Last year’s free agency period progressed in odd ways for the San Francisco Giants. After Pablo Sandoval professed his desire to return to the team that drafted him (and pestered him over his fluctuating weight throughout his time with the club), he spurned the Giants’ offer. Then Bobby Evans told reporters “we did not receive a rose” during the winter meetings, after Jon Lester chose Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs.
After falling short with those players and finishing as the runners-up for Yasmany Tomas, the Giants embarked on one of the more boring winters in recent franchise history. They re-signed Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo and Ryan Vogelsong, traded for Casey McGehee, and signed Norichika Aoki. After another season full of sellouts and a long postseason full of even more lucrative sellouts, effectively standing pat wasn’t what fans were expecting or hoping to see last winter.
It also didn’t work. The Giants were already paying a lot of money to guys like Tim Lincecum, Marco Scutaro, Tim Hudson and Matt Cain, and all but the latter dropped off the payroll after 2015. They needed at least two of those three starting pitchers to have strong seasons, and they didn’t get much from any of them.
With the vanishing salaries of Lincecum, Hudson, Scutaro, Jeremy Affeldt, McGehee, Aoki and Vogelsong equating to about $55 million of 2015 payroll, and a couple obvious holes that organizational depth can’t fill, everyone figures the Giants will be big spenders. That’s an understatement, actually. Based on what the prominent national baseball writers have reported, the Giants could be the most active team in the majors in the coming weeks.
• Giants evaluators have talked about Chris Davis and how he might be a good fit for them in a couple of different ways:
1. As detailed in Friday’s column, Davis’ power is so extraordinary that it would translate in any ballpark, including spacious AT&T Park, where you need the thump of someone like Barry Bonds to consistently clear the walls.
2. Davis has the athleticism to play positions other than first base, which would serve the Giants well as they slowly transition Buster Posey into the middle part of his career and away from being a full-time catcher. Posey figures to catch 100-110 games next year and play first base a lot, and if Davis signed with the Giants, he could more readily shift to left or right field than Brandon Belt, who needs to play first base.
Additionally, that would make Belt expendable to trade for the starting pitching the Giants need, and there are young starters who can be discussed, most notably Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar of the Indians. (Cleveland has talked about pursuing a first baseman and shifting Carlos Santana to designated hitter.)
Davis doesn’t seem like a Giants kind of player at all, since he strikes out a ton (not that Belt doesn’t) and hits for a low average. It’s true that Belt probably isn’t a viable option as a full-time left fielder, but has his trade value ever been lower? He’s going to be a free agent after the 2017 season and he’s still dealing with concussion symptoms.
Executives expect the Giants to be big players in the deep free-agent starting pitching and/or outfield markets. Which is why they have been associated with – among others — Zack Greinke, Justin Upton and Chris Davis … As one rival NL GM said, “I would keep an eye on them. I expect them to be aggressive.”
Again with Chris Davis. What is it with these guys and Chris Davis?
Actually, there’s some sound logic in this next passage …
The Giants could have a simple offseason — sign a starting pitcher — or a very busy one. Buster Olney wrote about the potential pursuit of Chris Davis. With Buster Posey slated for 100-110 games at catcher, he needs to play first base when he’s not catching. Posey started 103 games at catcher and 37 at first in 2015. Davis can play the outfield, giving him the advantage over Brandon Belt. Davis started 29 games in right field for the Orioles in 2015, and while he wasn’t great out there — minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved — he’s passable. The Giants could play him in left field when Posey plays first. Remember, the Giants won a World Series with Mike Morse and Travis Ishikawa playing left.
If they sign Davis, Belt becomes trade bait, coming off a .280/.356/.478 season, with two more seasons of team control. He would be attractive to Houston, Seattle, Pittsburgh or Cleveland. Even the Blue Jays could be looking for a left-handed bat at first to help balance out all the right-handers.
The Giants will also look to upgrade their rotation and perhaps center field, where Angel Pagan is under contract for one more year but coming off a poor season with diminished range. The bottom line is San Francisco will need to make some moves to keep up with the Dodgers.
