Tim Lincecum had an excellent season
The San Francisco Giants have given us two great seasons of exciting baseball. In 2010, everything fell into place for the Giants, and they won their first World Series title in San Francisco.
The Giants looked poised to make another run at it in 2011, however, injuries derailed their chances. They finished the year in second place in the NL West, with a record of 86-76. They also ended up in third position in the Wild Card chase.
At one time or another, every important position player, except Aubrey Huff missed significant time due to injury. Several pitchers also had injuries, and although the Giants battled valiantly, they simply were unable to overcome those injuries.
This offseason, the Giants will have some tough decisions on which players from their existing roster should be brought back and who will be let go. The Giants only have five players currently under contract for 2012. These are Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez and Matt Cain.
In addition to these five, there are several young players who are not yet arbitration-eligible and will undoubtedly be signed. These include Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Brett Pill.
The Giants finished the 2011 season with close to $125 million in salaries. They already have nearly $73 million committed for next year, but that's only for five players, plus an additional $13.6 million in dead money for Aaron Rowand.
The Giants currently have 20 players that are either free agents or are arbitration-eligible for 2012. I will review each of these players and who we can expect back. I will also give a percentage likelihood for the return of each individual player.
The bottom line is there will be several changes made to the roster for 2012. Let's take a position by position look at who stays and who goes.
Tim Lincecum finished the year below .500
Tim Lincecum finished the 2011 season with a 13-14 record—his first losing season ever. However, those numbers are quite misleading. Lincecum actually pitched well for the most part.
Lincecum had an ERA of 2.74, which was the fifth-best in the National League for starting pitchers. His WHIP of 1.207 and 220 strikeouts in 217 innings pitched was outstanding.
The Giants' lack of offense cost Lincecum many wins as they scored zero runs for him in 10 of his outings and only one run in several others.
Lincecum is arbitration-eligible for both 2012 and 2013. After making $14 million this year, Lincecum can expect a raise to near the $20 million level. I believe the Giants will try to sign him to a longer term deal to buy out his final year of arbitration in 2013 and probably two or three more beyond that.
A longer term deal would also help the Giants' payroll flexibility because they will be done with Barry Zito's contract following the 2013 season. If the Giants can't reach a long-term deal this year, they will have another chance following the 2012 season.
Tim Lincecum is one of those special face of the franchise players. There is no way he won't be back next season.
Probability that Lincecum will return in 2012: 100 percent
Jonathan Sanchez had a dismal 2011 season
Jonathan Sanchez finished the final two months of the 2010 regular season extremely well. He was arguably the best pitcher for the Giants over that span. He was an integral factor in the Giants tracking down the Padres and winning the NL West.
Sanchez looked poised for a breakout season this year, and I, for one, also thought he would have a great season. Unfortunately for Sanchez and the Giants, he regressed miserably, then got injured.
Sanchez had problems all year with his command and throwing strikes. In 101.1 innings, Sanchez gave up 66 walks, an average of 4.8 per nine innings. Sanchez finished his injury-shortened year with a 4-7 record and 4.26 ERA, over one full run above his 2010 ERA of 3.07.
Sanchez made $4.8 million in 2011 and is arbitration-eligible for the 2012 season. He will probably earn between $5-6 million in 2012, as left-handed pitchers get a paid premium.
With the emergence of Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants will go into 2012 needing only a fifth starter. Sanchez is an option, but Eric Surkamp could do just as well at a fraction of the price.
The Giants also have Barry Zito and really have no idea how to use him in 2012. With Zito still owed $46 million over the next two years and his buyout, it's unlikely the Giants would eat that much money.
If the Giants sign Sanchez, it's also quite possible they will trade him. The other option is that the Giants will simply let Sanchez walk. Either way, it's quite possible that Sanchez has thrown his last pitch in a Giants uniform.
Probability that Sanchez will return in 2012: 33 percent
Ryan Vogelsong was the feel good story of 2011
Ryan Vogelsong was a top young prospect for the Giants 10 years ago when they traded him to Pittsburgh in a deal that would bring Jason Schmidt to San Francisco.
