On May 29, 2010, the San Francisco Giants signed the recently released outfielder Pat Burrell to a minor league contract.
Burrell was let go by the frugal Tampa Bay Rays despite the fact that he was in the final year of a contract that owed him nine million dollars in 2010. The Rays ate the money because they felt Burrell was washed up and couldn't help them even though they were a contending team.
The Giants gave Burrell a shot, and Pat the Bat delivered. He hit .266/.364/.509 with 18 homeruns and 47 walks with the Giants while playing a serviceable left field, despite his reputation for futility on defense. If Sabean hadn't picked up Burrell off the scrap heap, the Giants likely would have fallen short in the National League West, which they won on the final day of the season.
Fast forward to 2012, with the Giants again in desperate need of an offensive upgrade, particularly in the power department. The Giants have hit a league-worst 51 homeruns so far this season, while slugging just .379, 25th worst in the game. While Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera have some power, none of them are on pace to hit even 20 homeruns this season.
Josh Willingham of the Minnesota Twins would be an ideal fit, but the Twins are not in rebuilding mode. They recently gave veteran Ryan Doumit a two-year contract extension, which is a sign that management will not start selling off parts at the deadline.
Alfonso Soriano is a less ideal fit than Willingham, but he is actually available at a low cost, according Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and he can help the Giants. Although Soriano will make $18 million in each of the next two seasons, the Cubs appear to be willing to pay most of that salary to open up the roster spot for a young prospect like outfielder Brett Jackson.
If the Cubs are indeed willing to eat most of the money owed to Soriano, and if the cost is just low-level prospects, the Giants should take a chance on him.
At 36 years old, many of his skills have eroded. He doesn't walk much, he strikes out too much, he doesn't hit for average anymore, and he doesn't run the bases well anymore, either.
However, now that his knee injury has improved, he is a serviceable defender in left field. According to FanGraphs, Soriano has been worth 8.6 runs with the glove this year, second best in baseball. Now, single-season defensive metrics can often be unreliable, and Soriano did not look great defensively when the Cubs visited the Giants earlier this season. However, he was playing through the aforementioned knee injury at the time.
Where Soriano really would help the Giants is in the power department. As a right-handed pull hitter, AT&T Park is not going to suppress his power as much as it would if he was a lefty, or an opposite field hitter like Posey. Soriano hit 26 homeruns last season, and he is on pace to hit 28 this season, which would lead the Giants by a wide margin.
Soriano would likely hit sixth in the lineup behind Cabrera, Posey and Sandoval, with Angel Pagan moving back to the lead-off spot, and Gregor Blanco becoming a spot starter and defensive replacement. If the Cubs are willing to practically give Soriano away, he can give the Giants a large boost in 2012.
After getting burned at the 2011 deadline by trading away elite pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for two months of Carlos Beltran, Sabean is not going to want to trade any top prospects like the red-hot outfielder Gary Brown. Instead, a 2010 deadline approach is more likely, with less heralded acquisitions like Burrell, Cody Ross, Jose Guillen, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez and Mike Fontenot paying huge dividends despite costing practically nothing.
Instead of going for pure quality at the deadline, Sabean should again shoot for low-cost quantity to fuel competition within the locker room. Acquiring Soriano on the cheap could light a fire under Pagan, with Blanco chasing his tail on the bench. If Soriano doesn't work out, the Giants can always go back to their present outfield alignment.
The Giants need power badly. There is an outfielder available at a potentially low cost who can drive the ball out of the ballpark better than any current Giant. Why not take a chance?