Paying Lincecum and other pitchers limits other possible roster enhancements
Barely a year after celebrating the club's first World Series championship in 56 years, San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean faces a daunting task: assembling a roster that can contend for another title.
His challenge is characterized nicely by Jason Martinez of MLBDepthChart.com in this late-September roster overview, as well as Tim DIerkes' summary of the Giants' arbitration possibilities in an early-October post on mlbtraderumors.com.
Both write-ups illuminate two essential issues for Sabean and the Giants:
1) Protecting the core of their deep starting rotation and bullpen while preserving some cash for roster upgrades
2) Transitioning from over-dependence on aging, past-their-prime veterans to a nucleus of young, still-untested talent.
Sabean's task this winter: figure out how to navigate these dual challenges within a budget expected to top out at $125 million.
The pace of activity will quickly accelerate late this week. Here's my preliminary take on the Giants' 2012 depth chart.
Cain will again be a workhorse; this year, he'll be very well-paid
Projected 2012: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Jonathan Sanchez/Barry Zito.
Changes from 2011: None of significance. Late-season call-up Eric Surkamp, who was overmatched in his last two September starts, will likely open at Class-AAA Fresno. (Sabean has indicated no inclination to bring the Giants' top pitching prospect back to San Francisco without additional seasoning.)
The budget: The rotation alone will consume virtually half of San Francisco's 2012 projected $124 million payroll. That includes $19 million for Zito, $15.3 million for Cain, arbitration awards for Lincecum (approaching $20 million) and Sanchez (+/- $6 million), plus a nice raise for Vogelsong (to $2 million or so).
The price of success, one supposes.
Be wary of: Vogelsong's ability to repeat a sterling 2011; Sanchez returning to his 2009-'10 form; Zito being...Zito.
WIld card: Despite his 2011 face-plant, Sanchez provides potential trade value in a market that always over-values left-handed starters. Given how little payroll flexibility Sabean appears to have, he might be forced to trade a starter to strengthen his lineup. Sanchez would be most expendable.
$8.5 million salary plus elbow issues = ???
Projected 2012: Brian Wilson (R), Sergio Romo (R), Ramon Ramirez (R), Santiago Casilla (R), Jeremy Affeldt (L), Zito/Sanchez (L), Open (R).
Changes from 2011: After successive strong seasons, lefty setup man Javier Lopez is going to get paid—and not by budget-strapped San Francisco. His spot could be filled by Dan Runzler, who struggled for the majority of 2011 but has plus-stuff. Or, Sabean could pursue a bargain-basement option like Lance Cormier (horrific 2011 numbers, still capable of decent situational middle-relief work).
While Sabean could let either Casilla or Ramirez go, my hunch is he'll try to keep both—they were at the core of a terrific bullpen. Plus, internal alternatives like Steve Edlefsen didn't show much last year. Guillermo Mota gets offers too rich for San Francisco's budget, and departs.
The budget: Wilson gets $8.5 million; Casilla, Ramirez and Romo all get one-year arbitration awards; club exercises its $5 million option on Affeldt.
Be wary of: Wilson's health. Although he returned to the mound at season's end, something clearly was not right. Fastball velocity was down to 92-93 MPH; Wilson stuck with two and four-seam fastballs, appearing reluctant to throw any sliders.
WIld card No. 1: Let's assume Wilson does return at 100 percent. Given the emergence of Sergio Romo, who clearly demonstrated in 2011 that he could step into the closer role, might Sabean be tempted to trade Wilson for a position player?
Wild card No. 2: Assuming Zito doesn't earn a rotation spot and the Giants run out of inventive excuses for placing him on the disabled list, what happens to him?
Posey's return is great news; can the Giants afford more than one back up?
Projected 2012: Buster Posey, Chris Stewart, ?.
Changes from 2011: A full season of Posey, which would be his first as a Giant. Stewart succeeds Eli Whiteside as primary back-up. (The Giants decline arbitration on Whiteside, freeing him to pursue work elsewhere.)
The budget: Minimal impact. Posey is years away from free agency and not eligible for arbitration until 2013.