After bouncing back and forth between Pittsburgh and the minors, Vogelsong left for Japan in 2008 and spent three years there. He returned and signed a minor league contract with the Giants and nearly made the team out of spring training.
When Barry Zito was injured early in the season, Vogelsong got his chance, and he delivered. So good was Vogelsong that he was named to the All-Star team.
Vogelsong literally went from a true journeyman to a star and fan favorite in San Francisco. He finished the year with a 13-7 record, and his ERA of 2.71 was fourth-best for starting pitchers in the league.
Vogelsong made somewhere around the major league minimum this year and will be in his final year of arbitration eligibility, heading into 2012. The Giants will undoubtedly offer Vogelsong a contract for 2012, and he will be back.
At age 34, it would be unwise for the Giants to offer Vogelsong a long-term deal, but I could see them coming to an agreement on a two-year deal, somewhere in the $6 million range.
Probability that Vogelsong will return in 2012: 100 percent
Jeremy Affeldt has been a mainstay in the Giants' bullpen
Jeremy Affeldt has pitched out of the Giants' bullpen for the past three years. After a subpar year in 2010, Affeldt rebounded with a very solid 2011. He sliced his hand in an accident in his backyard, which ended his season a month early.
Affeldt was very effective, with an ERA of 2.63 and WHIP of 1.151 in 61.2 innings of work. He appeared in 67 games, even though he missed the past month.
The 32-year-old Affeldt made $4.5 million this year. The Giants will most likely exercise the $500,000 buyout and try to negotiate another deal with Affeldt for less than the $4.5 million they paid him in 2011.
If Affeldt is willing to accept a deal below $4 million, he will likely be retained, but if not, he may move on. The Giants are faced with a numbers game, and left-handed relief pitchers can get expensive.
The Giants also have Javier Lopez and would like to keep him. Lopez will likely command $5 million in the coming year as a free agent. The Giants may decide they don't want to spend $10 million or more on two left-handed relievers. However, if Lopez leaves, it will be incumbent on the Giants to keep Affeldt.
Young Dan Runzler has been given the opportunity to show that he belongs in the majors. He is blessed with great stuff, but he often struggles with his command of the strike zone.
I do not trust Runzler in tight situations and I don't believe Bruce Bochy does either. Unfortunately, the Giants may be forced to go with Runzler over Affeldt because of the economics of the situation.
This is one decision where I hope the Giants bite the bullet and spend the extra money to keep Affeldt. The Giants have had one of the best bullpens in baseball over the past few seasons and Affeldt is a key member of that group.
Probability that Affeldt will return in 2012: 40 percent
Javier Lopez is especially tough on left handed hitters
Javier Lopez is extremely tough on left-handed hitters. Lopez also has enough ability to be more than just a left-handed specialist.
Lopez is on record as stating he wants to test the free-agent market. He made $2.375 million in 2011 and will likely command over $5 million per year on the open market. The Giants definitely want to keep Lopez but will have to offer something like a two year deal worth $10-12 million.
Lopez pitched 53 innings in 70 appearances for the Giants. He finished the year with a 5-2 record and 2.72 ERA. What was also quite remarkable is that Lopez did not allow a home run in either of the past two years with the Giants.
The Giants want Lopez back, but it won't be cheap. My gut feel is they will end up with either Lopez or Affeldt but not both. I do believe their preference would be Lopez. It will be interesting to see if they can swing a deal to keep him.
Probability that Lopez will return in 2012: 60 percent
Sergio Romo is emotional after getting out of a jam
Sergio Romo has developed into one of the top setup men in all of baseball. In 48 innings, Romo allowed only 29 hits and five walks for an incredible WHIP of 0.708. He also struck out 70 hitters in that span.
This past offseason, Romo worked on perfecting a two-seam fastball which really helped him. No longer a pure four-seam fastball and slider thrower, Romo could dart the ball inside to right-handed hitters and tail it away from left-handed batters. This made him tremendously effective.
At one point in the season, Romo retired 31 consecutive hitters, which would be more than a perfect game, had it all been at once. Accomplishing this feat over several outings, I believe, is even tougher because that means you must have your great stuff every time out.
