MLB Free Agents 2012: 10 Hitters the San Francisco Giants Need to Pursue

Dan MoriCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2011

MLB Free Agents 2012: 10 Hitters the San Francisco Giants Need to Pursue

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    The San Francisco Giants have an open window of opportunity and they need to maximize their chances, right now.  Everything came together for the Giants in 2010 and they won their first world championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958.

    Unless you're the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox with a seemingly unlimited bankroll, it's critical for a team to strike while the iron's hot.  Well, that iron is hot right now for the Giants.

    The Giants' 2011 season was derailed due to a plethora of injuries, which led to a moribund offense.  The Giants lost two of their top hitters, Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, for the season due to injury.  Their other top offensive threat, Pablo Sandoval, also missed over five weeks with a broken bone in his hand.

    Through all of the adversity, the Giants remained in contention until the latter stretches of the season due to their stellar pitching.  Four of their five starters, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong were all in the top ten in ERA in the National League.

    In addition to the starting rotation, the Giants received outstanding pitching from their bullpen.  Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla were all big-time contributors.

    Outstanding pitching like the Giants have currently is extremely rare.  Some baseball experts would call it a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

    Starter Matt Cain is due to be a free agent after the 2012 season.  Tim Lincecum and closer Brian Wilson are due to be free agents following the 2013 season. 

    The Giants will try to sign Cain and Lincecum to extensions, but there is no guarantee that they will accept.  The time is now for the Giants to take advantage of their great pitching and do whatever they can to get back in the playoffs to make another run at the World Series. 

    San Francisco GM Brian Sabean will look to bolster the offense.  The Giants will have both Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez back in 2012.  That will help the NL's worst offense in 2011.

    However, there are still major offensive holes at shortstop and center field for the Giants.  The Giants also do not have a quality lead-off hitter, at this point.

    Let's take a look at some of the free agents the Giants will be looking at.  I will also provide my educated probability as to what percentage chance the Giants have to land each player.

10) Alex Gonzalez

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    If the Giants are unable to sign Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, Alex Gonzalez would be the next most likely fit for the Giants.  He is an excellent fielder and although not a great offensive player, he does have some pop and would be an upgrade.

    Gonzalez will be 35 years old by the time the 2012 season begins. However, unlike Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera, he is still has the range and fielding ability to be an everyday shortstop.

    Rookie Brandon Crawford showed that he is a Major League defensive player, but his offense is sorely lacking. Crawford hit only .204 in 196 at-bats with the Giants.  He has also never hit above .258 in either AA or AAA ball.  It would be ideal for Crawford to spend the coming year in Fresno working on his hitting.

    If the Giants were to sign Gonzalez, it would not excite the fans, but it would be a very solid acquisition.  In 2011, Gonzalez hit .241 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI.  A testament to the fact that he still has gas in the tank is that he played in 149 games for the Braves.

    Gonzalez will also be reasonably priced.  He made $2.5 million last year and the Giants could probably land him for $3.5 to $4 million a year.

    Probability of Gonzalez becoming a Giant: 50% 

9) Rafael Furcal

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    Rafael Furcal has been a Giants' nemesis for many years.  The question is, how much does he have left to play against all the other teams in the league?

    Furcal would fit the Giants' need for a shortstop and lead-off hitter.  In 2010, Furcal hit .300 with an OBP of .366.  He also stole 22 bases and was a National League All-Star.

    Furcal slipped in 2011, as he hit only .255 with an OBP of .316.  The issue facing the Giants is whether they think Furcal can resurrect his 2010 season, or if 2011 was the beginning of a downward trend.

    Injuries have also slowed Furcal in recent years and he will be 34 years old at the start of the 2012 season.  He has failed to play even 100 games in each of the past two seasons.

    Furcal does have more upside that Alex Gonzalez, but there is also a lot of risk, based on his injury history and downward trend.  In addition, Gonzalez is also a better defensive player.

