After logging 98 of them in the regular season, the Giants took another L in their first effort of the offseason when Giancarlo Stanton declined to waive his no-trade clause for a trade to San Francisco and instead chose to join the Evil Empire in the Bronx.
Sometimes in baseball, you lose — and sometimes it’s not really your fault. You can’t control the whims or off-field activities of your players, and baseball’s idiotic “rules” for spending and player acquisition are a topic for another column.
The question now becomes what the Giants can do after striking out in their first AB of the winter, and there are several answers to that — but it’s a complicated question with this organization. It seems that Bobby Evans & Co. did what they could to acquire Stanton — the only player who represented a one-man turnaround for the offense — but will they do everything they can to cobble together similar impact from what remains available?
Let’s start with the current roster: The good news is that the pitching doesn’t need much work. With Bumgarner and Cueto primed for bounce backs and Samardzija slotted in at the three spot, the group of Matt Moore and youngsters Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Tyler Beede makes for a relatively deep rotation. The bullpen was terrible last year, but with Will Smith set to return and Mark Melancon hopefully ready for a full season, they could improve a lot with one or two small, savvy additions. Like what they did with Sam Dyson last year.
The offense is a different story. The Giants had an MLB-worst .689 slugging percentage last year and scored just 639 runs, better than only the San Diego Padres and more than 250 runs back of the Houston Astros at the top. Put another way, they averaged under four runs per game, which puts obscene pressure on their pitching staff.
I’m quite certain nobody wants another look at the Parker/Williamson platoon. In Denard Span and Hunter Pence, the Giants have two aging outfielders who can’t do the things that earned them their salary in the field or at the plate. Pence, if he can get and stay healthy, is probably more useful than Span but neither is likely to be an above-average starter in 2018. The infield has a massive hole at third base and the chronically infuriating Brandon Belt at first.
In order to compete, San Francisco needs to rebuild its offense. Given that they were willing to acquire Giancarlo Stanton, we know that they were willing to take on an average of nearly $30million a year to complete that task — so let’s see what that cash can buy us now that Stanton is sold out…
With Stanton gone and no other quite-so-obvious trade targets, free agent outfielder JD Martinez is the crown jewel of the market. He’s 30, coming off a career season and has carried around or above a .900 OPS over the past four years.
He’ll cost in the neighborhood of $22- to $24-million yearly over the next five years, though, which means he would be the only significant acquisition of the offseason. The remaining money would have to be spent on some bullpen help and perhaps some infield bargains. Perhaps somewhere in the range of Howie Kendrick or Brandon Phillips or old pal Eduardo Nunez — a useful super-utility type who doesn’t move the needle offensively or even consistently fill a position.
If Martinez continues to produce the way he did for Arizona, this is not a bad plan — but it puts a lot of eggs in one basket. It’s also worth noting that the Giants have not spent that kind of money on a free agent hitter since Barry Bonds.
LIKELIHOOD: 38%. TASTINESS: Steak Dinner.
Cain is the second-best outfield free agent — he’s a better defender than Martinez but brings significantly less power to the table. He’s a little older, but has a similar track record of consistency over the past four seasons and adds some speed to the equation. He’ll also cost less — about $17- to 20-million per year over four or five years.
That extra cash is a boon in terms of the degree to which the Giants could upgrade their infield. That said, the free agent options at third base are not great and probably still cost too much (most notably Todd Frazier and Mike Moustakas). One good option here might be Zack Cozart — if he was willing to move to third base, he could bring a bit of power to the infield and should be right in that $12- 14-million per year price range. Worst case scenario: there is still extra money to spend in the bullpen or on another playable outfielder.
The flexibility from the extra cash would be nice, but it’s a lot to spend on a 31 year old who depends on his legs for a lot of his value. It’s hard to imagine Giants fans being overly excited about a free agent haul whose biggest name is Lorenzo Cain, but he would be a significant upgrade.
LIKELIHOOD: 47%. TASTINESS: Fancy Mac & Cheese
The That’s So Giants Plan
Jarrod Dyson, who will be 33 this year and has never reached 350 ABs in a single season, is merely an avatar for this plan: Signing a cheap but helpful outfield player and spending the bulk of your money elsewhere. Dyson doesn’t hit lefties at all so would need a platoon, but would bring some much-needed speed and defensive help. Other affordable outfielders include Austin Jackson, Carlos Gomez and Jon Jay.
The question here would be where the rest of that money goes — certainly Frazier and Moustakas would become possibilities at that point, as would Cozart if he was willing to move. It would also allow more money to be spent on the bullpen, probably enough to land someone like Addison Reed (under 30 and coming off of a dominant season).
Signing the Dyson-Jackson-Gomez level of outfielder — even if it came with a Mike Moustakas or legitimate bullpen help — would be frustratingly Giants-ish and woefully insufficient.
LIKELIHOOD: 71%. TASTINESS: Garlic Fries. All garlic fries.
The Trade Plan
With the winter meetings underway, there are more than enough rumors to come up with a few pipe dreams. Operating exclusively based on online whispers and innuendo, there are four potentially available players who would fit in beautifully at China Basin.
The one who stands above the others is Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who is one of the most-ballyhooed names being mentioned. He’s coming off of his worst offensive year but is still productive at the plate and remains a good defensive third-baseman. He’s also signed to an affordably contract through 2022 with an option for 2023.
The other three names are Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Andrew McCutchen. Each have been mentioned in trade rumors, and all would help considerably. Machado is the youngest and probably the best hitter, but Donaldson brings the most power and McCutchen gives you outfield defense and some speed in addition to his bat. All three would be free agents after the season.
All four of those players would improve the defense, protect Buster Posey and hopefully provide some much-needed excitement heading into the 2018 season. They would also have a small enough impact on the payroll to allow for accompanying moves — whether that means signing a collection of mid-level free agents or ponying up for a long-term deal in the case of Machado.
As much fun as it would be to watch a guy like JD Martinez try to conquer the left field line at AT&T Park, it’s probably safer (which is to say more like the Giants) to make a less significant commitment via trade and put together the pieces with a series of smaller contracts.
LIKELIHOOD:: 40-60% (depending on trade targets). TASTINESS: 5-Star Buffet with Prime Rib Carving Station
A plan built around a trade would be best. Specifically, trade for Longoria and use the leftover money to sign Cain. After all, we know Giants fans love a Cain.
Truth be told, that is likely to exceed my $30-million budget — Longoria makes $13.5 million next year, but that goes up each following year. The Giants can afford it, though, and putting those two in the middle of the lineup would completely change the offense, not to mention the runs it would save on the other side.
One thing the franchise cannot afford to do is return with an uninspired package of the Gomez-and-Frazier variety, with dreamy promises of a rejuvenated Pablo Sandoval and a healthy Hunter Pence. This regime has stood pat and invested in its own and dismissed the need for upgrades too many times, and another bad year would slow down the money-printing machines on King street.
The Giants need a W, soon. And, despite the recent trend, they’re more attainable than they’d appear.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. Find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.