Romo finished the season with a 1.52 ERA and was a bargain at only $450,000. He is in the first year of arbitration eligibility and will get a big raise. The Giants do not have to fall over and offer Romo a huge long-term deal because they have him under their control through 2014.
Romo likes pitching in San Francisco, and I believe will have no problem staying. He is also well-liked by the fans. He will most likely be signed to a deal for one year and about $2 million.
Probability that Romo will remain in 2012: 100 percent
Guillermo Mota was a valuable pitcher in 2011
Guillermo Mota has been a very valuable pitcher for the Giants. At age 38, Mota still throws in the low to mid 90s. On several occasions this season, Mota bailed out the Giants' pitching staff. When the starting pitcher was knocked out early, Mota stepped in and did a great job as a long man.
Mota can give the Giants three or four solid innings, which saves the bullpen. In 2011, Mota threw 80.1 innings and had a 3.81 ERA.
Mota's salary this year was $925,000, but he has had two decent years with the Giants. He is a free agent and will see what kind of offers are out there for him. If the Giants can keep Mota with a modest offer around the $1.5 million level, he would be a good investment.
However, with Barry Zito's spot in the starting rotation very tenuous, the Giants could decide to make Zito the long man and let Mota walk away. There really is no spot for Zito, but because the Giants are still on the hook for $46 million, it's unlikely they will just let him go.
Probability that Mota will return in 2012: 50 percent
Ramon Ramirez has done his job well for the Giants
Ramon Ramirez has been a very serviceable pitcher for the Giants. In 2011, Ramirez appeared in 65 games and has thrown 68.2 innings. His ERA of 2.62 and WHIP of 1.165 are very solid. He also averages about a strikeout per inning, with 66 on the year.
Ramirez is ideally utilized in the sixth or seventh inning, as a bridge to Affeldt, Romo, Lopez, Casilla and Wilson. He is making $1.65 million in 2011 and is arbitration-eligible. An offer of $2.5 million should be enough to keep him in San Francisco, and I would do that.
I strongly believe that a major reason for the success of the Giants, in addition to their great starting pitching, has been a stellar bullpen. The Giants' pen has been one of the best in the National League over the past two seasons. If there's any way Brian Sabean can keep this group together, it will bode very well for the team in 2012.
The problem with allowing pitchers like Ramirez, Affeldt, Mota or Lopez to leave is that the Giants do not have anyone they can count on to replace them. Young pitchers Waldis Joaquin, Steve Edlefsen and Dan Runzler have thrown well at times, but they have bouts of wildness and are very inconsistent.
Probability that Ramirez will return in 2012: 60 percent
Santiago Casilla is congratulated for closing out a game
Santiago Casilla made a very positive step in 2011. He began the year with an arm injury, and it took him a while to get his velocity and command up to par. However, over the second half of the season, Casilla was excellent.
Casilla throws in the mid 90s and also has a sharp breaking ball that he often uses to finish off hitters. When closer Brian Wilson was injured late in the year, Casilla filled in and did a great job closing for the Giants. He has proven to me that he can get those crucial outs in the ninth inning with the game on the line.
Casilla pitched 51.2 innings and fashioned an ERA of 1.74 and WHIP of 1.142. He got six saves late in the year and helped to keep the Giants in the playoff hunt.
Casilla made a modest $1.3 million in 2011 and will be in the final year of arbitration eligibility. The Giants will definitely keep Casilla for 2012, but the real question is after that when can he become a free agent.
For this reason, I would be willing to give Casilla a two-year deal for $5 million. This approach will buy out the first year of free agency in 2013. Unless your name is Lincecum or Cain, I worry about giving pitchers long-term deals beyond a couple years.
Probability that Casilla will return in 2012: 100 percent
Eli Whiteside played a lot, due to Buster Posey's injury
Eli Whiteside got a big opportunity to play when starting catcher Buster Posey went down with an injury in May. Unfortunately, Whiteside did not seize the chance and actually was passed by journeyman Chris Stewart.
Neither Whiteside nor Stewart did much offensively, but Stewart was a far better defensive catcher. This will make Whiteside expendable. Hector Sanchez also emerged as a viable backup catcher, and he provides a bit more offense than Whiteside.
