is likely to command the largest contract of the group, which is no surprise given that his agent is Scott Boras.

Bourn, who will turn 30 later this month, hit .274/.348/.391 with 42 steals for Atlanta last season. He ranked as the best defensive center fielder and was also one of the top rated baserunners.

He is an elite runner who possesses 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. He is also a more patient hitter than either Victorino or Pagan. However, he also has the least amount of power and the highest strikeout rate of the group.

His low power and contact approach is a dangerous combination going forward, particularly if he loses any of his elite speed. Also, the team that signs Bourn will lose their first-round draft pick because the Braves extended him a qualifying offer.

Pagan, who will turn 32 next July, had his second excellent season out of the last three after an offseason trade from the Mets to the Giants. He hit .288/.338/.440 with a league-leading 15 triples, helping the Giants to another championship. He rated as an average defender in center, but was a top-rated baserunner with 29 steals in 36 attempts.

Victorino, who turned 32 last week, hit just .255/.321/.383 last season with the Phillies and Dodgers, though he did steal 39 bases in 45 attempts. He had a monster season in 2011 when he hit .279/.355/.491 with 16 triples and 17 home runs.

Most of his issues last season came against right-handed pitching. The switch-hitting Victorino hit just .223/.296/.333 off righties in 2012.

Victorino is coming off a down year and he is also the oldest of this group, so he is likely to command the smallest contract. However, the team that signs him might be getting a player who should only be used against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately, most starting pitchers are right-handed.

If Victorino can bounce back to where he was in 2011, he would be the best bargain of this group. He is an excellent baserunner and an average defender in center. He has above-average contact ability and power for the position as well.

All multi-year deals for free agents are fraught with risk because the signing team is always paying for past production. Unfortunately for the Giants, younger center-field trade targets like Chris Young and Denard Span have come off the board while the team has waited for the free agent market to develop.

Rather than paying market price for past production, the Giants might be better of eschewing the free agent market altogether as they did last winter when they traded for Pagan and Melky Cabrera. They could platoon Gregor Blanco with top prospect Gary Brown in center field and trade for a corner outfielder such as Shin-Soo Choo or Josh Willingham.

Their last foray into the center-field free agent market resulted in a five-year, $60 million contract for Aaron Rowand. He was coming off a huge year with the Phillies, but he ended up being a bench player by the third year of the deal and was completely out of baseball by the fifth year.

It isn't hard to imagine Bourn, Pagan or Victorino being a sunk cost as they get further onto the wrong side of 30, but it also isn't hard to imagine any of them being a key contributor on another Giants winning team next season.

If it were up to me, I would try to avoid free agency and go the trade route. However, if that failed, I would gamble that Victorino's platoon issues can be resolved next season and sign him to a two- or three-year contract.