Giants lineup still lacks a Bonds-like presence
Adding capable table setters Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan was a nice tune-up, but not enough to position the 2010 World Series champs for a serious 2012 playoff run.
Fair of you to wonder: With a limited payroll, terrific pitching, the returns of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez plus Cabrera and Pagan, is there a need for another run producer?
Yes. Serious playoff contenders have serious run producers.
The 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals had two hitters with more than 90 RBI (Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman) and a third (Matt Holliday) with 75.
In 2010, two Giants lineup mainstays (Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff) drove in more than 80 runs apiece; two others (Buster Posey and Andres Torres) knocked in at least 60.
In 2011 no Giant knocked in more than 70 runs, consigning one of baseball's best pitching staffs and a devoted fan base to a year of utter frustration.
Entering 2012, three NL West clubs appear to have better cohorts of run producers than the Giants.
The defending champion Diamondbacks have Justin Upton, Miguel Montero and Chris Young.
The Dodgers have Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and James Loney (the latter coming off of a down year).
The Rockies have Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton and have added Michael Cuddyer.
(The Padres have zip.)
The Giants have hopes that Buster Posey shakes off the rust from a lengthy layoff and can play regularly; that Aubrey Huff's hangover is finally over; that Brandon Belt is the real deal, not a so-called AAA guy.
They don't have a proven big stick that can be counted on to drive in 100 runs.
So, acknowledging that we're entering suspended-reality (and disregarding advanced offensive metrics in favor of pure run-producing power), I offer my last wish list of 2011: 10 big bats, any one of which could help jolt the Giants' offense to life.
Fielder: big, in every way
Let's get Prince Fielder, the biggest—and unlikeliest—of the big bats on the board first.
There are numerous reasons to forget about Fielder becoming a Giant:
1) The Giants would need to raise (or make room by shedding) payroll by $20 million.
2) Brian Sabean has declared he's done shopping.
3) There's already a logjam at first base with Huff, Belt, Posey and Brett Pill.
4) Fielder surely will be signed by a big-budget team, like the Cubs.
(1) through (3) are undeniable truths. (4), not necessarily.
This is true: Adding Fielder would be the Giants' most audacious move since adding Barry Lamar Bonds in 1993.
It would also jolt an offense that produced an NL-worst 570 runs. An offense so bad that it generated:
--The second-fewest runs over a full season in San Francisco franchise history (exceeded, so to speak, only in 1985).
--Ninety-eight fewer runs than the average generated by all 16 NL clubs.
--One-hundred and ninety-two fewer runs than the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Fielder would be biiiiiig. Big salary. Big appetite. Big distraction. Big increase in the number of Splash Hits.
And a big run producer.
(Besides: don't you secretly long to see a Human Bowling Pin celebration at AT&T by the home team?)
Pena has one attractive attribute: the ability to reach McCovey Cove
Why would the Giants want Carlos Pena, a 33-year-old left-handed first baseman with nightmarish BA/OBP/SLG over the last three years when they have their own (2011) nightmare in Aubrey Huff?
Simple: Pena has slugged 162 homers over the last five years, never fewer than 28 in a season. Over the same period, Huff has 100 HR.
B/R's resident metric analyst and frequent commentator Ian A. may lose his breakfast over this one; Pena is a poster child for the dangers of ignoring even basic advanced metrics.
My theory here is simple. Watching baseballs soar into McCovey Cove—when struck by the home team—is intrinsic to the Giants' DNA.
Pena would strike out, often. He would frustrate fans, often. But, on a one-year deal for around $10 million, he'd contribute close to 30 dingers. That would help the Giants' offense. A lot.
Hart: look at that power swing
This piece isn't about figuring out how any acquisition would work logistically—that's the beauty of speculation—so I'm focusing only on how each guy could fit in.
Left and center field appear set with Cabrera and Pagan. Right field is still up in the air; Nate Schierholtz is a wonderful complementary piece on a club with other run producers, but is he really an acceptable everyday corner outfielder in San Francisco?
Corey Hart is a classic corner outfielder/power bat. He's not a tremendous outfielder; certainly not Schierholtz's equal.
But Hart's 26 homers (in 2011) would be worth the tradeoff. And his 2012-13 contract, totaling $19 million, isn't crazy.
So I'll leave it to you to propose a trade package that might interest Milwaukee, while I drool a little at Hart's power enriching the Giants' batting order in combination with Posey and Sandoval.
Kubel: another lefty power bat
Jason Kubel's power numbers (12 homers in 99 games) are misleading; he averaged 23 HR a year between 2008 and 2010.
He's rumored to be leaving Minnesota now that the Twins have signed Josh Willingham (whose 90-plus RBI cost them $21 million over three years). (NOTE: according to mlbtraderumors.com, Kubel and the Arizona Diamondbacks reached agreement Monday on a two-year, $15MM deal.)
Kubel is a left-handed hitting corner outfielder with proven power. And he's young enough (29 years old) to have upside. That'd be refreshing, no?
The market for hitters comparable to Kubel is ~ $7 million a year. The Giants could create payroll space by trading Brian Wilson—a move that would leverage the club's uncommon bullpen depth.
