SF Giants: 7 More Offseason Tricks They Might Have Up Their Sleeves

Barry ShillerContributor IIINovember 25, 2011

SF Giants: 7 More Offseason Tricks They Might Have Up Their Sleeves

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    Had your fill of Thanksgiving turkey, football and ads for Black Friday?

    Me too. So how about we do a little speculating about the 2012 San Francisco Giants?  

    G.M. Brian Sabean must have some additional tricks up his sleeve. He's made only one substantive roster move, dispatching Jonathan Sanchez to Kansas City for Melky Cabrera. (hey, Sanchy, enjoy those balmy KC winters and mild summers.)

    Seems like there's more to do: contract extensions for Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum; a decision at shortstop; and another bat or two.

    Discerning Sabean's intentions is pure guess-work. He told the San Jose Mercury-News in late September that holding onto Sanchez was a priority; eight weeks later he was a Royal. 

    (Moral of the story: if you're joining a poker game and Sabean is at the table, walk the other way.)

    Meantime, here are seven things that Sabean and the Giants might be plotting. Or not. 

Adding a Shortstop (like Yuniesky Betancourt)

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    The Giants have no veteran shortstop (definition: far side of age 30) on their 40-man roster.

    Brandon Crawford, their likeliest and only experienced internal option, struggled at the plate in 2011 and has cooled off after a hot start in the fall Arizona league.

    Readers know my opinion on this one: Crawford's arm and range afield justify handing him a shot at the job. A club as reliant on pitching as San Francisco ought to place a premium on defense afield.

    Based on Sabean's long-standing preference for veteran players, the Giants are unlikely to enter 2012 with a second-year, unproven hitter like Crawford as their every-day shortstop.

    If not Crawford, who?

    Jamey Carroll, a guy I liked, has signed a two-year deal with Minnesota.

    Willie Bloomquist supposedly was offered two years, $4.6 million by SF; he re-signed with Arizona for less money. The G's also were allegedly in the mix for Clint Barmes; he's signed with Pittsburgh.

    Now, rumors link the Giants to veteran utility infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr.

    Another option: free agent Yuniesky Betancourt, on whom the Milwaukee Brewers declined a team option for 2012. Given the Brewers' supposed dissatisfaction with Betancourt's lax plate discipline and poor glove (21 errors in 2011), this sounds a bit like Miguel Tejada. Not a pretty thought.

    With the free agent pool shrinking quickly, I'd not be shocked to see Sabean panic and overpay for Betancourt or Hairston.   

South Bay Territorial Rights Surrendered to the Oakland A's

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    Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that there may be movement in the Oakland A's long-desired relocation to the South Bay.

    The move has been stalled in part by the Giants' reluctance to surrender their territorial rights to the region. 

    I've long believed that the Bay Area isn't an economically viable two-team baseball market; I even offered A's owner Lew Wolff a few helpful suggestions in a post here some months back.

    In an attempt to be as helpful to new Giants CEO Larry Baer, here are a few negotiating tips:

    1) Give up San Jose only if the A's agree to take back Barry Zito and the $46 million owed on his current contract. MLB can lend the A's the money if necessary.

    2) Or, demand that MLB take over Zito's contract, put it on the Dodgers' books and add it as a liability in Frank McCourt's divorce settlement.

    3) The San Jose Giants will need to relocate if the A's move there. Ask MLB to pay to relocate and market the identity of your new Class-A affiliate, wherever it lands.

Sign a Fifth Starter

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    With Jonathan Sanchez out of the equation, the Giants need a dependable fifth starter. No way Sabean and Bruce Bochy are comfortable handing Barry Zito that spot and waiting for him to self-immolate.

    Chris Haft of mlb.com agrees with that point of view.

    There are few if any internal options. Eric Surkamp doesn't appear ready. Dan Runzler may be incapable of transitioning from reliever to starter. No one else in the farm system is close to major-league ready.

    There are free agent options; Tim Dierkes of mlbtraderumors.com summarized the market earlier this month. For the Giants, it seems logical that:

    1) They'll pursue a lefty; need to maintain balance in the rotation.

    2) Given budget constraints, they won't bid on front-line starters.

    3) Given (2), we're likely looking at one or more reclamation projects.

    For three plausible candidates, read on.

Option No. 1: Dontrelle Willis

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    Dontrelle Willis is a reclamation project (1-6, 5.00 ERA, 1.52 WHIP in 13 starts for the Reds in 2011).

    He could also be Giants' 2012 version of Ryan Vogelsong.

    Amazingly, Willis is only 29 (you had to believe he was older; I assumed 33-34). Next season will be his tenth in the big leagues; he's amassed 72 wins and a 4.17 career ERA.

    Problem is, 68 of those wins came between 2003 and 2007. Willis has gone 6-15 since 2008.

    His struggles are well-documented. Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation offered this optimistic take on Willis based on his (brief) 2011 resurrection with Cincinnati.

    Although Willis is a roll of the dice—and possibly too big a risk for the Giants without alternatives—it wouldn't shock me to see the Giants lure him home on a minimum contract and see what he's got.   

Option No. 2: Jeff Francis

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    Jeff Francis is another reclamation project, albeit without Willis's drama. 

    His career trajectory is eerily similar to Dontrelle's. Francis averaged 15 wins a year from 2005 through 2007, then hit the skids: 14-32 since 2008, including a full year (2009) lost to injury.

    Francis, who'll be just 31-years-old next season, reaffirmed his durability in 2011: 183 innings over 31 starts. His poor record—6-16, 4.82 ERA, 1.42 WHIP—can be partly attributed to the fact that he was with the 71-91 Kansas City Royals.

    Something tells me the Giants would be thrilled with 31 starts and 183 innings from their fifth starter. Francis ought to be had for less than $3 million, putting him in the Giants' shopping range.

    That, plus his familiarity with the NL West from six seasons with the Rockies, makes him a plausible target for Sabean. 

Option No. 3: Bruce Chen

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    (NOTE: Since this story was written, Chen has re-signed with Kansas City.) 

    Willis, Francis and Bruce Chen all are experienced free agent lefty starters. That's about all they share in common.

    Chen is the oldest (35 next season). He's also no reclamation project, having gone 24-15 in 48 starts over two seasons as a Kansas City Royal. 

    In fact, Chen is in the midst of a late-career ascendancy; 40 percent of his 60 career wins have come in the last two seasons. 

    Coming off of a $2 million, one-year deal with KC, Chen might be worth $4 million next year. That might not price him out of the Giants' limited budget, but they're unlikely to get into a bidding war for him, either.

Promote Relief Prospect Heath Hembree

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    You're going to hear more about Heath Hembree, the Giants' right-handed power relief prospect. 

    The 23-year-old, 6'4", 210 lb. Hembree has a power arm, and has posted impressive numbers through Class-AA (Richmond). 

    MLB.com's Chris Haft projects Hembree as a future closer.

    That creates some intriguing possibilities. The Giants could leverage Hembree by: 

    1) Signing arbitration-eligibles Santiago Casilla and Ramon Ramirez, then trading one for outfield or middle infield help.  

    2) Declining arbitration on one or both vets and using the salary savings on a position player or two. (Having invested in veteran lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, it's unclear if Sabean will do the same with both righties.)

    3) Shopping Brian Wilson next year, before he's exposed to free agency, and installing Hembree as closer.

    Any way you view it, Hembree figures to be in San Francisco by 2013, if not sooner.