Hmmm … Davis is a left-handed bat who can play some left field, and Angel Pagan is a switch-hitter who hit much worse from the left side (.239/.281/.321) than he did as a right-handed hitter (.318/.356/.358) in 2015. I asked Bobby Evans if they’d consider moving Pagan to a corner after the season ended.
“Pagan’s a center fielder,” said Evans. “I just don’t see that move happening. If for some reason that changes, we’ll react to that.”
Pagan is another guy who’s been mentioned as a potential trade candidate that I don’t really understand. This isn’t the NBA, where expiring contracts are worth something to opposing GMs. If Evans can convince another team that they’d be getting the Pagan of Sept/Oct (when he hit all three of his home runs and stole six bases after accumulating only six steals from April through August), Larry Baer should give him a hefty raise.
And before fans get too excited about this Davis thing, Jon Heyman is projecting him as the second-most expensive free agent in this year’s class — $182 million over seven years. It seems highly unlikely that the Giants bid anything close to that high on a position player.
Jon Morosi, Fox Sports:
#SFGiants among most aggressive teams in rotation market; Bumgarner and Heston only pitchers on their current roster with 120+ IP in ’15.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 10, 2015
This is kind of why I feel like the Giants will go for two semi-expensive starters instead of one mega-star, but the opportunity to fire a two-pronged strike at the Dodgers may be too fun to pass up. Speaking of Greinke …
For the Giants, going after Greinke could be the most effective way of loosening L.A.’s stranglehold on the National League West, not only bolstering their depleted starting rotation but weakening the Dodgers’ as well. No other free agent offers such a compelling double benefit, and it’s worth noting that Greinke has a career 1.78 ERA at AT&T Park and a 7-0 record with a 2.19 ERA against San Francisco.
The Giants have not been shy about spending big on pitchers, even though the results haven’t always been favorable. They set a record by signing left-hander Barry Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2006, paid a fading Tim Lincecum $18 million last season and extended Matt Cain for six years and $127.5 million in 2012.
No one should be surprised if a David Price or a Jason Heyward — two prominent free agents — end up with the Giants.
And herein lies the potential for disappointment.
Here’s why they’ll spend like crazy!
- Look at all that money coming off the books this year, and next year another $50 million vacates in the form of impending free agents (Pagan/Peavy/Romo/Casilla/Lopez/Blanco).
- As Ortiz points out, the Giants have thrown big money at pitchers before.
- Measure D passed, giving Baer and Co. the opportunity to become real estate giants as well.
Um, perhaps a wild shopping spree isn’t guaranteed …
- They seem pretty rigid in their desire to avoid paying the Competitive Balance (translation: luxury) Tax for a second straight year, as repeater penalties for pushing past that $189 threshold make the tax payment even higher than what they had to shell out in 2015.
- After watching Zito mostly struggle and Cain deal with elbow problems, Baer isn’t a huge fan of nine-figure contracts for pitchers.
- The Giants like their first round picks, and every one of the top free agents other than Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Johnny Cueto have Qualifying Offers attached.
On that last point, my prediction is that the Giants are going to spend around $50 million, but they’ll spread it out on non-QO guys. OK, I have a lot of predictions and none of them will come true. But just for fun …
- Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, Darren O’Day and Alex Rios.
- Cespedes, Leake (I really think they’re going to re-sign Leake, which probably means they won’t) and Doug Fister.
- Kazmir (I have the same feeling about Kazmir looking kind of Giants-y as I do about Leake), Denard Span, J.A. Happ and Chris Young.
- If they really want an “ace” but don’t want to give up their first draft pick: Cueto and a combination of guys listed above that would cost less than $25 million combined.
Who knows, maybe I’m wrong and they’ll end up with Greinke or Price and either Heyward, Cespedes, Alex Gordon or Justin Upton (which would mean shelling out about $50 million per year on two guys and giving up their top two draft picks in June). Everyone seems to think it’ll be an eventful offseason for the Giants — if it’s not, fans are going to be even more disappointed than they were a year ago since the national writers are predicting big things and fans don’t have a third World Series win to keep them warm through the winter.