For the season, over 213 at-bats, Whiteside hit only .197 with four home runs and 17 RBI. He made only $425,000 this year and is arbitration-eligible. The Giants will likely offer him a minimum contract, and if he decides to stay in San Francisco, he will be given a chance to win the backup job.
Whiteside would be valuable working with the Giants' young pitchers in the minors, also. If he is unwilling to sign a minimum deal, he will most likely not be retained.
Probability that Whiteside will return on 2012: 40 percent
Pablo Sandoval rebounded very well from a poor 2010
Pablo Sandoval received a wake up call from GM Brian Sabean, following last year's World Series championship. Sabean basically told Sandoval that he needed to lose weight and get in shape, or he would find himself playing in Fresno this year.
Sandoval took that warning to heart and lost 40 pounds, this past winter. He has since gained back about 20-25 of those pounds and will need to work hard again this offseason to keep his weight under control.
Sandoval, nicknamed the "Kung Fu Panda," is also a fan favorite because of his jovial personality and the joy he exudes playing the game. At any Giants home game, you will see hundreds of panda hats being worn in the stands.
Sandoval led the Giants' regulars with a .315 batting average, 23 home runs and 70 RBI. He did all of this while missing several weeks with a broken bone in his hand and more recently with a bad left shoulder that prevents him from hitting right-handed.
In addition to Sandoval having an excellent offensive year, he also played very well defensively. The heavier Sandoval was a big defensive liability in 2010 but has transformed himself into a plus defender.
Sandoval earned $500,000 in 2011 and will be entering his first year of arbitration eligibility. He is under the Giants' control through the 2014 season, so there's no need to break the bank for him now. The Giants can use this as leverage to push Sandoval to stay in shape and keep his weight down.
Sandoval, who is only 25 years of age, will likely get a contract in the $1.5 million range for the coming season.
Mark DeRosa suffered through two injury plagued years
When the Giants acquired Mark DeRosa prior to the 2010 season, they expected him to be a super utility man, play multiple positions and contribute offensively on a regular basis. Instead, DeRosa's wrist was never right, and he barely played.
DeRosa did get some key hits in the last few weeks of the season and played solid defense whenever he was in there. However, his biggest contribution in the past two years was his positive attitude as a teammate and mentor for some of the younger players.
In two years, DeRosa played in only 73 games for the Giants, and several of those were just as a pinch-hitter.
DeRosa made $6 million this season and will be a free agent heading into 2012. The Giants do have an interest in keeping a player like DeRosa, but will likely only offer him a contract in the one year, $1 million range.
I know DeRosa feels bad about not being able to contribute, so he may be inclined to accept that type of deal. If he is, he could return, but the Giants won't sweat it if he declines and decides to move on.
Probability that DeRosa will return in 2012: 25 percent
Jeff Keppinger slumped badly down the stretch
When Jeff Keppinger was traded to San Francisco from the Astros, he got off to a good start. It was almost a foregone conclusion that he would be back with the Giants in 2012.
However, Keppinger slumped badly down the stretch, and that now has the Giants' brass considering all their options for a utility infielder. Keppinger is now being considered, along with Mike Fontenot, Emmanuel Burriss, Mark DeRosa and youngster Conor Gillaspie.
With the injury-prone Freddy Sanchez at second base, the utility infielder spot is actually very important for the Giants. Keppinger finished 2011 with a .255 batting average for the Giants. He was noticeably pressing down the stretch and also had a poor OBP of only .285.
Keppinger made $2.3 million in 2011 and is arbitration-eligible. The Giants would probably need to make an offer of around the $3 million mark, in order to avoid arbitration.
With utility infielder Mike Fontenot a better defensive player and also less expensive, Keppinger may not be back. In addition, rookie Conor Gillaspie will play second base in the Arizona Fall League, and if it looks like he can handle the position, he would be a very inexpensive option.
Probability that Keppinger will return in 2012: 55 percent
Mike Fontenot can effectively play 2B, 3B and SS
Mike Fontenot has been a steady utility infielder for the Giants for the past two seasons. Although he hit only .227 this year, Fontenot has come through with some clutch hits. More importantly, Fontenot is a solid defensive player, who can play second, third and shortstop.
