Musings on the Giants’ Offseason
I love the offseason. That might be somewhat counterintuitive to a lot of people, but I absolutely love the hot stove season. I remember a few years back I would immediately turn to the Sporting Green of the San Francisco Chronicle in the hopes that I’d see some interesting rumors about players the Giants were looking to acquire, or players they had signed or traded for the night before (this was well before the days MLB Trade Rumors became a big site). I remember waking up one morning in 2003 to see the Giants had just traded for a young left-handed hitting catcher by the name of A.J. Pierzynski from the Minnesota Twins, who had been on the American League All-Star team the previous year- they dealt Joe Nathan, whom I liked, along with two names I didn’t recognize- Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. Nathan had been a pretty good reliever for us, but I wasn’t sad to let him go- we had gotten ourselves an All-Star Catcher. Christmas came early! Of course, we all know how that trade turned out- it’s often referred to as one of the worst trades in Brian Sabean’s tenure as Giants’ general manager. Regardless, I remember being so excited that the Giants had acquired a rising star.
They haven’t done anything of that magnitude since. There have been some big signings- I remember thinking of the Omar Vizquel, Armando Benitez and Matt Morris signings as being pretty big…Aaron Rowand, too, although I didn’t care for the signing one bit when it happened. The Barry Zito signing scared me from the get-go, but I loved that the Giants were spending big. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out well for them. Since the Rowand signing, the Giants haven’t made a big dollar commitment to a free agent. And more often than not, our offseasons recently seem to have been full of disappointment; at least, from my point of view. We’ve had teams that needed a massive makeover or needed that one big bat to make us a respectable team- but it never happened. A lot of tires were kicked, and, at the end of the day, the Giants’ due diligence came to the same conclusion year in and year out: overpay the players that used to be good in the hopes that they’ll somehow find the fountain of youth; stay away from big trades, and dear Jesus, never trade pitching, ever, for a good hitter.*
So it comes to no surprise that the Giants haven’t made huge moves in 2010. Then again, it’s not as if the market is really all that great this season- the two headliners are Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford; Werth signed a ridiculous 7-year, $126MM contract with the Nationals, and Crawford is undoubtedly looking to match that offer, if not eclipse it. Neither player is worth that much, and the Giants shouldn’t bother bidding if the prices are that high. Not only that, we’re dealing with limited payroll space- the Giants’ projected payroll, with the recent transactions, is right around $120MM. There really aren’t any sexy names out there, either- Lance Berkman would have been interesting if he actually liked playing in San Francisco. His three-year weighted wRC+ has him around a +136 hitter; he’s probably closer to 125-130 with aging effects. Derrek Lee is a guy I’ve never really cared for in the past- I remember thinking of his defense at first base being horrendously overrated (this was years ago, though, and I haven’t seen him with regularity since), but I’ve thought of him recently as a player that would be great in a Giants uniform. He might not be a left-handed bat, but he’ll probably post a wRC+ around 125. Carlos Pena? About 120. That’s right around what I expect from Aubrey Huff this season. None of those players listed aside from Berkman provide any flexibility, and this is a must for the Giants organization- Brandon Belt is looking like he’ll hit his way into the Majors at some point next season, and the incumbent first baseman would ideally move to left field.
That said, the Huff signing makes sense. They likely overpaid a bit for his services, but considering he fits exactly what they were looking for- a left-handed first baseman/corner outfielder with some pop- I really can’t blame them for bringing him back. And they love his intangibles. It’s likely the best match for the Giants.
The other major position aside from the 1B/LF hole was shortstop. The Giants filled this rather quickly, signing Miguel Tejada to a one-year, $6.5MM contract. Again, there were really no attractive options on the open market- Orlando Cabrera is overwhelmingly “meh,” Derek Jeter wouldn’t fit with our payroll, and Juan Uribe signed with the Dodgers for 3 years and $21MM. How ridiculous is that? I was so happy to hear the Giants didn’t offer that amount to him- honestly, I thought “Maybe Sabean is learning…” only to find out shortly thereafter that he matched Los Angeles’ offer. Yeah. That’s too much money in my mind for a utility infielder. Tsuyoshi Nishioka sure was an intriguing idea, but the kid is obviously unproven and would have required a relatively large monetary commitment- combine that with some health issues and questionable defense at shortstop, and you’re looking at a pretty big risk unless you have second base wide open. Even then it’s still a risk, because we simply don’t know how his bat will translate to the Major Leagues. So, I’m perfectly fine that the Giants didn’t acquire him. The trade market was also a bit questionable; it makes more sense to me to sign Tejada than to trade for a more expensive player (since we’d be dealing with both money and trading off players of some value) that would represent a marginal upgrade.
Bringing back Pat Burrell on a $1MM contract will hopefully prove itself to be one of the largest steals of the offseason. The Giants’ starting left fielder’s weighted wRC+ puts him around a 110 hitter, although it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him back up to the 120’s- excluding his 2009 would put him around 125, which is a huge bargain. His glove leaves a lot to be desired and he’ll undoubtedly have to leave in the late innings for a replacement, but I’m fine with this. This might be my favorite move of the Giants’ offseason, and I’m very thankful that Burrell was willing to come back for such a small price.
I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I like what Brian Sabean has done this offseason. Really, the market this year isn’t all that great- and Sabean’s acquired players for a reasonable cost that should be able to live up to their contracts (Huff is perhaps a bit questionable, but it’ll be relatively close). I just can’t complain about the moves he’s made, even if it’s been a predictably boring and uneventful offseason (and looks to end that way, barring a major surprise). If we were to begin the season today, I imagine the opening day defensive alignment would look something like this:
C- Buster Posey
1B Aubrey Huff
2B Freddy Sanchez
SS Miguel Tejada
3B Pablo Sandoval
LF Pat Burrell
CF Andres Torres
RF Cody Ross
That’s not a horrible team by any means, and the offense should be right around average (at least, I hope). I wouldn’t consider it a World Series-caliber offense, but…hey, I’ve been wrong before.
*Somehow, this resulted in a World Championship Title in 2010. I still don’t think I can fully comprehend how this happened- for once, Sabean’s moves panned out- Aubrey Huff played better than he ever has, Pat Burrell was an offensive threat, and the homegrown pitching staff led us to win it all. Of course, this kid named Buster Posey helped quite a bit- and so did a former minor league lifer in Andres Torres. Really, the Giants’ lineup was full of castaways- Juan Uribe was originally signed on a minor league deal, Freddy Sanchez was a former batting champ that couldn’t stay healthy, Edgar Renteria a shell of his former self, and so on and so forth. See, what bothers me about the World Series win- as ludicrous as this might sound- is that it’s positive reinforcement. For once in his tenure, Sabean’s method of building offenses centered around mediocre veterans with a “proven track record” and young pitching staff worked. And it’s going to convince him that his method is correct, and he’ll just keep going about things the way he always did. You see, Sabean isn’t incompetent, and he’s not an “old dog that can’t learn new tricks.” He’s a very bright man and he is absolutely, 100% capable of making adjustments. He turned the Giants’ barren farm system into a powerhouse in short notice, bringing the brilliant John Barr on staff to help lead his scouting department. That’s proof enough to me that the man learns from his mistakes, even if you have to give him a bit of a kick in the ass to get started. But he won a World Championship with this incredibly flawed formula, and chances are he’ll continue to do so until he eventually retires.