As the San Francisco Giants head into the offseason following a disappointing year filled with injuries and setbacks, one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the team—at least for outsiders looking in—is about how much money the franchise really has at its disposal.
The Giants are in desperate need of offense. Even with the anticipated returns of 2010 NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, along with starting second baseman Freddy Sanchez, San Francisco will need more than that to be able to reach the postseason again in 2012.
The free-agent class this winter, while slim, does have some big hitters on the market, including Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
If San Francisco were to bring one of these two sluggers to the City by the Bay, the resulting upgrade in the offense, combined with the elite pitching staff led by Tim Lincecum, would spell great chances at a return to the World Series.
But do the Giants have enough money?
The Team's Value
According to Forbes, the Giants are the seventh most valuable franchise in all of baseball, currently worth $563 million. That represents an $80 million increase in the team's valuation from just the year before (a 17 percent jump).
San Francisco had the third-highest one-year franchise value change in baseball in 2011, placing only behind the Rangers (who reached the World Series for the first time in franchise history in 2010) and the Twins (who opened Target Field in 2010).
The Giants' revenue in 2010 ($230 million) set a franchise record and as an example of the exponential increase, San Francisco sold over $600,000 in merchandise in the 36 hours after winning the National League Pennant last season.
Payroll in 2012 and Beyond
This offseason the Giants will have approximately $46 million in payroll coming off the books, unless they re-sign any of their personnel that will become free-agents: Carlos Beltran, Cody Ross, Mark DeRosa, Javier Lopez, Pat Burrell, Orlando Cabrera and Guillermo Mota.
Arbitration-eligible players this offseason include Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Keppinger, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Santiago Casilla, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Vogelsong, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, Nate Schierholtz and Eli Whiteside.
That's quite a list. There are several players there that the Giants may end up having to negotiate higher salaries with through arbitration.
These include Tim Lincecum, who could command something in the neighborhood of $20 million next season, Ryan Vogelsong, who the Giants may offer a short-term deal, Sergio Romo (who has had a fantastic season in 2011 out of the bullpen) and Pablo Sandoval, who is making just $500,000 for 2011, but after a comeback offensive season will command much more.
So What Does This Mean for the Giants' Chances at Signing a Free-Agent Bat?
If the Giants sign a free-agent this offseason, who should it be?
A $230 million price tag is steep for any club, but Pujols has proven to be as consistent an offensive force as they come, never having a season with less than a .312 batting average, 32 home runs and 103 RBI.
Even at 31 he's shown no signs of slowing down. But does that justify paying him over $200 million to put him in a Giants uniform until he's 41?
Or how about the other marquee first baseman on the free-agent market this winter, Prince Fielder? Milwaukee's big man could command something around $150-$175 million.
The Giants desperately need a power hitter to anchor the middle of their lineup, not only to compete over the next few years, but to keep their prized pitching staff together over the long-term as well. San Francisco's starters have had a notorious lack of run support in 2011, with both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in the top five out of all pitchers in MLB in lowest offensive support.
Cain and Lincecum will be free-agents in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and will surely be tempted to leave town for greener offensive pastures should they get the chance (and you know New York and Boston will be beckoning).
The Time is Now for the Giants
So the time is now for the Giants to upgrade their offense to the point that it can support its stellar pitching staff and get back to the postseason.
After winning the World Series in 2010 and reaping the extensive financial benefits, the Giants are well-positioned financially even if they have many hard choices to make come this winter.
If San Francisco does not make significant moves to bolster the hitting, the window of championship opportunity this club has over the next several years, while this pitching staff is in tact, may close, and may not return for some time.