Baer, Sabean need to do more before congratulating themselves
San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer recently told a local sports talk radio host that Arizona was his presumptive favorite to repeat as NL West champions in 2012.
To the loquacious Baer, the comment—offered during a wide-ranging, casual conversation following baseball's Winter Meetings—might have meant nothing.
To me, it was disarming, a wee bit disturbing and a reminder that there's work left for the front office to do before pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale, Arizona in less than two months.
Why was it disarming? Because Baer probably is right.
The defending division champion Diamondbacks finished ten games ahead of second-place San Francisco. Their offensive core is young. Their pitching, while not San Francisco's equal, was good enough before adding Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow.
Why was it disturbing? Because Baer and G.M. Brian Sabean have each suggested—prior to and since the Winter Meetings—that the Giants have no more major moves up their sleeves.
That has provoked discontent among some of the faithful.
So what should Baer and Sabean do between now and Spring Training? Here are 10 suggestions.
Zito's bloated contract makes a payroll increase necessary
I know. It's easy to tell others how to spend their money.
The fact is, the Giants' strong financial position—according to Forbes, the club had revenues net of all operations, including stadium debt, of nearly $24 million entering 2011—makes it utterly plausible to significantly raise the annual payroll by a nice round number: say, $20 million.
1) The projected 2012 payroll, $130 million, includes $31 million of utter waste: $19 million for Barry Zito and $12 million for Aaron Rowand. That reduces the real payroll to $99 million. (Sorry, but I'll believe Zito is a competent fifth starter when he demonstrates it.)
2) Matt Cain becomes a free agent in 2013.
3) Tim Lincecum becomes a free agent in 2014.
4) Both are at risk of walking (more on this in the next few slides).
5) Unless Sabean intends to dump significant payroll through trades, there won't be sufficient capacity to absorb a big extension for either Cain or Lincecum, let alone both.
6) The 2012 lineup may still be missing the impact bat that was so conspicuously missing in 2011.
Crawford is the SS...until he isn't
Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy should allow youth to flower in San Francisco in 2012.
Brandon Crawford is the starting shortstop, apparently. Brandon Belt will get a shot at first base or left field, supposedly. Nate Schierholtz is penciled in for right field, allegedly.
It makes obvious sense for San Francisco to incorporate youth. Younger players cost less. They have more talent upside.
Yet the Giants doubled down on virtually useless shortstops in 2011, signing Miguel Tejada during the 2010 offseason, then adding Orlando Cabrera at midseason while Crawford languished. This offseason, the Giants were rumored to be interested in Clint Barmes, Willie Bloomquist and other free agent veteran shortstops.
So how much confidence—really—do they have in Crawford?
Prized rotation-prospect Zach Wheeler was dealt to New York last July for two meaningless months of Carlos Beltran, who has since signed with St. Louis.
Right fielder Nate Schierholtz was displaced after Beltran arrived (of course, so was manager Bruce Bochy's jersey number.)
Brandon Belt. Brett Pill. On and on. In and out.
My point: If the club is serious about conserving cash for its pitchers, it would go young wherever possible.
Belt has to find a spot, or be released or traded
By 2013, the every-day line up could be:
RF: Placeholder for power bat
The right fielder? Acquired in a blockbuster deal. Read on.
Extending Cain is priority #1
Tim Lincecum, the owner of two Cy Young awards, is the object of Giant fandom's obsessive passions. But it's Cain—a year younger and statistically Lincecum's superior in 2011—who fans ought to be worried about.
Many are too young to remember Tom Seaver. A stalwart right-hander for the Mets, Reds and two other clubs from 1967-1986, Seaver had several attributes—durability, tenacity, and a quiet nastiness—that I recall every time I see Cain pitch.
It would be disastrous to see Cain pitch anywhere else but San Francisco. Yet, it's entirely plausible that by 2013 or sooner, that's exactly what might happen.
1) The Giants keep payroll at or near $130 million and by late summer haven't progressed in extension talks with Cain's agent. At that point, they decide to test the market and no deal with San Francisco is struck. An offseason bidding war ensues, and the Giants bow out.
2) Fearing the above scenario, Sabean dangles Cain as midseason trade bait and ultimately deals the pitcher, for a bat or two plus prospects, to a contender with deeper pockets.
So, whatever it takes, the Giants are better-served signing Cain to an extension now.
If, that is, they can.
Lincecum's circumstances are similar -- albeit a year delayed
Everything said about Cain in the prior slide can be said about Lincecum—and more.
Two Cy Young's, a celebrated West Coast-ish personality and a super quirky pitching motion make Lincecum the most revered San Francisco athlete since Joe Montana.
(In fact, you could say that Lincecum is to Cain as Montana was to Steve Young. Montana won more Super Bowls—four, to Young's one—but the latter tossed more TD's to Jerry Rice. Lincecum won the clinching Game 5 against Texas, but Cain threw over 20 consecutive scoreless postseason innings.)