    Furcal made $13 million in 2011 and the Cardinals are unlikely to pick up his option for 2012, thereby making him a free agent.  If Furcal is willing to sign to a one-year deal for somewhere around $5 million, he would be of interest to the Giants.

    I don't think Furcal would settle for that, although we'll have to see where the market stands with him.  My best guess is that he will be more expensive and the Giants won't take the risk on him.

    Probability of Furcal becoming a Giant: 25%

8) Juan Pierre

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    Juan Pierre has plenty of experience playing in the National League and could be interested in returning.  He played with the White Sox for the past two seasons, but his prior 10 years were all in the NL.

    In 2011, Pierre played in 158 games, hitting .279, with an OBP of .329.  He also stole 27 bases, but was thrown out an alarming 17 times.  Pierre swiped 68 bags in 2010.  Although I don't expect him to come close to that again, 25 steals is certainly a realistic expectation.

    Pierre would give the Giants the lead-off hitter they need and can play center field, a position where they have a gaping hole. He made $8.5 million in 2011 and would probably be available at that same price.

    One major drawback with Pierre is his defense.  He has a very weak arm, and committed seven errors last year in left field.  Seven errors is way too high for an outfielder and Pierre's fielding percentage was only .976.

    By contrast, Andres Torres, who played center field for the Giants, made only four errors and had a fielding percentage of .993 over the past two seasons.

    Offensively, Pierre would be a decent fit for the Giants, but his defensive liabilities might be too much to accept given his price tag.  My gut feeling is the Giants will look elsewhere.

    Probability of Pierre becoming a Giant: 20%

7) Coco Crisp

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    Coco Crisp would give the Giants a solid center fielder and lead-off man.  He played for the last two years with the Oakland A's and was a solid contributor.

    In 2010, Crisp batted .279 with an OBP of .342 and 32 stolen bases.  He followed that up in 2011 with an average of .264, an OBP of .314 and 49 steals.  Although Crisp's OBP could be higher, he is a definite threat on the bases.

    When the 2012 season begins, Crisp will be 32 years of age.  He still has excellent speed and is a good defensive player.  He has made only three errors over the past two seasons and has a fielding percentage of .994.

    Crisp earned $5.75 million in 2011 and could be an ideal fit for the Giants.  I don't believe Crisp would come to San Francisco for just a one-year deal, so the Giants would have to offer him a two-year contract, most likely in the $13-$14 million range.

    The Giants have prized prospect Gary Brown moving his way up the ladder and he could be ready to step into the center field job in 2013.  The addition of Crisp eases the pressure on Brown and it's entirely possible the two could play in the same outfield in 2013.

    Probability of Crisp becoming a Giant: 67%

6) Prince Fielder

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    Prince Fielder would give the Giants a much needed left-handed power bat.  He is a feared slugger and would send baseballs sailing into McCovey Cove, reminiscent of the Barry Bonds era.

    In 2011, Fielder hit .299 with 38 home runs and 120 RBI.  Teams often pitch around Fielder, which led to his .415 OBP.  His OPS was a very impressive .981.

    The only problem for the Giants is that Fielder has never seemed to like San Francisco and it's also very unlikely the Giants will free up the kind of money that Fielder will command.

    Fielder made $15.5 million in 2011, and will want a raise based on his high level of production.  In addition, the Giants have three viable options at first base in Aubrey Huff, Brandon Belt and Brett Pill.  While it's nice to dream, the odds that Fielder will end up in the orange and black are very remote.

    Probability of Fielder becoming a Giant:  Less than 5%

5) Albert Pujols

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    Albert Pujols has always been one of the most well-respected and professional ballplayers of this era.  He has also been one of the best hitters in the game.

    Pujols hit .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI.  His OBP was .366 and OPS was an outstanding .906.  Pujols is a future Hall of Famer, and if there was any way the Giants could get him, they would immediately fit him in.

    There are three factors going against the Giants when it comes to landing Albert Pujols.  First and foremost is money.  Pujols made $16 million this year and looking forward, he will command somewhere in the vicinity of $25 million a year, and he'll want a long-term contract.  The Giants simply do not have the budget for that.