How does Sabean make room for another outfielder? He moves Schierholtz or Belt, or keeps Belt (who has minor league options) in Fresno until he moves someone else sometime next season.
Upton v. Upton in NL West?
Funny thing about baseball rumors: they're rarely accurate.
So, talk that the Nationals and Rays have discussed B.J. Upton may or may not be credible. And the Rays may or may not be interested in moving this 26-year-old outfielder with stellar five-tool skills but a history of underperformance.
But the Giants have tons of relief pitching, and the Rays have a 35-year old closer (Kyle Farnsworth) with some history of elbow trouble.
Acquiring Upton, who knocked 23 HR in 2011 and is under club control through 2013, wouldn't be Sabean's M.O.; the brother of Arizona outfielder Justin Upton isn't even close to 30 years old. Sabean customarily favors guys with a touch of gray in their beards.
Schierholtz, the presumptive Opening Day right fielder, has speed; Upton has speed and power. The Giants need both, but they especially need the latter.
Beltran wants $10 million and a multi-year deal
This only makes sense if the thus-far tepid market for Beltran remains cool and he accepts a shorter deal—say, one year at $10 million with a mutual option for another.
(No NL club should take a multi-year risk on the 34-year-old Beltran; he seems far better suited to DH'ing and playing a little outfield in the AL.)
But the guy can rake, and if club ownership really wants to chase another title before losing control of other core assets (read: Lincecum and Cain), a gamble on a guy like Beltran may be justified.
But probably not advisable.
Brilliant five-tool guy
McCutchen's power potential doesn't appear close to fulfilled; his HR count over three years has risen steadily (12, 16, 23).
Under club control through 2016, the pitching-poor and budget-conscious Pirates would demand a bundle for him. The pitching-rich, title-hungry Giants are better-situated than most clubs to offer a package that might tempt the Bucs. (There has already been rumored interest from the Nationals.)
Would the Pirates accept a front line pitcher plus Nate Schierholtz and Melky Cabrera (or Angel Pagan, or one of their set-up relievers) for McCutchen?
Would you do that deal?
Walker would be the Giants' most productive second baseman since Jeff Kent
The same general argument and potential scenario applies to Pirate second-baseman Neil Walker.
The 26-year-old drove in 83 runs for the offensively-anemic Pirates in 2011. He isn't a classic power hitter, but his gap-to-gap approach (65 doubles over the last two seasons) would work at AT&T.
He would be the Giants' best run-producing second baseman since Jeff Kent blew town for Houston in 2003. And like McCutchen, Walker is contractually controlled for a while (through 2017).
(What's wrong with Freddy Sanchez, you ask? Plenty, actually, if you look past World Series sentimentality.)
Recurrent shoulder injuries and other dings limited Sanchez to 171 games over the prior two seasons. Since driving in 85 and 81 runs in 2006 and '07 respectively (for the Pirates), his productivity and durability have steadily declined.
The Giants are contractually obligated to pay Sanchez $6 million in 2012; the club hopes it isn't yet another contract that went one year too far.
Meantime, adding Walker—who probably would cost a bit less than McCutchen—would yield a productive bat and a young, still-ascending player.
Can the Giants afford to gamble on Posey's health?
Adding another front-line catcher like Russell Martin might seem superfluous for a club disinclined to grow its payroll. But consider:
1) You can't know how Buster Posey will hold up in his first year back from a very serious leg injury.
2) If Posey isn't able to go on an everyday basis, his presumed offense will be badly missed.
3) The only current alternatives are Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside (signed last week to a minor-league deal) or Hector Sanchez, who may be a year or two away from major-league ready.
Martin may become expendable in New York with the expected ascension of star prospect Jesus Montero.
The 28-year-old (doesn't he seem older?) blasted 18 HR in 125 games a year ago. Martin isn't a lineup-carrying threat, but he's light years better than the rest of the alternatives to Posey.
For the 50 or so games that Posey is resting or playing a corner infield spot, Martin would be a legitimate offensive asset. You can't say that about Stewart or Whiteside.
Surreal? Perhaps. But the Yankees, with Mariano Rivera turning 42 years old next season, might listen if Sabean dangled a quality reliever.
Hardy was a steal for the O's; could the Giants steal him away?
Baltimore struck gold by signing shortstop J.J. Hardy to a $5.85 million one-year deal prior to the 2011 season.
The Giants allegedly had a shot at signing Hardy that winter, but passed him up to sign...Miguel Tejada, for $6.5 million.
Know what's worse? Hardy replaced Tejada in Baltimore.
Know what's even worse? Hardy slammed 30 HR for the Orioles last year; Tejada...oh, never mind.
The 28-year-old Hardy has (deservedly) cashed in, signing a $21 million three-year deal with Baltimore through 2014.
Even with Hardy, the O's went 69-93 in 2011. Their pitching staff produced a collective ERA of 4.92, third-worst in the AL.
I'm as big a fan of Brandon Crawford as exists on B/R, but, the O's know they need to rebuild a horrible pitching staff. The Giants could offer Eric Surkamp, any reliever not named Sergio Romo or Javier Lopez, and Crawford. Or Joe Panik.