If the Giants will be challenged to sign Cain to a long-term extension, how are they ever going to lock up Lincecum?
I see two possibilities:
1) Sabean, Baer and the ownership group recognize the inevitability of losing either Cain or Lincecum, quietly shop both, trade one during the 2012 season, then sign the survivor to a long-term extension.
2) Sabean, Baer and the ownership group engage in protracted denial, refuse to acknowledge that they can't afford both, fail to move either (fearing a fan backlash) and lose both—Cain after 2012, Lincecum after 2013.
Wow. Fun, huh?
As I observed earlier, the club's self-imposed cap on payroll complicates this a whole lot. And until that is resolved, everything else may remain fuzzy,
How do the Giants keep Wilson and his rising salary cost?
I'll be brief: This one has already been posited here in various forms.
Rationale for trading Wilson:
1) He is entering the highest-cost phase of his career, slated to earn $8.5 million in 2012 and due for a big increase thereafter unless his 2011 arm problems recur.
2) The Giants can't afford that.
3) With a deep major league bullpen and a possible heir apparent in Heath Hembree, Wilson is one of Sabean's most attractive bargaining chips.
Reasons the Giants may be reluctant to deal him:
1) They love the revenue stream from sales of fake beards.
2) They fear potential fan backlash.
3) They are unlikely to trust a young replacement like Hembree (other alternatives, including Sergio Romo, also factor into this discussion).
As I've written, dealing Wilson over the next year makes so much sense to me that I doubt it'll happen.
Wolff gets San Jose = Giants get compensated
A move by the Oakland A's to San Jose appears increasingly inevitable.
So, the Giants should accept it and get the best financial renumeration possible. They can use the cash.
My advice to Lew Wolff (that he explore Las Vegas, Sacramento, or other environs outside the Bay Area) notwithstanding, the A's owner seems hell-bent on setting up shop in the South Bay. And MLB seems ready to help.
So, Larry, start preparing for the negotiations. Squeeze every dime you can out of the A's, MLB and anyone else you can drag into the talks.
And use what you get on player payroll. Not some rainy-day fund.
Huff must rebound - right out of the gate
Bruce Bochy has spoken almost glowingly about the likelihood of Aubrey Huff's return to his 2010 form.
I'd have been more encouraged if Bochy hadn't waxed on about how much Aubrey understood what a disappointment he was in 2011 before the locker room had even cleared out.
To me, Bochy was lapsing into his I-love-my-veteran-guys stuff more than making an informed, let alone iron-clad, prediction.
But if Bochy was serious about this, he would have given Huff a little of the Pablo treatment: constant check-ins from the training staff and perhaps a few well-timed calls to the Huffster at his offseason home (I'm Listening in the background for beer bottles being opened).
The Giants in 2011 gave Huff a way longer leash than he deserved. Way longer.
From New Year's Day forward, Sabean needs to be sure that Bochy establishes a clear(er) sense of expectations for Huff and everyone else. But especially Huff.
Oswalt would solidify the fifth rotation spot
I'd be more comfortable trusting my golden retriever to protect (and not raid) a well-stocked dinner table than trusting the Giants' fifth rotation spot to Barry Zito.
So, signing at least one if not two plausible candidates to compete with Zito for that spot seems essential.
Low-budget candidates, like Jeff Francis, are low-hanging fruit.
A riskier, costlier option: Roy Oswalt, who is reportedly willing to sign a one-year deal somewhere before pursuing a richer deal in 2013.
The Giants couldn't afford Oswalt without dumping $8 to $10 million from their 2012 payroll. Trade Jeremy Affeldt and Nate Schierholtz for prospects, and you're about there. Both are expendable: The Giants can replace Affeldt with Dan Runzler and Schierholtz with Brandon Belt.
Signing an established veteran starter like Oswalt also doubles down on the Giants' sole differentiator from other NL West contenders: pitching.
Another veteran SS? No!
Baer and Sabean should not:
1) Pursue a veteran shortstop (like Yuniesky Betancourt, above). Brandon Crawford is your guy. Period.
2) Put Eli Whiteside on the 25-man major league roster. Chris Stewart is better defensively; Hector Sanchez has more promise offensively. Whiteside is merely a cruel reminder of 2011.
3) Treat Brandon Belt like a human yo-yo until he has had a steady run of 80 to 100 at-bats and demonstrated he can't be an impact hitter.
4) Forget about Brett Pill. Just because a guy is in his late-20's doesn't mean he lacks impact potential.
5) Allow Bruce Bochy to mismanage young players. Based on precedent, he probably will.
6) Tell fans they have "no financial wiggle room." If investors aren't willing to spend more, say so. Loyal fans deserve the truth.