The San Francisco Giants have been a major surprise this season. In 2007, the team finished with 71 wins as a team that featured one of the most fearsome hitters in the league, and another that is comically allergic to walks.
While last year's team underperformed to the tune of -6 wins, this years team has overperformed to the tune of +3 (entering the game on Sept. 8). Other than bringing in a couple castoffs, the Giants only addition entering the 2008 season was Aaron Rowand, a signing that made most scratch their heads.
The 30-year old Rowand has had a nice season, although he has not warranted the contract the Giants front office handed to him.
Aside from the Rowand mistake, the Giants appear to be going in the right direction. The team has finally decided to give some of their youngsters legitimate playing time and moved on from veteran Ray Durham. Randy Winn, Rich Aurilla, Bengie Molina, and Dave Roberts should all receive new jerseys for the 2009 season, as the Giants take the last step towards completely rebuilding.
With a strong set of drafts the last two seasons, the Giants have been setting up their talent pool nicely. Promising youngsters Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz, and Pablo Sandoval are proving they are ready for major playing time in 2009, as the Giants take their time rebuilding around a young and very strong rotation.
What the Giants don't need:
While bringing in a Raul Ibanez may help the 2009 Giants win a handful more games, the $10M+, three to five-year contract it will take to bring the old guy to town is something the Giants should avoid. Let the young kids play it out for a season to see what you've got.
It has always been my perspective that a team not ready to contend should pocket whatever money they had intended to dish out in free agency and spend it two or three years down the road.
While the economic reality of this is slightly different, if a team like the Giants said, "Let's kick up our payroll $10-15M in 2009," why not save that money for two or three years down the road where it can represent a $20M increase in spending?
Another example of this: Instead of overpaying for a veteran free agent, why not get twice as much for half as long. That is, a veteran like Ibanez and his assumed $10M contract costs the team $10M. But at the midway mark, $10M saved could "buy" a $20M player.
Probably the most costly position in the majors, the Giants have a fine young trio in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, with a few highly-touted prospects no more than a year away from throwing big-league innings. Oh, and apparently Barry Zito...
What the Giants need:
Despite Conor Gillaspie clearly being a ways away, the fact that the club saw enough in him to bring him up after 105 plate appearances shows that the Giants' front office is willing to be aggressive with the youngster.
What were you doing before your 18th birthday? Playing professional ball? How about doing anything professional? Angel Villalona turned 18 less than a month ago and is more than holding his own.
Like Gillaspie, he is at least three seasons away; however, he stands as one of the bright stars in this seemingly impressive system.
Bringing in Hank Blalock or Joe Crede for two to four years wouldn't be a terrible idea. Both are relatively youthful, and both are coming off of an injury-plagued season. Crede, specifically, plays some nice defense and would be a nice "veteran presence" for Gillaspie and Villalona.
Young Power Hitters
Since it is going to be a couple of years before the Giants can legitimately think about contending, signing the aforementioned Raul Ibanez or even an Adam Dunn would not be a wise decision.
For Dunn specifically, he is on the down side of his career, by the time the Giants are ready, he will be not much more then a big contract. That aside, there is no denying that this team needs to add some power.
The aim here should be a corner outfielder such as Juan Rivera or Wily Mo Pena. Both still have a couple of prime years remaining, and Pena still has enough potential to develop into a valuable long-term player.
Inexpensive Veteran Catcher
In Bengie Molina, the Giants have an extremely valuable asset to trade. Molina is not terribly expensive, and he provides a lot of offensive potential from behind the plate. His defensive play has always been fairly solid and would be attractive to a lot of major league teams—specifically, Boston.
The Giants would be wise to trade him for a low level, high-ceiling prospect, if at all possible. A middle infielder would be ideal.
However, that would open up a hole, as the Giants would be without a backup catcher. Bringing in a backstop that is capable of catching 40-65 games in order to allow Sandoval some rest, as well as time at his other positions, first and third base.
Michael Barrett has had a nightmare season and truly does not deserve much of a shot after how he has played the last two seasons. Which is perfect for the Giants, who should be looking to save, rather than spend.
With all that said, the opening-day lineup I would put on the field, if I were running the Giants, would look as follows:
SS - Emmanuel Burriss
RF - Nate Schierholtz
CF - Aaron Rowand
C - Pablo Sandoval
3B - Hank Blalock
LF - Wily Mo Pena
1B - Travis Ishikawa
2B - Eugenio Velez
There is no argument that this team would not light the world on fire. Fact is, this offensive unit may actually be inferior to the one the Giants are currently running on the field.
However, this gives the organization some answers and direction. The bench will be filled with the likes of Fred Lewis, Brian Horwitz, Brian Bocock, Ivan Ochoa, Michael Barrett, and John Bowker.
Obviously, the pitching staff is a little easier to put together and is clearly a strength of this team and organization:
Joseph Martinez/Adam Cowart
Neither Martinez nor Cowart has pitched above AA, but neither seem to have much of a future within this deep organization. Owning average to solid strikeout-to-walk ratios, and a groundout-to-flyout rate of nearly 2:1, both pitchers could be adequate major-league starters.
If the Giants go this route, I would start Martinez in AAA while giving Cowart the first shot at big-league hitters. He projects more as a reliever but is worth trying out in the rotation of a lost organization.
The Giants' bullpen, like the rotation, is young and fairly loaded. With an established young closer, the Giants have a luxury very few rebuilding teams possess. That being said, bullpens fluctuate a fair amount, and it is difficult to rely on many relievers from season to season. The Giants have a stable, young corps of relievers that will hold the few leads this team builds.
CL - Brian Wilson
SU - Alex Hinshaw
RP - Merkin Valdez
RP - Tyler Walker
RP - Sergio Romo
LR - Keiichi Yabu
Similar to the hitters, this is a group that needs to prove itself. While the four youngsters (Wilson, Hinshaw, Valdez, and Romo) all have potential, the Giants should not hesitate to axe any one of them as soon as they struggle.
This Giants team is not going to go off and challenge for a playoff spot. This Giants team is not going to be pretty to watch on most nights. However, this Giants team is in a rebuilding mode. There are players to build around, the organization simply needs to figure out which players to keep during the building process.
With some nice prospects are a few years from the bigs, the Giants have time to wait. Had the club not broken the bank on Rowand and Zito, for a combined $26.5M in 2009, this team could be a bit more aggressive in the free-agent market. Consequently, the team could invariably be a little more competitive.
However, that is not the case. Thus, this Giants team needs to act like this Giants team. A team that is three years away.