Be wary of: Posey's durability. While early indicators suggest his recovery is ahead of schedule, a fully-functional return from such a severe injury will be cause for celebration.
Wild card No. 1: Does Sabean hedge his bets by adding a third catcher, just in case Posey is unable to handle daily catching chores? Stewart demonstrated competent defensive skills, but can't be counted on to produce offensively. Fortunately, this is among the organization's deepest positions: Hector Sanchez, Andrew Susac and Tommy Joseph may be competing for a major league roster spot by 2013.
In the interim, Sabean could scour the free-agent market for a temporary stopgap. Viable candidates: Many, including Henry Blanco and Ramon Hernandez.
Wild card No. 2: If Posey is consigned to part-time duty behind the plate, how do the Giants shift bodies so that Posey's bat can remain in the lineup? (He presumably would move to first or third base, displacing Aubrey Huff or Pablo Sandoval; the likeliest scenario sends Posey to first and Huff to the outfield or bench.)
Wild card No. 3: Carrying three catchers requires the Giants to carry only 12 (vs. last year's 13) pitchers. Might the club be willing to eat Zito's remaining $46 million, freeing a roster spot?
Much hinges on Sanchez's healthy return
1B: Aubrey Huff
2B: Freddy Sanchez
SS: Brandon Crawford
3B: Pablo Sandoval
Reserves: Mark DeRosa (IF/OF), Brett Pill, Jamey Carroll.
Changes from 2011: Sanchez (hopefully) returns healthy enough to play regularly. Crawford hits well enough to earn and keep the SS job (he was hitting .353/.977 OPS in fall ball at last glance).
DeRosa returns, providing corner infield and outfield insurance. Pill hits his way on to the club and backs up Huff (skeptics, let's wait till Spring to argue about this).
Sabean adds Carroll (or someone like him) as a prototype utility middle-infielder, replacing Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burriss (both arbitration non-tendered).
The budget: DeRosa and Carroll sign at bargain-basement prices (DeRosa to reaffirm his value, Carroll for one last shot at a ring). Giants take a pass on Jimmy Rollins, who entertains offers before re-signing with Philly.
Be wary of: Aubrey Huff's attitude and readiness to earn his $10 million; Pablo Sandoval's weight; Freddy Sanchez's health.
Wild card No. 1: Does Sabean tender arbitration-eligible Jeff Keppinger as insurance, then trade him if Freddy Sanchez's health holds up? (Sabean characterized Keppinger as a "luxury item" at his end-of-season postmortem.)
Wild card No. 2: How do the Giants handle Huff if he performs as he did in 2011?
Crisp holds down CF until Gary Brown arrives
LF: Brandon Belt
CF: Coco Crisp
RF: Nate Schierholtz
Reserves: Mark DeRosa (IF/OF), Justin Christian.
Changes from 2011: Crisp crosses the Bay and fills gaping holes in CF and at the leadoff spot. (How do 49 steals, 27 doubles, 140 hits, 54 RBI and .314 OBP sound? Thought so.)
Belt grows up. Schierholtz settles in. DeRosa and Christian are affordable, passable reserves.
Gone: Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran (too expensive) and Pat Burrell (retired). Still paid: Aaron Rowand ($13.6 million. Ouch.)
Coming: Gary Brown. Called up September 2012; competing for a regular spot in 2013.
The budget: Sabean can afford only one significant free-agent addition. He chooses Crisp (at around $10 million for two years, over a shortstop like Rollins or outfielder like Michael Cuddyer, who isn't a prototype lead-off guy and gets a richer deal elsewhere).
By signing Crisp, Sabean saves just enough to hold on to both Casilla and Ramirez and absorb any surprises in arbitration.
Be wary of: Belt's ability to deliver runs and keep his head clear; Schierholtz's durability.
Wild card No. 1: Runs. Runs. Runs. Are there enough here to allow Bochy to play Brandon Crawford at SS?
Wild card No. 2: If the runs are scarce, does Sabean deal a starting pitcher for a quality outfielder like Michael Cuddyer? Or, does he take a flyer on a guy like Grady Sizemore, whose productivity has nose dived but, at age 29, might be rejuvenated in a different setting and could be signed at a discount?