The Giants officially announced Ryan Vogelsong’s new deal on Wednesday. The one-year/$5 million deal (plus incentives) brings the Giants’ 2014 Opening Day payroll close to $150 million. That’s $15 million more than last season’s Opening Day payroll for, essentially, the same team, with Tim Hudson substituting in for Barry Zito.
During the press conference, general manager Brian Sabean told reporters not to expect much action at next week’s Winter Meetings, despite the Giants’ need for an upgrade in the outfield. At the moment, Gregor Blanco is penciled in as the left fielder, with Angel Pagan in center and Hunter Pence in right. Blanco was forced into every day action last season when Pagan went down with a torn hamstring. The results for Blanco and the Giants weren’t good. Blanco, who bats exclusively from the left side, hit .246/.338/.311 against lefties, with a .290 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and an 87 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus). He fared better against righties: .264/.353/.345 with a .315 wOBA and a 97 wRC+. Blanco’s 2013 splits were in line with his career numbers.
According to Andrew Baggarly, who participated in the Vogelsong press conference:
Sabean said Giants fans might not be the only ones disappointed if they end up just getting a platoon partner for Blanco in left field. Manager Bruce Bochy wants an everyday bat out there, too. And it won’t be Brandon Belt who fills the outfield need.
“I don’t know to what extent we’ll be satisfied whether it’s in the market or by trade to have it resolved,” Sabean said. “From a manager’s standpoint we’d like to have an everyday person out there whether it’s right-handed or left-handed. I don’t know how that opportunity will present itself or how we’ll be able to fold that type of piece into the budget.”
Ah, the budget. We’re used to hearing Sabean talk about the budget. We’ve heard about tight resources and rainy day funds for years, even after the first World Series championship in 2010. But Giants executives were singing a different tune a few weeks ago. On the even of the Tim Hudson deal, Giants President and CEO Larry Baer told Jim Kozimor on Yahoo Sports Talk Live:
We have flexibility to add. We have payroll capacity. . . . Money isn’t stopping us. What may stop us in terms of left field and other areas is where is the talent coming from. . . . The free agent list in the outfield is not all that strong. You can do trades. We have very desirable young pitching. . . . We have young players like Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford to Brandon Belt that certainly aren’t going to be traded.
Baer went on to talk about the possibility of a mid-season trade, and specifically referenced Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Hunter Pence.
So there’s a question of how much payroll flexibility the Giants have to make another move before spring training. Maybe they pulled back on the message because free agents were asking for more than they wanted to spend. Maybe after signing Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong, there’s less flexibility to go around.
What Baer said is true, though. The talent among free agent outfielders still on the market is thin. Very thin. In August, MLB Trade Rumors put together a list of all players who were set to become free agents at the end of the 2013 season. FanGraphs then created leaderboards of free agent position players, starting pitchers, and relievers. Here’s what the leaderboard for outfielders looked like before any players signed new deals:
Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran are the big names on that list among players still available after Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees this week, followed by Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson. But Choo, Beltran, Cruz and Granderson were given qualifying offers by their former teams. That means the team that signs those players loses its first round draft pick. Sabean has said the Giants won’t go down that road. I agree with that approach. The 2014 draft class is deeper and more talented than the 2013 class and the Giants need help in the farm system, especially with position players. (I would have given up a draft pick for Ellsbury, but that’s moot now.) Zobrist, Pence, Byrd, Crisp, DeJesus, Murphy, and Young have all since signed.
That leaves McLouth, Davis, Guitierrez, Ibanez, Baker and Johnson as the players with similar or better offensive production than Blanco last season. None of these players — save for Davis — come close to Blanco defensively. The question is whether they’d really be an upgrade over Blanco on offense, or work with him in a real platoon.
Blanco’s weakness is against left-handed pitching. How do these players stack up against lefties? Here are last year’s numbers:
Okay. We’ve identified some potential platoon partners in Jeff Baker, Rajai Davis, and Raul Ibanez. Davis is very good defensively. Baker not so much. Ibanez will be 42 next season. That’s iffy for an outfielder.
Blanco hits better — about league average — against righties. Who would be an upgrade? Let’s look at those numbers:
Guitierrez is the biggest upgrade offensively, but he’s had so many injuries the last few years, it would be tough to depend on him everyday. McLouth is a slight upgrade offensively, but would be a big downgrade defensively. And there’s Ibanez again.
An almost 42-year-old outfielder is the best free agent upgrade over Gregor Blanco. To me, Rajai Davis makes the most sense if a strict platoon is the best the Giants can do. Neither option is terribly sexy, but either one would put the Giants in a better position than they are now.
Next week I will look at trade options (if I’m not called for jury duty).