SF Giants' Offensive Woes: 5 Players They Should Have Acquired or Kept
What if after last year's improbable World Series triumph Brian Sabean had ignored the We're-The-Jolly-Good-Ship-Giant hyper-sentimentality, pursued a few key free agents and allowed Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and (less critically, Pat Burrell) to pursue other options?
Would we still have seen a historically-inept offense burden a brilliant pitching staff to the point of near-collapse?
Would a four-game division lead in August have become a five-game deficit in barely a month?
And would a formerly unified clubhouse have unraveled, as captured clearly, if bleakly, by San Jose Mercury-News beat reporter Andy Baggarly?
If you believe in curses and karma, perhaps Sabean's offseason decisions wouldn't have mattered. If you believe that actions produce reasonably foreseeable outcomes, they might have mattered a whole lot.
From here, Sabean's choices—those he made and those he didn't—were born of faulty logic that contaminated the club's chances in 2011.
Here are five players the Giants may regret not adding, re-signing or acquiring in trade.
Lance Berkman: Great Results, Less Costly
Yes, this slide header riffs on a highly successful tag line for a popular light beer. (I'll bet you know which brand without even thinking about it.)
It also captures what the St. Louis Cardinals have received from Lance Berkman in 2011: 30 HR, 81 RBI, .289 BA, .975 OPS.
All that for a one-year commitment at $8 million.
For two years and $22 million, the Giants have received the following from Aubrey Huff: 12 HR, 55 RBI, .243 BA, .677 OPS.
That's not been great for San Francisco, but it guarantees Huff enough smokes to last through the upcoming offseason. Anyone want to propose a nickname for Aubrey, involving "Puff"? We can share royalties.
To be fair, Berkman was coming off of a miserable injury-marred 2010 (14 HR, 58 RBI, .248 BA) season split between Houston and the Bronx, while Huff was fantastic for the Giants.
So, Huff entered the open market with more value than Berkman. He also had a propensity for year-to-year inconsistency. His RBI totals from 2005 forward: 92/66/72/108/85/86/55.
Can't fault Sabean for taking a pass on Berkman, per se, even though he's turned out to be the far superior performer in 2011.
But the Cardinals are also in line to receive another club's prospects if they deal Berkman now (he has cleared waivers) or compensatory picks if he signs elsewhere in 2012.
The Giants? Just another year of Huff.
Carlos Pena: Filling the Power Vacuum
A similar backdrop surrounded the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Pena entering the 2010 offseason.
He brought a left-handed power bat and great glove with schizophrenic numbers (.196 BA, 158 SO, 28 HR, 84 RBI).
A year younger than Huff, Pena signed with Chicago for one year at $10 million. His 2011 power numbers aren't fabulous (.225 BA, 24 HR, 68 RBI), but they'll probably end up comparable to last year's.
They certainly exceed Huff's.
More material than numbers and length of contract is the fact that Berkman and Pena settled for one-year deals, while Sabean threw a second year at Huff.
It's fair to wonder if Pena would have been a better offensive option than Huff playing half his games at AT&T Park. It might not have been an either/or proposition; Huff could have moved to the outfield.
Perhaps Pena (and Berkman) didn't look as good in a thong.
If Sabean passed on Pena (or Berkman) after a cold, reasoned assessment, fine. If he ignored them and jumped to sign Huff based even in part on post-championship emotion, not so fine.
Johnny Damon: Steady Even at 37
Last offseason Brian Sabean re-signed Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Nate Schierholtz to one-year deals for 2011.
Burrell ($1 million) and Schierholtz ($433K) were financially insignificant. Ross cashed in: one year at $6.3 million; nearly $2 million more than the Marlins paid him in 2010.
While Ross has struggled, several other outfielders from last offseason's free-agent pool have thrived.
Like Johnny Damon. After a severe drop-off in productivity for Detroit in 2010 (8 HR, 51 RBI, 11 SB) he wasn't a high priority for most clubs; Tampa signed him for one year at $5.25 million.
Damon has rebounded—13 HR, 60 RBI, .317 OBP, .737 OPS—and at that price, the Rays bought well. Especially compared to what the Giants have gotten from Ross.
As much as run production, Damon would have brought stability and leadership—apparently lacking in this year's Giants clubhouse—from eight seasons in Boston and New York. Young players seeking to find their way, like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, might especially have benefited from that.
Sabean kept Ross (10 HR, 42 RBI, .231 BA), who does lead the league in one category: pop-outs.
Edgar Renteria: A Little Offense, Lots of Leadership
You remember the moment, disclosed publicly after the season, when the Giants truly began their run to the 2010 World Series title?
The Giants were scuffling. A teary veteran, knowing he was as close as he might ever be to winning another ring, gathered his teammates beneath the Wrigley Field outfield bleachers and pleaded with them to subjugate their personal goals for the team's.
It was Edgar Renteria.
Virtually useless to the club throughout the 2010 regular season, Renteria rallied in the postseason and, of course, struck the three-run homer that helped clinch Game 5 in Arlington.
Oddly, Brian Sabean disdained Renteria as an option for 2011—even though the GM knew he had a void at shortstop and the free-agent market at the position was dreadfully thin.
Just as oddly, Sabean tossed a reasonably generous offer—in the neighborhood of $20 million over three years—at Juan Uribe, who bolted for Los Angeles and a slightly better deal.
Sabean threw $6.5 million at Miguel Tejada. Renteria signed with Cincinnati for $2.1 million.
Would Renteria have boosted the Giants' offense? Based on his numbers in Cincy—.240 BA, 4 HR, 29 RBI—no. On the other hand, Renteria has given the Reds as much as Tejada has given the Giants—.237 BA, 4 HR, 26 RBI—at one-third the price and without Tejada's pouty self-absorption.
Something tells me Renteria would have been far happier than Tejada to mentor Brandon Crawford—and would never have openly questioned being asked to bunt a runner into scoring position, as Tejada did the other night. To Tejada, that was "beneath him."
As much as Sabean seemed determined to preserve the magic from 2010, he may have passed on the guy who could have delivered it.
Ramon Hernandez: Catching Depth
Buster Posey went down for the year in late May, leaving the Giants with two options at catcher: a mediocre career reserve (Eli Whiteside) and untested minor-leaguer with scant major league experience (Chris Stewart).
How many times have we wondered when Brian Sabean would do something—anything—to strengthen this critical position?
Yet here we are, entering the September stretch drive with the Giants catching situation exactly as it was when Posey was injured.
For all Sabean has done to address other deficiencies, his inaction on this front is befuddling.
The Reds' Ramon Hernandez might not even have been available—Cincy was curiously inactive at the trade deadline—but he embodies the type of veteran Sabean needed to pursue after losing Posey.
Having savaged Eli Whiteside here, I'll just stipulate that a Hernandez/Stewart rotation would have been perfect: start Hernandez (11 HR, 33 RBI, .287 BA) four or five times a week, have Stewart start a game or two a week and serve as a late-game defensive substitute in others.
Hernandez was affordable (one year, $3 million), solid defensively (throwing out 39 percent of would-be base stealers) and couldn't have cost the Giants more than a B-grade prospect, which they gladly sacrificed for Jeff Keppinger.
This could have been Hernandez, the Mets' Ronny Paulino, the A's Kurt Suzuki or any of several other speculated midseason acquisitions. But doing nothing? Totally nonsensical.