Brandon Crawford

San Francisco Giants have very little room for free agents

Now that everyone’s joined me on the “Giants and Jimmy Rollins are destined for each other” bandwagon, I’m going to have to get off on the next stop and wait around a while. It feels weird, and I might hop back on when it comes around my neighborhood again. But if one takes what the Giants have budgeted and subtract what they already have to spend, it’s hard to imagine how they can sign more than one or two medium-tier free agents.

And even at his age and slightly declining production over the past few seasons, Rollins is going to command higher than medium-tier money.

Rollins wants five years, which sounds (and is) crazy for a shortstop who’ll be 33 in November. But the Giants are worried more about next year. Specifically, not going far over the $124MM+ they spent on payroll in 2011 and keeping the pitching staff together.

Now let’s say “thanks” to the always-helpful MLB Trade Rumors for showing us just how difficult completing both of those tasks will be if the Giants also expect to have some money left over to help out the worst offense in the National League:

Giants GM Brian Sabean admitted to reporters in September that the team will probably not bring all 13 arbitration eligible players back.  Sanchez, with a projected $5.2MM salary, would seem a prime non-tender candidate.  However, Sabean suggested Sanchez would be in the rotation mix next year.  Sabean said Keppinger “might be a luxury item” for next year, since Freddy Sanchez is under contract.  At a projected $2.7MM, I think the Giants will be able to make a trade if they feel Sanchez is ready.

I think Torres at a projected $2.5MM is a candidate to be non-tendered.  Fontenot ($1.3MM), Whiteside ($700K), and Burriss ($600K) are on the bubble as well.  That leaves Sandoval ($3.2MM), Vogelsong ($2.5MM), Ramirez ($2.3MM), Casilla ($1.9MM), Romo ($1.3MM), and Schierholtz ($1.2MM) as players you can expect back in 2012.

If Torres, Fontenot, Burriss, and Whiteside are non-tendered, the remaining nine could cost the Giants an estimated $39.5MM.  Sabean expects a $124MM payroll.  The team owes $72.433MM to players under contract, if Jeremy Affeldt‘s buyout is excluded but Aaron Rowand‘s salary is included.  Add the arbitration group and we’re up at $112MM, $12MM shy of Sabean’s payroll figure, before minimum salary players are considered.  The Giants expect to re-sign Affeldt, and perhaps a center fielder/leadoff man.  That might be all they can afford, but as Sabean indicated, the team’s flexibility will hinge on how much money they allocate toward retaining their top pitchers.

I’m of the mind that when Sabean called Keppinger a “luxury item at the pricepoint,” he was letting everyone know the Giants wouldn’t spend the money to bring him back, trade possibilities be damned. But I also think Keppinger is the human equivalent of a snail with “.280” painted on its shell, so maybe my pessimism regarding Keppinger’s return is actually my own optimism creeping in that the Giants will be smart enough to let him go.

But we’re getting away from the point.

Even if the Giants don’t bring Keppinger and Jonathan Sanchez back, and also let the non-tender candidates MLBTR mentioned (Torres, Fontenot, Burriss and Whiteside) find work elsewhere, the Giants are looking at a probable payroll of about $104MM, just $20MM or so below what they spent in 2011. And that would give the Giants a roster that looks like this:

Cain ($15.3MM)
Lincecum ($19.2MM)
Vogelsong ($2.5MM)
Zito ($19.0MM)

Wilson ($8.5MM)
Romo ($1.3MM)
Ramirez ($2.3MM)
Casilla ($1.9MM)

F. Sanchez ($6.0MM)
Huff ($10.0MM)
Sandoval ($3.2MM)
Schierholtz ($1.2MM)

Rowand ($13.6MM)

Yep, that’s $104 MM for 12 players, 13 if you count Rowand (which the Giants do, but you shouldn’t). Then there’s the $500K to pay Affeldt before the Giants re-sign him as a free agent (which they will, in all probability).

So the Giants in essence have $20MM to divvy up, which turns into a little less once Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Dan Runzler, Chris Stewart, Brandon Belt, Brett Pill and Brandon Crawford are paid about $4MM combined. That brings the roster to 19, with a full starting rotation (if you trust Capt. Yoga). The bullpen’s two guys short, and the Giants are short five position players.

Now let’s say the Giants are going to go totally wild and STILL spend $20MM more after that, which would bring their payroll to around $128MM. However, $20MM is the going rate for an elite free agent like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes, so we can cross them off the list (which you already did if you’ve been paying attention). Same goes for CC Sabathia. Anyone who says he’s going to opt out and subsequently sign with the Giants is further off base than Rickey Henderson.

Sabean really sounded like he wanted to bring Jonathan Sanchez back, though. So let’s say the Giants sign him for $5.2MM and bring in Affeldt on the “frozen burger discount”: $2MM for one year or $4MM for two. That effectively sews up the pitching staff (bye-bye, Javier Lopez) and leaves the Giants with around $12MM-$13MM to spend on four position players.

Rollins is going to cost $12MM-$13MM per year by himself, or something close to it. So will Carlos Beltran. Michael Cuddyer may come close to that. Coco Crisp won’t cost that much, but he’ll at least make half that if not a couple million more per year.

At this point, these seem to be the Giants’ three options:

1. Defer money to the years after they’re paying Rowand, Huff, Freddy and/or Wilson. That means signing Lincecum to a 2-year deal that pays him far less in 2012 than 2013, and convincing free agents to sign backloaded contracts (which is probably the only way they’re going to be able to afford a guy like Rollins).

2. Go bargain-hunting. Cody Ross may not get many offers after how he performed in 2011, and Torres might be cheaper on the open market than he would be if the Giants went to arbitration with him. The Giants may have no interest in either outfielder, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them wait out the market and see if guys slip through, like David DeJesus, Mark Ellis, Willie Bloomquist, Nick Punto, Ross, Torres or someone I’m not thinking of.

3. Guilt-trip Larry Baer. If Sabean’s feeling like he’s one of Baer’s boys along with Bochy, maybe it’s time to flex a little muscle. Tell Baer he’ll work up a fun powerpoint presentation to show the “executive committee” why they should go $10MM-$15MM over budget to sign Rollins, Crisp AND Cuddyer (oh, veteran joy). Let Neukom’s replacement know how many boos he’s going to hear at AT&T next season if the Giants fail to score a good deal more runs than the 570 (3.52 per game) they scored in 2011. Though with how many times Sabez mentioned the budgetary constraints the Giants are more than happy to shackle themselves with, this option seems like a longshot at best.

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