    Some of the other teams that will be after him, including the Cardinals, will be willing to pay Pujols well in excess of $20 million per year. 

    Finally, Pujols has played his entire career in St. Louis and is loved by the fans.  The Cardinals will do everything in their power to keep him and he is likely to give them some form of a hometown discount.

    Similar to the case of Prince Fielder, we can dream about the chances for the Giants to get Pujols.  Unfortunately, the likelihood is extremely slim.

    Probability of Pujols becoming a Giant:  Less than 5%

4) Carlos Beltran

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    The San Francisco Giants traded one of their top pitching prospects, Zack Wheeler, in the mid-season deal to acquire Carlos Beltran.  It was hoped that Beltran would energize the Giants' offense and lead them to the playoffs.

    Unfortunately, this did not happen as Beltran started slowly, then got injured.  By the time he got it going, the Giants were too far behind the Arizona Diamondbacks

    Beltran did give the Giants some offensive firepower and his presence also helped Pablo Sandoval.  By watching Beltran, Sandoval began to use the entire field a lot more and that helped him to finish the season strong.

    As a Giant, Beltran hit .323 with 7 home runs and 18 RBI.  His OBP was .369 and a tremendous OPS of .920. The Giants would dearly love having Beltran for an entire season, but the cost may be too much for them.

    Beltran is represented by Scott Boras, so it will not be an easy task signing him.  He wants a long-term contract along the lines of four or five years.  This is a big risk, given Beltran's injury history.

    Boras also likes to take things down to the wire in the negotiation process and Giants' GM Brian Sabean is not particularly fond of Boras or his tactics.  We will see just how strong the market is for Beltran.  If there's a lot of interest in him for longer than two or three years, he will not be a Giant.

    Beltran played in 142 games this past season, but only 64 games in 2010 and 81 in 2009.  His balky knees held up this year, but may not over the long term.

    If the Giants could sign Beltran for two years and $30 million, I would do it.  It may take a three-year contract to get it done, however.  I would offer Beltran three years at $45 million, but with one caveat. Beltran must agree to move to left field, if we offer him three years.

    Beltran is only a slightly above average right fielder at this stage of his career.  The Giants have an excellent defensive right fielder in Nate Schierholtz.  With Beltran in left and Schierholtz in right, the Giants would be much better off defensively.

    If Beltran can get a four- or five-year deal, more power to him.  That would be too big a risk for the Giants to take.

    Probability of Beltran becoming a Giant: 33%

3) Jimmy Rollins

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    Jimmy Rollins is on record as saying he wants a five-year contract.  The main problem with this is Rollins, who will be 33 years old when next season begins, is already starting to slow down.

    Rollins is still an outstanding defensive player that has yet to regress.  On the other hand, Rollins has slowed a bit offensively.

    In 2011, Rollins hit .268, but did have an OBP of .338.  He also had 16 home runs and 63 RBI; numbers that almost assuredly would go down at AT&T Park.  Rollins did steal 30 bases for the Phillies and was caught only eight times.

    A four- or five-year deal for Rollins is too much, but if the Giants could get him for two or three years, he would fill a glaring need for this team.  Rollins would give the Giants an excellent defensive shortstop and although he is not the player he once was, he could still be a productive lead-off hitter.

    Rollins may find that the market is not as rich as he thought it would be for a 33-year-old infielder who is in the autumn of his career.  If this is the case, and his demands decrease a bit, he could find himself a Giant.

    I really see Rollins landing in one of two places.  He will either be back in Philadelphia or he will be a Giant, again, given that his contract demands fit in with the Giants' plans.  Rollins grew up in the Bay Area and went to Encinal High School in Alameda; just a short kayak trip across the bay to AT&T Park.

    Rollins made $8.5 million in 2011 and if the Giants can sign him to a two-year, $16 million contract, that would be reasonable.  I would much less enthused about a three-year deal, but I would do it because the Giants have no viable alternative at this point.

