First, I would just like to say that I'm not packing it in for the season because we lost to the Dodgers...twice. I'm just looking ahead a little, so I can temporarily not look at the present (just temporarily, I still have faith).
Now that we got that out of the way, Bengie Molina is unfortunately our current cleanup hitter. His contract employs him only through 2009, and there is little chance of him returning to due to the rise of the young stud, Buster Posey.
This creates an even bigger need for a legitimate cleanup hitter. Within the Giants' organization, the pickings are pretty slim for sluggers ready to handle cleanup next year (2012 is another story...hopefully).
Nate Schierholtz and Buster Posey would be our best bets, but neither are power hitters, or have that much experience. Schierholtz shouldn't be expected to be that good of a bat. They are already asking a rookie catcher to catch, while calling games for the best pitching staff in the game. This is hard enough without pressures of being one of the most important players in the lineup.
This dearth (all that SAT practice got some use) of cleanup talent will hopefully inspire Brian Sabean, or whoever our GM will be, to look to the free agent market to fill this pivotal role for the Giants until Angel Villalona or maybe Roger Kieschnick or Thomas Neal. This is the perfect year to buy a big bat due to $37 million of expiring contracts we probably won't renew.
Free agent options aren't great, but they could be worse. The only positions with some availability are first base and outfield, which are conveniently enough the most common spots for a cleanup hitter.
At first base, Jim Thome and maybe Carlos Delgado are the only expiring contracts who are an upgrade over Ryan Garko/Travis Ishikawa. At outfield, Vlad, Matt Holliday, and Jason Bay would be excellent options.
Jim Thome would be a great addition, despite turning 39 on Aug. 27. The future Hall of Famer would be a wonderful clubhouse presence, and would offer some veteran leadership (similar to Randy Johnson this season). Our batters would benefit tremendously from having a member of the 500 home run club on the team to offer insight and advice.
Thome is also still quite productive. This season he's currently batting .252, with 21 home runs (four more than any Giant), 69 RBIs (one more than any Giant), a .507 slugging percentage, a .383 OBP (.004 more than any Giant), and 63 walks (30 more than any Giant...that's right). The batting average isn't that much of a concern because of the amount of walks Thome takes.
Thome, despite being pretty ancient by baseball standards, seems durable enough. He hasn't played in less than 130 games in a season since 2005. The Giants could afford the $18-$24 million for two years that he'll probably cost.
Thome could learn to field again, hopefully without too much trouble. The only real concern I have is that he'll either stay with the White Sox, or just not want to join the Giants. The former seems quite likely.
Vladimir Guerrero is a tremendous hitter with defense that's still quite good (maybe not as good as the last time he was a free agent). He's an eight-time All Star, an eight-time Silver Slugger, and has one MVP award. At 34, he's no spring chicken, but Vlad still has a number of good seasons left.
Vlad might have a few mild injuries, but nothing serious. The last season that he had fewer than 300 at bats was 1997, and that wasn't because of injury.
The downside is that our team is already made of free swingers (we are the only team in baseball to swing at more pitches than we take), and Big Daddy is the most notorious free swinger there is. Consider the top three players in swing percentage for this season (they swing at the most pitches): Vladimir Guerrero, Bengie Molina, and Pablo Sandoval.
The Giants could easily afford Vlad, and again, the biggest problem would be if the Angels resign him or another team offers him an offer he cannot refuse. Hopefully neither are the case, especially the latter.
Matt Holliday is another stud, and is entering his early 30s (he'll turn 30 in January), a time that is often the prime of one's career. The .319 career hitter consistently hits for a high average and some power.
This season, he's batting .316, with 70 RBIs, 15 big flies, and more walks, RBIs, and steals than any Giant. He's a three-time All Star and Silver Slugger. Mr. Holliday is very durable and has never played in less than 120 games in a season.
Matt Holliday will most likely enter the free agent market, and will cost an arm and a leg to get because he's arguably the best bat on the market, and he's represented by Scott "Rot in Hell A**hole" Boras.
To make matters worse, Mr. Holliday doesn't even have a nickname. As The Franchise/The Freak and The Kung Fu Panda/Little Money will tell you, we can't have that for our stars (except Matt Cain).
Jason Bay is a 30-year-old, two-time All Star and will probably get his fourth 100+ RBI season this year. This season he's only hitting .255, but has more homers, walks (who doesn't), RBIs, steals, and runs than any Giant (23, 72,79, 11, and 69). Jason Bay is also very durable and hasn't had any major or nagging injuries in his career.
The contract wouldn't be a big problem again, with the only real concern being the Red Sox resigning him.
There are other free agent options, although none of them are as good. Another move to consider would be a trade.
I'm thinking Adam Dunn, who has an excellent bat and a salary that the Nationals would definitely want to get rid of if they sign Stephen Strasburg. The concern would be defense, and a contract that expires in 2010.
I doubt that upper management would go for a trade, considering we showed next to no interest in the slugger, but there is always the possibility that we will have a new GM, so it could happen.
Upper management has to do something about the lack of a legitimate cleanup hitter and the 2009-10 offseason is the year to do it. If the Giants want to really be a World Series team, this is a problem that needs addressing. Enough is enough.