San Francisco Giants: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer
The San Francisco Giants' 2014 regular season is winding down and has just over four weeks remaining.
As the Giants scratch and claw to make the playoffs, general manager Brian Sabean must also begin planning for the future. Sabean will have several critical decisions to make, as he builds the roster for the 2015 season.
The Giants have five key free agents about whom they must make decisions. These include Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse, Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo.
At approximately $150 million, the Giants have one of the top payrolls in Major League Baseball, according to baseballprospectus.com. It remains to be seen how much, if anything, the Giants ownership group will allow Sabean to increase this number for the 2015 season.
Sabean will need to bolster the pitching staff and try to bring in more consistent bats this winter. If he does not get the buy-in from ownership to increase the payroll, this task will be almost impossible.
Let's take a look at some of the potential moves Sabean and the Giants could make prior to the 2015 season. The final outcome will be largely based on the money.
All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
All contract and free agency data courtesy of baseballprospectus.com.
Move Tim Lincecum to the Bullpen
Tim Lincecum has had a roller-coaster of a season thus far. He started the year solidly and went into the All-Star break with a record of 9-5 and an ERA of 3.66. He threw 113 innings and allowed only 97 hits.
However, after the break, Lincecum has a record of 1-4 and has not been effective. In 31.2 innings, he has allowed 46 hits and has an ERA of 8.24.
As reported by D.J. Short of hardballtalk.nbcsports.com, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has moved Lincecum to the bullpen indefinitely.
Yusmeiro Petit started in place of Lincecum in Thursday's game against the Colorado Rockies. Petit pitched six solid innings, allowing only four hits, no walks and one run, while striking out nine. He earned his fourth victory and lowered his ERA to 3.44.
Over the course of his last several outings, including today, Petit also set a major league record by registering 46 consecutive outs. After the game, as reported by Matt Kawahara of The Sacramento Bee, Bochy praised Petit and hinted that he has likely earned another start.
Looking ahead to 2015, Lincecum will make $18 million and will be in the final year of his contract. That's a lot of money for a relief pitcher, but if Lincecum is unable to deliver as a starter, it will be the best thing for him and the Giants.
Whether this move becomes permanent will depend on Petit and who else the Giants can put into the starting rotation.
As of now, the Giants have Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson and Matt Cain locked in for three of the five starting pitcher slots. Sabean will need to find two quality starters to fill the other two spots.
Candidates for the final two rotation slots could be Lincecum, Petit or both. It's also possible that the Giants come up with two additional starters via trade or the free-agent market.
Because of the Giants' tight budget, look for Lincecum to get the chance to open the season in the starting rotation next year. Although this may not be the most popular solution for the fans, it is a very likely scenario, based on the Giants' budgetary constraints.
Hire a New Batting Coach
Hensley Meulens was hired as the batting instructor for the San Francisco Giants in 2010. He was the Giants hitting coach for both of their World Series championship seasons.
Unfortunately, over the past two seasons, it appears as though Meulens is not getting through to the Giants hitters, or they are no longer listening.
The Giants started the year with a bang offensively and were ranked towards the top of almost every significant offensive category. However, the offense has become increasingly inconsistent over the past two months, and the lineup now ranks in the middle of the pack in those same categories.
It often appears as though many San Francisco hitters either do not have a solid plan or have one but fail to with it, once they step in at the plate.
There is a fine line between being aggressive and being overly aggressive. Most of the Giants hitters routinely swing early in the count and often get themselves out within two or three pitches.
The Giants offense has been shut out 13 times, an alarmingly high number. When you are being dominated by the likes of Tyler Matzek, Vance Worley and Brad Hand, something is definitely amiss.
Understanding the situation, hitting the ball where it's pitched and not swinging at pitches out of the strike zone are all areas that need improvement.
Many San Francisco hitters have regressed this season, at a time when their careers should be on the upswing. These include Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Hector Sanchez.
A new voice or new approach is warranted at this point.
Make a Decision on Ryan Vogelsong
Ryan Vogelsong has pitched well this year, rebounding from a poor season in 2013. He has given the Giants a strong performance and eaten up a lot of innings for a fifth starter.
Vogelsong has thrown 150 innings, allowed 146 hits and 43 walks, while striking out 121. His ERA is 3.78, to go along with a WHIP of 1.260. Vogelsong's record is 7-9, but should be a lot better. The San Francisco offense has been shut out in five of Vogelsong's starts already this year.
