San Francisco Giants Will Need Fresh Faces to Repeat as Champions in 2013
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He re-signed Jeremy Affeldt, Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan from last year's championship team and brought back another familiar face in Andres Torres—an integral part of the 2010 title team.
All four contracts made sense. Affeldt was the top left-handed reliever on the market, Scutaro was the best available second basemen and Pagan was the second most valuable free agent center fielder on the market behind Michael Bourn. Torres hasn't hit much over the past two years since his breakout campaign in 2010, but he has value as a fourth outfielder.
Sabean also signed free-agent reliever Ramon Ramirez—another contributor on the 2010 championship team—to a minor league deal. He could still bring back former closer Brian Wilson, who remains on the market with pitchers and catchers set to report in a week.
The Giants even pursued free-agent reliever Jason Grilli, who was the first player Sabean drafted as the Giants' GM back in 1997. It's surprising that they didn't make a run at the two erratic former Giant lefties that are now in the employ of the Pittsburgh Pirates: Francisco Liriano and Jonathan Sanchez.
Affeldt, Scutaro and Pagan all had outstanding years last season, but they're all on the wrong side of 30—making regression a more likely possibility in the near future. Given that the Giants are in win-now mode, there's nothing wrong with creating that exposure on the back end of contracts.
In free agency, teams pay veteran players for what they've accomplished in the past in the hopes that the new acquisitions will produce on the front end of the contracts. In essence, teams are taking out a mortgage via future payroll space, knowing that inflation in baseball's always booming economy will lessen the blow once the decline phase hits.
The problem with the Giants' offseason plan hasn't been that they've made any egregious mistakes. Every move that they've made has made sense in a vacuum.
The problem with their strategy is that it lacks creativity. Paying market prices to keep the band together for another run is a logical strategy, but it's a conservative one that lacks any sense of gumption or risk-taking.
Last offseason, Sabean took two gambles on talented but inconsistent, switch-hitting outfielders by trading for Pagan and Melky Cabrera. In both cases, he was buying low on undervalued assets. The strategy worked brilliantly, as Pagan and Cabrera combined for nearly 10 wins in total value to help the Giants bounce back from their failure to defend the title in 2011.
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The strategy going into 2011 was similar to the one Sabean has employed heading into the spring of 2013. By doubling down on Aubrey Huff's career year in 2010 via a two-year, $22 million deal, Sabean rewarded a player who no one else wanted the offseason prior for obvious reasons.
At 34 years of age, Huff wasn't likely to ever approach his stellar 2010 campaign. Three years later the Giants declined Huff's option to add cash to the coffers for the 2013 version of the veteran doubling down strategy.
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Even worse than the Huff deal was the attempt to re-sign Juan Uribe to a three-year deal before he bolted south to the rival Dodgers. Huff has hit .239/.309/.359 since 2010, but that's nothing compared to Uribe—who has topped that low level of futility by "hitting" .199/.262/.289 over that span for Los Angeles.
Perhaps Sabean planted a mole in the Dodgers' front office in Ned Colletti, his former number two in San Francisco. Then again, Sabean's decision to replace Uribe first with 37-year old castoff Miguel Tejada and then the 36-year old Orlando Cabrera made the Uribe signing look logical by comparison.
Tejada hit .239/.270/.326 while playing a statuesque shortstop to earn his eventual release. Cabrera somehow managed to perform worse by hitting .222/.241/.270.
This season, the Dodgers are on the hook for the final $7 million in their ill-fated marriage with Uribe. Yet with the billions of Guggenheim dollars backing the organization and billions more coming via a new television deal, Uribe's albatross contract has become a mere drop in the bucket for a team fast approaching a $300 million payroll.
The Dodgers may have some horrendous contracts on the books, but they enter spring training as the most talented team on paper in the NL West. The starting rotation goes eight deep after the offseason acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu.
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A full season of a healthy Matt Kemp plus midseason acquisitions Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez should give their offense enough thump to more seriously threaten the Giants this year.
Thus, at some point, the Giants are going to need fresh faces to get back to the promised land. A midseason trade for a bopper like Josh Willingham—should he become available—could be the July surprise to push the Giants forward, just as Scutaro was at last year's deadline. He turned into Ted Williams by hitting .362 down the stretch before earning NLCS MVP honors.
In the end, the 2011 strategy might have even worked despite the fecklessness of Huff, Torres, Tejada and Cabrera if Buster Posey had stayed healthy.
Even if the old faces from past title teams begin their declines this season, Sabean is banking that his MVP backstop can carry the team to a third title in four years to cement their claim on the dynasty word for all of history.
(All contractual data in this article is from Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Baseball Contracts).
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