Fontenot is arbitration-eligible for the next two years, so the Giants control his rights, if they want through 2013. He earned $1,050,000 this season and would likely sign on for about $1.6 million in 2012. This would be about half of what Jeff Keppinger would command.
Fontenot is the better of the two defensive players, while Keppinger is more of an offensive threat. If the Giants decide to keep two utility infielders, or if it appears that Freddy Sanchez will not ready to the start of the season, it's conceivable that both Fontenot and Keppinger will be retained.
However, I do believe that the Giants will decide to keep one or the other. My bet is they will stick with Keppinger, but this is one of the most difficult decisions to call.
Probability that Fontenot will return in 2012: 40 percent
Orlando Cabrera did little to replace Miguel Tejada
Shortstop was a problem for the Giants all year long. They started with Miguel Tejada, but due to injuries and poor performance on both offense and defense, he was released. Mike Fontenot also battled injuries and did not hit well enough to be an every day player.
Brandon Crawford is major league caliber defensively, but he is nowhere near ready as a hitter. Crawford would benefit from a full year in Triple-A, in order to refine his hitting. These issues pushed the Giants to acquire veteran Orlando Cabrera.
Cabrera came to the Giants just before the trade deadline and was given a golden opportunity to step in and produce. As a Giant, Cabrera hit only .222 with an OBP of .241. He also committed five errors and did not make several other plays in his 39 games with the Giants.
Cabrera will be 37 years old by the time the 2012 season gets underway. His best days are clearly behind him, and the Giants are unlikely to bring him back.
Cabrera earned $1 million in 2011 and will be a free agent. The Giants will most likely not pursue him, as he also did not seem to fit in well with the team.
Probability that Cabrera will return in 2012: 5 percent
Cody Ross was the MVP of the 2010 NLCS
What a difference a year makes. In 2010, Cody Ross electrified the Giants and their fans with a tremendous postseason, including being named the MVP of the NLCS.
This year, Ross started the season injured and finished the season injured. In between, he never captured the magic he had in 2010. Ross hit only .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBI.
Ross made $6.3 million this year and will be a free agent. If he would accept a deal in the range of $3.5 million, that would be a figure the Giants can live with. However, I doubt that Ross will accept that big a pay cut, so he has most likely played his last game in the orange and black.
Probability that Ross will return in 2012: 20 percent
Pat Burrell was an integral part of the 2010 championship team
Pat Burrell came to the Giants in the middle of the 2010 season. He hit 18 home runs and drove in 51 runs, helping to lead the Giants to their first World Series title in San Francisco.
Burrell signed a contract to stay in San Francisco for the 2011 season for $1 million. Unfortunately, "Pat the Bat" has had chronic problems with his foot, which may mean the end of his career.
This year, Burrell only had 183 at-bats, hitting .230 with seven home runs and 21 RBI. He did draw a lot of walks, so his OBP was a very respectable .352.
Burrell has said that he will only return if he can play with the Giants, and he would likely accept a minimum deal to stay. However, the Giants are probably ready to move on, as they have Brandon Belt waiting in the wings to play regularly in left field.
Burrell has been a great influence on this team as his professionalism and guidance with his teammates was outstanding. Unfortunately, his foot may prohibit him from playing any longer, and it seemed like he may have sensed his career was ending on the final day of the season.
Burrell started and played left field, then was removed to a thunderous standing ovation in the seventh inning. After jogging in from left field, Burrell came back out of the dugout for one last opportunity to acknowledge the crowd. He was very emotional as if he knew, deep down, this was the end.
Probability that Burrell will return in 2012: 5 percent
Andres Torres had a career year in 2010.
Andres Torres had a career year in 2010, as he hit .268 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI. He also did a great job as a leadoff hitter, with an OBP of .343 and 26 steals.
2011 was a polar opposite for Torres. He struggled offensively all year, hitting only .221, with four home runs and 19 RBI. His OBP was .312, again down significantly from last year. Torres did have 19 steals, which was the only number remotely comparable to his 2010 campaign.