At the age of 37, Vogelsong has proven that he can still get hitters out. He made $5 million this season and if the Giants can sign him for the 2015 season for anything around that amount, it makes sense to do so. As a fifth starter, Vogelsong gives the Giants everything that can be expected.
The Giants have some decent young arms in the minor league system, including Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton, Chris Heston and Clayton Blackburn. However, these pitchers are probably still a year or two away, so having Vogelsong for another season would help bridge that gap.
Try to Sign Jake Peavy
The lone trade Giants GM Brian Sabean made at the trade deadline was to acquire Jake Peavy from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for minor league pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree.
The move became necessary because Matt Cain was struggling with an elbow injury, which ultimately required season-ending surgery.
Since joining the Giants, Peavy has been very solid. In six starts, he has thrown 39.2 innings, allowed 39 hits and nine walks, while striking out 28. Peavy has an ERA of 3.18 and a WHIP of 1.210, both decent numbers.
Peavy has brought a lot of emotion and intensity to the Giants pitching staff. He is fun to watch and seems to thrive in the National League. Peavy would be a solid fourth starter in the Giants rotation.
The main stumbling block to his return will be his contract. He currently is in the final year of a $14.5 million contract, and if he expects to get anything near that, it won't be in San Francisco.
At the age of 33, Peavy is showing that he still has a lot left in the tank and can be an effective starting pitcher. If he is willing to sign a two-year, $18 million contract, that would be something the Giants should strongly consider.
Pitching is at a premium and a productive No. 4 starter is critical for the Giants' success in 2015.
Sergio Romo May Be Pitching His Final Season in San Francisco
Watching Sergio Romo in the Giants dugout is like watching a pinball jumping back and forth. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he has been a great teammate in his seven seasons with the Giants.
Romo has excelled both as a setup man and a closer in 2012 and 2013. He was critical to the Giants' World Series title in 2012, as he saved three of the four Giants victories against the Detroit Tigers. He also converted 38 saves in 2013.
This season, however, Romo has had his struggles. He lost command of his slider and opposing hitters feasted on him. Romo was removed as the Giants closer in mid June, after a particularly rough stretch.
He has since rebounded and has been throwing the ball much better of late.
However, the overall numbers show his vulnerability. In 49.2 innings of work, Romo has allowed 36 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 51.
On the surface, those appear to be good stats, although his ERA has ballooned to 3.99. This is due to having given up too many extra-base hits. He has allowed eight home runs, a career high.
If Romo wants to be a closer or if he wants to be paid like one, he would probably have to move on. It is highly unlikely that Romo will go into the 2015 season as the Giants closer, and it's equally unlikely that the Giants will pay him at that level.
Romo is in the final year of his contract and is being paid $6.3 million this season. He will likely need to take a pay cut down towards the $5 million range for the Giants to sign him.
Romo appears to truly enjoy being a Giant, and that may be what ultimately keeps him in San Francisco.
Brian Sabean Must Bolster the Bench
The bench has been a weakness for manager Bruce Bochy all season. When injuries cost Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan a ton of games, the Giants bench has been unable to pick up the slack.
Several reserves have had a chance in San Francisco, but the results have been mediocre to poor. These players include Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza, Adam Duvall, Matt Duffy, Hector Sanchez, Tyler Colvin and Joaquin Arias.
Only Joe Panik has stepped to the forefront, and he now looks like he could be the Giants starting second baseman in 2015. In 151 at-bats, Panik is currently batting .298, with an OBP of .346 and OPS of .707. Panik has also shown very good plate discipline and a good approach to making solid contact.
Outside of Panik, catcher Andrew Susac has shown promise. He could win the backup catcher job over Sanchez next spring.
The Giants typically carry 12 pitchers, so that leaves five reserve spots. Susac and Sanchez will likely compete for the backup catcher role and the other four spots will be up for grabs.
Veteran Travis Ishikawa, who was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was signed and has added some punch off the bench. He can play both first base and left field. Ishikawa has a lot of experience as a pinch hitter, an area where the Giants have been lacking all season.
If Giants GM Brian Sabean can acquire two solid outfielders to go along with Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan, that will go a long way to solidifying the bench. If one of those players is Michael Morse, the fourth outfielder must also be able to play center field.
