If Brian Sabean were Santa Claus...
Is San Francisco Giants G.M. Brian Sabean manufacturing any gifts—an Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, possibly Jimmy Rollins—to place in our holiday stockings?
If Sabean's latest public statements are to be believed, fans should gird themselves for lumps of proverbial coal.
Since contract extensions for Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy were announced, the G.M.'s rhetoric regarding possible free agent additions is utterly underwhelming.
Can't blame Sabean for placing contract extensions for Matt Cain and (possibly) Tim Lincecum at the top of his priority list.
But chasing several totally underwhelming veteran shortstops? Declaring that installing Brandon Crawford as the regular shortstop would be a "spirited topic" of discussion this winter? Here we go again.
About the best we can say for Sabean is that he and new CEO Larry Baer are singing from the same song sheet.
Perhaps Sabean is engaging in the time-honored game of disinformation. Jonathan Sanchez supposedly was an important part of 2012 plans; he's now a KC Royal.
So we can hope there's more on the horizon than third-tier free agent signings.
But, taking Sabean at his word, here are 5 low-impact, low-cost additions who, for better or worse, might well be on Sabean's holiday shopping list.
Gonzalez has a decent glove, but atrocious plate numbers
Alex Gonzalez is the latest veteran free agent shortstop rumored by mlbtraderumors.com to be on the Giants' radar.
Frequent B/R poster Ian A. wisely noted that the 35-year-old Gonzalez is pretty much a Miguel Tejada clone with a slightly better glove. (Gonzalez' 1.1 dWAR compared favorably to Gold Glove winner Troy Tulowitzki's 1.3.)
(This primer helps contextualize where Gonzalez ranked among shortstops in 2011.)
One suspects there'll be as much enthusiasm for Gonzalez as Yuniesky Betancourt (hey, readers, I feel you; it's my duty to pass on what's being reported by others.)
So vent away about Gonzalez, with these points in mind:
1) If the best Sabean can do is sign a Gonzalez or Betancourt, would he not be better off giving Crawford the job, and having a cheap alternative like Mike Fontenot around as insurance?
2) If he's determined to sign a Gonzalez or Betancourt, what does that say about the chances for an authentic youth movement ever occurring in San Francisco under Larry Baer, Sabean and Bochy?
Ankiel isn't a big investment, but the Giants may not be shopping for luxury items
If you're put off by the prospects of signing a Yuniesky Betancourt or Alex Gonzalez, ponder this:
SI.com's Jon Heyman earlier this week said the Giants (and a few other clubs) were sniffing at free agent outfielder Wily Mo Pena before the 29-year-old signed a two-year, $5 million deal with Japan's Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
Wily. Mo. Pena.
I'm not sure what stuns me most about this:
1) That the Giants would seriously entertain signing Pena, who put up negative WAR's across the board while playing in just 39 games a year ago, or
2) That Pena could earn $5 million over two years—in the U.S., Japan, or Siberia.
(Parents: don't let your kids give up baseball for lacrosse)
Perhaps Sabean will surprise us and spring for a Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel or Coco Crisp, although the budget hit in 2012 of +/- $6 million might not be feasible. Otherwise, it's Brandon Belt, Melky Cabrera and Nate Schierholtz as starters, with a couple of reserve spots still to be filled.
Sabean could fill one with a Justin Christian, and sign someone like Rick Ankiel for the other.
There's lots to dislike about Ankiel including a .296 OBP, 29 BB/96 SO in 2011. But on a budget-conscious roster, he'd be an acceptable defensive replacement, base stealer and spot starter. And he did have 9 HR, 20 doubles, 10 SB's and 37 RBI.
Not impressive. But cheap.
Dispassionately, Ross looks slightly better when compared to alternatives
Yes, that Cody Ross.
Using a metric-based assessment of offensive efficiency, Hardball Times came up with this ranking of available 2012 free agent outfielders.
Based on performance over the last three seasons, with greater weight given to 2011, Ross ranked sixth. Ahead of him: Carlos Beltran, David DeJesus, Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer.
Behind him: Andruw Jones, J.D. Drew, Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel.
Without Ross, the Giants might not have gotten past the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS. With Ross, the 2011 Giants set a franchise record for offensive ineptitude.
Compared to some of the other bargain-basement free agent outfielders, Ross's 2011 numbers (14 HR, 52 RBI, .405 SLG, .730 OPS, 13 oRAR, 1.4 oWAR) look considerably more palatable.
The Giants may prefer fresh faces; Ross might desire new surroundings. Perhaps it'd be best if everyone turned the page.
If not, and if Ross is willing to return to San Francisco at a price well below 2011's $6.3 million, he might be worth another shot.
Still targeting low-cost options, I tried to identify the best candidate fitting all of these criteria:
1) Offense-minded (i.e. no fleet defensive specialists)
2) A right handed bat (Belt, Schierholtz and Cabrera—a switch hitter—provide all the left-handed bats the Giants need)
3) NL experience
Reed Johnson fits the bill as well as anyone. (If you can look past some of Johnson's unsightly 2011 numbers, like 63 strikeouts vs. five bases-on-balls. Remember: on the used car lot everything has dents and dings.)
And Johnson's 2011 offensive metrics (14 oRAR, 1.4 oWAR) were virtually identical to Nate Schierholtz's.
Unlike Nate, Johnson is a defensive liability. His greatest value to San Francisco would be as a spot starter/late inning bench weapon. The Giants had zero of those last year.
Scouring the list of free agent utility infielders for potentially attractive bargains is sobering.
Here's a small sample:
Willie Harris: cheaply had, but virtually no productivity.
Juan Pierre: a net zero production-wise, coming off a five year, $44 million deal (one of the Dodgers' worst ever).
Alex Cora: oh-my-gosh bad.
There are others, but you get the idea.
Jerry Hairston, Jr, has been linked to the Giants among a few other clubs (and mentioned in another comment thread by poster Ian A.). If Sabean is determined to bring in yet another 30-something shortstop, Hairston is worth a closer look.
He's terrorized the Giants; simply getting him on their roster would be a benefit itself. He also brings position flexibility—able to play both middle infield and all three outfield positions—the budget-conscious Giants highly value.
I'm still mystified by the Giants' persistent aversion to young players. Brandon Crawford was a better option than Miguel Tejada or Orlando Cabrera, and he appears superior to anyone in the 2012 free agent pool not named Jose Reyes.
But Hairston might be the best of this motley lot.
1) There are no pitchers on this shopping list, because:
—If a reliever like Jeremy Affeldt is dealt, the Giants are likely to slide Dan Runzler into the vacated slot as a cash-saving move.
2) If you're gritting your teeth at the options proposed here, keep this in mind: The Giants are one year away from losing Matt Cain in free agency. As durable as any starter in the game, Cain will attract mega-interest from big-budget clubs if the Giants don't lock him up. That will cost them somewhere in the neighborhood of $17-$18 million a year.
3) If that doesn't spoil your holiday egg nog, the Giants are only a year away from being in the same situation with Tim Lincecum. He is under club control through 2013 and disinterested (according to his agent) in a long-term extension.
4) Unless the Giants imagine trading Cain or Lincecum, they're going to have to conserve cash for their contract extensions. That would seem to point to relying on their cheaper, homegrown talent—Belt, Crawford, Gary Brown (in 2013). Yet signals from Sabean suggest otherwise.