    Probability of Rollins becoming a Giant: 40%

2) Michael Cuddyer

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    After the "Big 4" of Pujols, Fielder, Reyes and Beltran, Michael Cuddyer is arguably the top hitter available on the free agent market.  Cuddyer's versatility is also a major asset, as he can play the outfield, as well as second or third base.

    Cuddyer is a solid hitter and batted .284, with 20 home runs and 70 RBI in 2011.  He also made his first All-Star team this past year.

    I can see him playing left field for the Giants and also filling in at second base when the inevitable injury to Freddy Sanchez occurs.  Manager Bruce Bochy likes players who can play multiple positions and Cuddyer can do that as well as bring a professional approach to the plate.

    Cuddyer made $10.5 million in 2011, but the interest in him is high.  He will be 33 years of age when the 2012 season gets underway, so this will likely be his last shot at a big contract.

    If the Giants can get him for a three-year contract at about $40 million, I think that would be very reasonable. Teams could stretch the bidding to four years and $53 million, and I would also be willing to do that if I were Giants' GM Brian Sabean.

    Probability of Cuddyer becoming a Giant: 40%

1) Jose Reyes

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    Of all the free agents on the market, the one that would fit in best for the Giants is Jose Reyes.  As a shortstop, he plays a position of need and he also is an excellent lead-off hitter.

    Reyes had an outstanding year in 2011 and he's still only 28 years old.  He led the league in batting with a .337 average.  He had an OBP of .384 and stole 39 bases.  Reyes is also a fine defensive player.

    The problem for the Giants will come down to money.  Reyes' preliminary rants are about a seven-year deal in excess of $20 million per year.  After making $11 million in 2011, this would be a huge jump for Reyes, but based on his production, he could get something close.

    The risk with Reyes is his health.  He has had some thyroid problems as well as hamstring injuries.  For a player that relies on his legs like Reyes, hamstring issues can severely limit his effectiveness.

    If Reyes was available for five years and $100 million, I don't think the Giants would be able to make that kind of a move.  It's simply too big an investment for a player who has a track record of breaking down.

    That being said, Reyes would look great in a Giants uniform and for as long as he's on the field, would be most everything the Giants need.

    Probability of Reyes becoming a Giant: 15%

What Will The Giants Do?

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    The San Francisco Giants ended the 2011 season with a payroll just under $125 million.  The Giants' executive committee has told GM Brian Sabean that he needs to keep the payroll around this level.  They have, however, left the door ajar for Sabean to come to them for more money for the right hitter.

    Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that the Giants will spend the money to acquire any of the "Big 4."  The Giants are stuck with $32.6 million in virtually "dead money."  They are paying Aaron Rowand $13.6 million, even though he's not on the team.  Barry Zito is also being paid $19 million and he shouldn't be on the team.

    The Giants have former managing general partner Peter McGowan to thank for both of those contracts.  It was McGowan who orchestrated both of these deals.  On the other hand, if it were not for McGowan, the Giants may not even be in San Francisco.

    The Giants were surprised by the young and hungry Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011.  This is a team that should contend for the division title as they have good young pitching and a strong offense.  The Giants will need to do enough to pass the Diamondbacks, if they hope to win the NL West in 2011.

    Although the Giants will kick the tires on all of the players I mentioned in this article, I believe they will ultimately end up with two.  If we dismiss the "Big 4" due to financial limitations, I would love to see the Giants end up with Michael Cuddyer and Jimmy Rollins. 

    My educated guess is that Alex Gonzalez and Coco Crisp will be Giants in 2012.  If the Giants get a full season of production from Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff bounces back from a down year, the Giants will contend for the title in the NL West.

    This is a very important offseason for GM Brian Sabean and the Giants.  He wants to sign contract extensions with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, while at the same time, strengthen the offense. 

    With the salary limitations foisted upon him, along with $32.6 million in wasted money, Sabean's job will not be easy.