Given Angel Pagan's injury history, the Giants cannot go into the 2015 season with Gregor Blanco as their fourth outfielder. When Pagan goes out, which invariably happens, Blanco is unable to assume an everyday starting role. He simply does not hit well enough.
Blanco is fine as a fifth outfielder, but nothing more. He has good speed and is an excellent late-inning defensive replacement. However, his lack of offensive production is an issue. In 293 at-bats, he is hitting .249, with an OBP of .323 and OPS of .661. He has minimal power, with only three home runs and 26 RBI.
A player with good speed, Blanco was tried in the lead-off spot when Pagan went down with an injury but quickly proved that he could not produce enough. He has only 32 runs scored and 13 stolen bases, numbers that are too low for a player who frequently hit at the top of the order.
Joaquin Arias, who had two very good seasons in San Francisco, has fallen upon hard times this year. He is hitting only .219, with an OBP of .247 and OPS of .507. Those numbers are far below expectations.
Arias is under contract for 2015 at $1.45 million. He will have a chance to prove himself again in spring training. As a true utility infielder, Arias will compete with Matt Duffy and Ehire Adrianza for the job, plus anyone else the Giants bring in this winter.
A stronger bench will give the Giants a better chance to withstand the injuries that invariably happen over the course of a long season. We have seen how the Giants floundered when injuries hit some of the key starters.
An improved bench is essential for the Giants to compete successfully in 2015.
Make a Decision on Michael Morse
The Giants must make a decision on whether to try and sign Michael Morse to a 2015 contract. Looking at the other available free-agent outfielders in Morse's general price range, it might be a good idea to retain him.
Morse's overall numbers for the year are still pretty good: In 428 at-bats, he is hitting .280, with an OBP of .337 and OPS of .816. He has 16 home runs and 58 RBI.
Morse started the season hitting with power and driving in a lot of runs. He then went into a long slump and has recently shown signs that he could be coming out of it.
The issue with Morse's production is his playing time. He has played in 127 of the Giants' 133 games, which is far more than anyone could have expected. Only once before in Morse's 10-year career has he even played more than 102 games.
A potential explanation for Morse's lack of recent production can be attributed to fatigue. He should be getting a lot more rest. Morse was forced into daily action because of the injuries to Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan.
Morse is making $6 million in 2014, and if the Giants can sign him to a one-year deal in the $8 million range, he will be a bargain. The key, however, will be if Sabean can acquire another quality outfielder to spell both Morse and Pagan on a regular basis.
Brian Sabean Must Look to Acquire More Starting Pitching
Starting pitching has been one of the cornerstones of the Giants' success in their championship seasons of 2010 and 2012.
Heading into the 2015 season, the Giants will have Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson and Matt Cain in their starting rotation.
Cain had elbow surgery and, as reported by Andrew Brown on mercurynews.com, should be ready to participate in spring training.
If the Giants move Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, there is a need for two starting pitchers to fill out the rotation. Even if Lincecum remains as the starter, there is one open spot.
The Giants have only one accomplished pitcher under contract who could fill one of the spots. Yusmeiro Petit is a candidate and has had some success as a starter.
Current starters, Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy will be free agents following the 2014 season. The Giants will certainly consider signing both of these pitchers.
Sabean will also look outside the organization for potential starting pitching. He will find few available options, unless Giants ownership is willing to increase the payroll significantly.
The two top starting pitchers available on the free-agent market are Jon Lester and Jorge De La Rosa. Lester will likely command close to $20 million per year and De La Rosa closer to $15 million. Sabean will almost certainly need to look for a more cost-effective solution.
Some of the other, less-exciting free-agent options include Jason Hammel, Aaron Harang, Kyle Kendrick, Chris Young, Kevin Correia, Roberto Hernandez and Justin Masterson.
Hammel is an intriguing option as he was pitching very well for the Chicago Cubs, prior to being traded to the Oakland A's just before the trade deadline. Since joining the A's, Hammel has struggled. He could welcome a return to the National League.
Hammel is making $6 million this year, and if Sabean can sign him to a two-year $16 million contract, it is a deal that could benefit both parties.
More likely, Sabean will end up retaining either Vogelsong or Peavy and fill the remaining spot with either Lincecum or Petit.
Add a Starting Outfielder and Strengthen the Overall Depth in the Outfield
The injury history of Angel Pagan should be a red alert to Giants general manager Brian Sabean. It is incumbent upon Sabean to fortify the Giants outfield heading into the 2015 season.