Torres is an outstanding defensive outfielder and would be a good fifth outfielder for the Giants. If given the chance, he could play his way back into the starting lineup.
Torres will be 34 years of age when the 2012 season begins. He made $2.2 million this year and is arbitration-eligible. The Giants could be interested in bringing Torres back as a fifth outfielder, but he would probably have to take a pay cut down to something like $1.5 million.
The Giants will explore other options before committing to Torres, but he is well-liked and valuable for his defense and baserunning ability.
Probability that Torres will return in 2012: 30 percent
Nate Schierholtz was having a break out year when he got hurt
Nate Schierholtz emerged as a solid player for the Giants in 2011. He improved his offensive game and also played an outstanding right field at the very tough AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Schierholtz missed the last few weeks of the season when he broke a bone after fouling a ball of his foot. He hit .278 with nine home runs and 41 RBI in 335 at-bats. The Giants are looking to add one top outfielder, but Schierholtz' job should be safe for 2012.
At a minimum, Schierholtz will be a fourth outfielder and part-time starter. Depending on whether the Giants get a new top flight outfielder, and what position he plays, Schierholtz could very well be an every day starter, also.
Schierholtz made $432,500 this year and is under the Giants' arbitration control through the 2014 season. I expect Schierholtz to get a raise, probably up to about $1 million for 2012. He should remain a Giant, barring a trade for a big-time hitter.
Probability that Schierholtz will return in 2012: 90 percent
Carlos Beltran was unable to lead the Giants to the playoffs
Carlos Beltran came to San Francisco before the trade deadline in a deal that cost the Giants a top pitching prospect in Zach Wheeler. The oft-injured Beltran hurt his wrist and missed several games. When he returned, he wasn't fully healthy, but his numbers were still very good.
As a Giant, Beltran hit .329 with seven home runs and 18 RBI, in 165 at-bats. He also had an excellent OBP at .373 and SLG of .558. Beltran's OPS was a stellar .930.
For the entire season, Beltran hit .300 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI.
The two main concerns I have with Beltran is his relatively low number of RBI as a Giant. His 18 RBI in 165 at-bats is not what you expect from a top middle of the order hitter. The other issue with Beltran is his injury history, Beltran played in 141 games this year but only 64 in 2010 and 81 in 2009.
Beltran made slightly over $20 million in 2011, and I do not expect him to receive any offers at that annual figure.
One thing standing in the way for the Giants is that Beltran's agent is Scott Boras. He is notorious for grinding teams down, taking his time on deals and generally making it a very contentious negotiation.
If the Giants can sign Beltran, a free agent, to a two-year $30 million deal, I would do it. Unfortunately, I don't think Scott Boras would accept that offer. Boras will be looking for a longer term, more lucrative contract, something along the lines of four years and $65 million.
A four-year deal would be too risky for the Giants. Given Beltran's injury history, I would consider three years but prefer two. There is no way I would do a four-year deal for Beltran, and I believe Giants' GM Brian Sabean agrees with that approach.
Probability that Beltran will return in 2012: 33 percent
Giants GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy
The San Francisco Giants will have a large turnover in personnel heading into the 2012 season. GM Brian Sabean will be very busy this winter.
The Giants should come back strong in 2012, led by their outstanding pitching staff. Four starting pitchers, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong, finished in the top 11 in ERA for the National League. Hopefully, the Giants will also be able to keep their bullpen together heading into the 2012 season.
Their top priorities for the Giants this offseason are a quality shortstop and a top hitting outfielder. The key as far as retention of their own players and signing free agents is going to be their budget.
Bill Neukom is no longer in charge, running the Giants. Those duties of president of the franchise belong to Larry Baer. If the ownership group is willing to expand the payroll to $130 - $135 million, that would enable the Giants to have much greater flexibility in their actions.
The Giants were incredibly well supported by their fans. The Giants drew a franchise record 3,387,303 fans to the ballpark. With merchandise and food sales booming, the Giants' fans have done their part. The sold out every game this season and have filled the coffers of their team.
If the ownership group gives Sabean the green light to grow the payroll, the Giants will be able to keep and also bring in the talent that could drive them back to the playoffs in 2012.