San Francisco Giants: The Difficulty of Signing Two Free-Agent Hitters

Andy BenschSenior Writer IDecember 13, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 17:  Aaron Rowand #33 of the San Francisco Giants reacts after striking out with two runners on base to end the eighth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at AT&T Park on June 17, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It is no secret that the San Francisco Giants are looking to bolster their offense this offseason.

But with both center fielder Aaron Rowand and shortstop Edgar Renteria holding down lineup spots due to their large contracts, signing two impact hitters will prove difficult for GM Brian Sabean.

According to local media outlets, the Giants management group has stated that their main goal this offseason is to improve the offense by finding someone to hit behind and in front of cleanup hitter Pablo Sandoval.

So far this offseason, the Giants have been linked to numerous free agent first baseman including Nick Johnson and Adam Laroche. Other free agent possibilities at first include Russell Branyan, Mark DeRosa and the recently non-tendered Garrett Atkins.

Each and every one of these players could be the big bat the Giants are looking for to hit next to Sandoval in the lineup.

However, when you look at the Giants roster, signing a second middle of the order bat will be difficult when you consider defensive positioning.

After the Giants sign either one of the available first-basemen, the starting lineup won't have much flexibility. The starting infield will have Sandoval at third, Renteria at short, Freddy Sanchez at second and let's just say Adam Laroche at first.

In the outfield, the Giants have Eugenio Velez/Andres Torres in left field, Aaron Rowand in centerfield and Nate Schierhotlz in rightfield.

Now reports may be saying that Schierholtz doesn't have rightfield locked down and that he will be competing for the job in spring training. But considering the Giants' defensive needs, it is a pretty safe bet that Schierhotlz will be the starting rightfielder on opening day.

While free agents like DeRosa and Xavier Nady could add pop from either corner outfield spot, playing right field at AT&T Park is arguably the most difficult rightfield to play in all of baseball.

With the famous triples alley and towering brick wall, it takes time to learn how to defend that rightfield spot and Schierholtz already knows the best ways to play it and his cannon of an arm is one of the best in baseball.

Considering the Giants are led by their pitching staff, having the best defensive options on the field is a must and a natural rightfielder like Schierholtz is much preferred over the infielder/outfielder type of hitters.

Now, although the Giants could sign a free agent to play leftfield, the duo of Eugenio Velez and Andres Torres need to patrol the lead-off spot every game.

Since nobody wants to see Velez or Torres attempt to play rightfield, their only options are left or center. Unfortunately, Rowand has a lock down on centerfield and hence the only spot for the platoon of the two speedy outfielders is in left-field.

While signing a free-agent leftfielder would add pop, it would essentially take away the speed at the top of the lineup. Without Torres/Velez in the starting lineup, the Giants will have to hit either Sanchez/Rowand/Renteria in the lead-off spot. If that is the case, the Giants will have almost nobody in the starting lineup with base-stealing speed.

Of course, the Giants organization could give their fans a Christmas present by re-signing Juan Uribe and start him at shortstop over Renteria.

Almost every Giants fan would tell you they would prefer Uribe being the everyday shortstop instead of Renteria. However, since Renteria is due nine million this year, he will have to be in the starting lineup because Sabean and the rest of the Giants management aren't willing to admit when they made a mistake.

If by some miracle the Giants took this course, they would have the two bats they claim to be looking for to sandwich around Sandoval in the lineup.

Let's say they sign Nick Johnson to play first and Uribe to play short, then the potential middle of the lineup would become a crystal clear set-up. Johnson would hit third, Sandoval cleanup, and Uribe would hit fifth making for a very solid 3-4-5.

But with the Giants management and ownership group incredibly stingy when it comes to spending money, signing Uribe to a starting shortstop contract when they are already paying Renteria is not something they will be willing to do.

Therefore, if the Giants have their hearts set on finding two free agent hitters to sandwich Sandoval in the lineup, one of them is going to have to be a corner outfielder.

And if they sign that corner outfielder then either the platoon of Velez/Torres will be without a starting spot or Schierholtz will have to ride the pine.

If the lead-off duo of Velez and Torres aren't in the lineup then the Giants will have essentially zero team speed from top to bottom and will have no true lead-off hitter. Without any speed on the field, it will decrease the chances at winning games because a stolen base at any point of a game can lead to a pivotal run. But without Velez or Torres starting, the Giants won't have that element to their lineup.

And if Schierholtz isn't in the lineup due to a free agent acquisition then the Giants are essentially ruining the prospects of a player with enormous offensive potential and all-star defensive skills.

As fans, we will have to wait and see how free agency shakes out but if the Giants add a corner outfielder to the starting lineup, then some fan favorites are going to be out of a lineup spot.

Of course, if the Giants added Jason Bay or Matt Holliday to play corner outfield, I wouldn't complain.

But the added pop from a DeRosa or Nady to play corner outfield wouldn't overcompensate for the speed of Velez/Torres, nor would it overcompensate for the impeccable defense of Schierholtz.