When looking at the free-agent market, there are two basic options the Giants can entertain. The first is to go after an expensive, big-name player. Potential options include Nelson Cruz, Michael Cuddyer and Colby Rasmus.
Cruz is having a monster year for the Baltimore Orioles. In 492 at-bats, he is hitting .254, with an OBP of .322 and OPS of .831. Cruz has 88 RBI and his 34 home runs leads all of major league baseball.
Cruz is being paid a relatively paltry $8 million but will almost assuredly command much more in 2015. Look for Cruz to get a multiyear deal in the $18 million per year range. This is probably over the Giants' budget.
Michael Cuddyer is an excellent hitter, but like Morse, is not a good defensive player. Another major concern with Cuddyer, like Pagan, is his injury history.
Cuddyer has played only 34 games this season and would be a risk for the Giants. He made $11.5 million this season and will be 36 years of age when the 2015 season begins. Only if Cuddyer would take a pay cut to something in the $7.5 million range, would he be worth consideration.
Colby Rasmus has had injury problems over the past two seasons, but at the age of 28, should be able to put those behind him. Rasmus is having a lackluster year, hitting only .223, with an OBP of .285 and OPS of .722. In 327 at-bats, Rasmus has 16 home runs, but only 37 RBI.
Rasmus can also play center field, which gives the Giants insurance if Pagan gets hurt or the Giants can consider moving one of the two to left field. Rasmus is making $7 million this year and could likely be signed for something around that level.
The other direction Sabean could move towards is signing Michael Morse.
In any case, it will be important for the Giants to add a solid fourth outfielder. Chris Denorfia, Nate Schierholtz and Emilio Bonifacio would be potential fits for this job.
Bonifacio is the player the Giants should target. In addition to the outfield, Bonifacio can also play second and third base. That versatility would manager Bruce Bochy a great deal of flexibility.
Bonifacio has excellent speed and can also bat at the top of the order. In 336 at-bats, he is currently hitting .283, with an OBP of .321 and OPS of .690. Bonifacio has virtually no power, with only two home runs and 20 RBI. He does, however, have 41 runs scored and 19 stolen bases.
Bonifacio makes $2.5 million this year, and the Giants would likely be able to sign him for somewhere around $4 million. He would be a welcome addition to San Francisco.
Sign Pablo Sandoval
The San Francisco Giants already have over $127 million in salaries committed for the 2015 season. However, that only includes 12 players currently on the 25-man roster.
Six players—Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Angel Pagan—account for nearly $97 million of that total.
The Giants' current payroll is in the $150 million range. With several holes to fill, the ownership group must bump that number up another 10-15 percent towards the $165-$175 million level in order to have the best chance of being competitive.
The Giants' biggest target, both literally and figuratively, needs to be Pablo Sandoval. They have nobody in the minor league pipeline ready to play third base, so losing Sandoval would mean Brian Sabean would have to acquire another third baseman.
The available free-agent market for quality third basemen is extremely thin, so a trade may need to happen, if Sandoval departs. The Giants would likely have to weaken another area in order to find their third baseman, which does not make sense.
Earlier this spring, as reported by Henry Schulman of sfgate.com, the Sandoval camp expressed the desire to get a contract similar to that of Hunter Pence.
Pence signed a five-year, $90 million deal, but Sandoval is unlikely to get that from the Giants. According to Schulman, the Giants offered a three-year, $40 million deal that was turned down.
Sandoval has had a good, though not great year. In 485 at-bats, he is hitting .285, with 14 home runs and 59 RBI. Sandoval has also been playing an excellent third base.
The real question is whether the Giants can trust Sandoval to stay in shape. This uncertainty is likely to be a major reason why the Giants will not give Sandoval a five-year deal.
Look for the two sides to reach a compromise, something like a four-year, $60 million contract.
However, this will only take place if the Giants ownership group expands the payroll for 2015. This could be a short-term investment, as several expensive contracts will be coming off the books after the 2015 season.
The expiring contracts the Giants have after 2015 amount to nearly $43 million. Tim Lincecum is at $18 million, Marco Scutaro at $6.7 million, Tim Hudson at $12 million and Jeremy Affeldt at $6 million.
Hopefully, by that time, some of the Giants' younger prospects will have developed and be ready to play at the big league level. These young players are far less expensive than more established veterans, and that will help the Giants to keep their costs down in the future.