Nightengale on Giants: “Starting left fielder isn’t on that team yet”

It’s the middle of January and the San Francisco Giants have only signed one new player to a major league contract. Sure, it’s a pretty important player in closer Mark Melancon, but this has been one of the quietest offseasons in quite some time.

The Oakland A’s, to make a comparison, have signed three players to major league contracts (Trevor Plouffe, Rajai Davis and Matt Joyce). They’ll make roughly the same amount combined as Melancon this year, but a lot of us expected the Giants to be more active than this.

There’s always the trade market, but that’s been quiet as well. But in a Tuesday night KNBR segment with Ray Woodson, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said we should expect to see some action between now and Opening Day.

“The guy who’s still out there is Jay Bruce. The Mets are trying to unload him. The Giants explored a trade for him during the trade deadline and backed off, rather have a right-handed bat. If they’re going to give him away and even eat some of the salary, I think the Giants have to take a look at him. I think with the moves they made last year and now you have Mark Melancon as the closer, Matt Moore for an entire season, I think the Giants will be on the prowl all Spring Training to see what they can get. I think their starting left fielder isn’t on that team yet.”

Bruce certainly looks the part. He’s killed the Giants on multiple occasions with towering home runs at AT&T Park. He’s also a rare slugger who wants to play in San Francisco, according to Nightengale.

“He didn’t want to go to New York, he wanted to go to San Francisco and, I forget, maybe down in Texas. He really wanted to play for Bruce Bochy. I think he really struggled in New York, coming from Cincinnati, a really small market to the spotlight there. He was never comfortable. So I think if the Giants traded for this guy, he’s going to hit 30 home runs, drive in over 90 and be exactly what they want. Dusty Baker, when he was with the Reds, absolutely loved this guy.”

However, Grant Brisbee listed several reasons for the Giants to avoid Bruce.

  • The Giants already have four left-handed hitters in their everyday lineup.
  • He has a .235 average and .295 OBP over the last three seasons.
  • My favorite: “Bruce isn’t very good, see.”

But the dingers! Oh man, the dingers. And he doesn’t turn 30 until April. I can see the Giants taking a flier on Bruce, hoping he turns into the player he was from age 23-26, when he averaged 3.5 WAR per season, made two All-Star teams, and finished 10th in the MVP voting twice. But three down years in a row is cause for concern, even with all of those sweet, sweet dingers, which we miss around here since the Giants were the only team in all of baseball to not have a single 20-homer guy in a homer-heavy year.

How heavy? 111 guys hit at least 20. The league average per 600 plate appearances was 18. Brandon Belt led the Giants with 17. But is Bruce a better option than Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker? The Giants wouldn’t admit it publicly, but they probably think so.

And yes, I said “or” instead of “and,” because we can’t assume a platoon for those two. If Hunter Pence gets injured again — and who’d bet against that at this point — we’re looking at an everyday lineup with Williamson AND Parker at the corner outfield positions for a decent chunk of the season.

The Giants will probably wait a while, both to see how Williamson and Parker fare in the Cactus League and whether the Detroit’s price comes down for J.D. Martinez. And Mets GM Sandy Alderson recently backed off his stance that they needed Bruce’s salary ($13 million) off the books, saying they could go into Spring Training with him on the roster. That could also be posturing, of course.

Martinez is set to make $11,750,000 in 2017, by the way. And the Giants are in the luxury tax, which means acquiring Bruce at his full salary would effectively mean they’d be spending an extra $19.5 million. It would make Martinez an $18 million player.

Alex Pavlovic wrote this a little over a month ago:

The Giants checked in on Detroit’s J.D. Martinez, but Evans said any deal for Martinez or a similar veteran (Jay Bruce, who makes $13 million, is among those available) would have to include a significant salary being sent back to the other team to balance the books. It’s difficult to find the player who could be sent to a team like Detroit and balance out much of the incoming salary. Martinez is scheduled to make $11.75 million next year. The Giants have eight players making at least $11 million in 2017, but all but Matt Cain are locked into key roles. The three other players who could eat up a chunk of that salary — Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Matt Moore — are franchise building blocks.

That’s why I’m hesitant to agree with Nightengale’s thoughts on the Giants acquiring a left fielder. And not just because he wrote this before the 2012 World Series:

The Tigers are sorry to ruin the ending to this charming show, but the Giants’ season is over.

Detroit will win the World Series in five games.

It’s a little surprising to see the Giants add just one significant piece to a team that hasn’t won the division since 2012, especially since (1) the Dodgers still look strong and (2) prices for everything they sell at the Giants’ sold out ballpark aren’t exactly low. The Giants offseason, if it truly is over, will fuel about 200 hours of Larry Krueger rants over the coming months. Then if you factor in that Buster Posey will enter the 2017 season as a 30-year-old, it sure seems like the time to load up would be this year.

However, the Giants are already a top-five payroll team and the luxury tax isn’t getting any less punitive in the coming years. So it’s definitely possible they’ll stand pat, pray for good health and more power from their current set of outfielders, and wait until the trade deadline to make a move if they absolutely have to.

On the other hand, it’s really, really easy to envision Bruce in a Giants uniform. Almost as easy as picturing a frustrated Bochy as he takes his cap off and runs his hand through his hair during the second inning of a bad Matt Cain start this April. So maybe Nightengale is onto something.

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