The latest news on the Giants has them in contact with many of the top free agents from this year’s class. Former Dodger’s shortstop Rafael Furcal’s camp has reported “mutual interest” between the club and the speedy infielder, as have other Dodgers Joe Beimel (LHP) and Casey Blake (3B).
There are also rumors linking the Giants with relievers like Juan Cruz (D-Backs), Bob Howry (Cubs), and Jeremy Affeldt (Reds). The Giants are still considered dark horses in the chase for big fish CC Sabathia, and are expected to reach out to other big names such as Edgar Renteria and Kyle Farnsworth.
I think that the Giants have a couple things locked down for the near future. First, Tim Lincecum has become the face of this franchise, and he and Matt Cain are going to anchor this rotation for a while; in addition, Zito’s contract isn’t going anywhere, and Noah Lowry’s return seems eminent, so the rotation is set.
Jonathan Sanchez seems the likely odd-man out if the Giants do decide to use the trade market, but Lowry and youngsters Tim Alderson, Kevin Pucetas, and Madison Bumgarner are pushing to fill the spot he would leave behind.
Also, they have a very solid future at the catcher position. The drafting of Buster Posey, the year of Bengie Molina’s contract they have left, and the emergence of Pablo Sandoval as a consistent backstop have pretty much filled the need at catcher for the next few years. There just aren’t enough good-to-great catchers there who can fill the gap until Posey is ready, and Molina isn’t exactly washed up either.
The outfield is locked down, too. Fred Lewis emerged last year as the real deal, and, before being shut down due to injury, was a focal point of the Giants youth movement. Aaron Rowand, last year’s big free agent splash, had a great first half but faltered in the second, because, I believe, he was expected to be THE big bat in the order, which he isn’t.
And Mr. Consistent, Randy Winn, should be just as consistent in 2009 in right field. On the bench we have Nate Schierholtz, who basically gets the short end of the stick because he’s too good for the minors, but has nowhere to play for this Giants team. Adding another big-name outfielder would just complicate things, displacing some while inhibiting homegrown talent to get valuable playing time.
Now let’s get to what the Giants DO need. They need one more infielder to make it work. Furcal seems like a great fit. He’s a top of the order threat with some pop, and has a rocket arm at short. He may be a bit of a downgrade range-wise from Omar Vizquel, but then again, who isn’t? His signing, though maybe a little overpriced, would help the Giants greatly.
It would also move Emmanuel Burriss to second, where he is very comfortable, and would also possibly move Kevin Frandsen to third again, like we were supposed to have seen last season. This would also anchor down Pablo Sandoval at first base, and there would be competition between Sandoval, John Bowker, and Travis Ishikawa.
Acquiring the corner infielder/outfielder Blake could also help solidify things. This would keep Burriss at shortstop, where Brian Sabean said he had earned the starting role. Frandsen could play second, where he is most natural.
Blake would could start at third or first, and he and Sandoval would probably be interchangeable (meaning if Blake is at first, Sandoval is at third, and vice versa). It would also provide a much-appreciated flexibility in the outfield if any injuries arise.
The bullpen acquisitions could solidify something that needed a lot of work last year. If I had to say, right now, who was a lock for bullpen spots in 2009, I would tell you that Brian Wilson would close, Alex Hinshaw and Sergio Romo would set up, and that’s about it.
I’d like to see Jack Taschner back, because he can get guys out on both sides of the plate, but the departure of Tyler Walker, Kevin Correia, and Brad Hennessey leaves the Giants without a lot of depth. Merkin Valdez should be back, as will Keiichi Yabu, but the addition of one or two relievers who have proved themselves to be solid guys in the bullpen couldn’t hurt.
If Taschner departs, Beimel would be a good fit as a lefty who can work both sides of the plate. He also has the claim to fame of being one of the few pitchers who had ownage of one Barry Bonds, holding him to a paltry .063 average (1/16). Juan Cruz is another name being thrown around. He had a low ERA (2.61) and WHIP (1.26) last year and an impressive strikeout to walk ratio (71-31).
Jeremy Affeldt had an even better ratio (80-25), and came out of the bullpen 74 times for the Reds last season. Either Affeldt or Cruz would be a great upgrade over Tyler Walker.
Lastly, there is that elephant in the room that is CC Sabathia. It really bothers me how willingly players are to take the highest offer. But, as ESPN’s Buster Olney points out, there are many things about the Giants that actually could work.
For one thing, Sabean and new owning partner William Neukom have not officially dismissed the possibility, and have been in contact with the hurler’s people. Also, it would turn a top heavy rotation into a dominant rotation, with Sabathia and Lincecum going one-two, followed by Cain, Zito, and Lowry.
It might seem extravagant to have two $100 million lefties on the team, but I think it is safe to say that 1) management and fans have already acknowledged the Zito contract as being a little inflated, and 2) Giants fans surely wouldn’t mind seeing CC in orange and black.
If the Giants do offer Sabathia a contract for less than what the Yankees offered, is it worth it to CC to be close to home? Sadly, as it does more and more these days, it comes down to money.
The Giants are far from a perfect team, but with the right additions this winter, they could put themselves in a very enviable position: a team on the cusp of a dominant couple years.