Offseason Overview – San Francisco Giants

Mar 07, 12 Offseason Overview – San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants
2011 RECORD: 86-76
PRESIDENT: Larry Baer GM: Brian Sabean
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Ryan Theriot, Gregor BlancoRamon Ortiz (Minor League contract)
KEY DEPARTURES: Carlos Beltran, Pat Burrell, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Jeff Keppinger, Ramon Ramirez

The Giants’ front office made some questionable moves (and “non-moves”) this offseason, highlighted by a couple trades for outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan and the free-agency departure of 2011 mid-year acquisition Carlos Beltran.

Trading the young southpaw Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera was nothing short of mind boggling.

Jonathan Sanchez Fastball Heat Chart - Photo from FanGraphs.com

What I see in Sanchez is untapped potential: A guy who ranked 4th in strikeout rate over the last three years; has a no-hitter (perfect game minus Uribe’s error) on his resume; but is coming off an injury-ridden down year after posting a FIP of 4.0 in 2010 and 3.85 in 2008. His down side is his consistent league-high walk rate which can be attributed to his propensity to pitch high in the zone where it is tough to make contact but also tough to get called strikes.

On the other hand, Sanchez has started to become less reliant on his fastball and instead throws more changeups. There is potential for him to develop better command of his CH to place it low in the zone where even if more contact is made, it is likely to be on the ground.

Jonathan Sanchez Pitch Type - From FanGraphs.com

Melky is an interesting player to look at. He has a bad rep for distinct struggles in 2008 and 2010 while also having his character and work ethic questioned. On the plus-side, he heads to the bay in his prime (27 years old) and is coming off a career-best season. Let’s take an in-depth look at his career best performance.

On the surface, Melky’s slash looks good at .305/.339/.470 but his BABIP was a significant career high at .332 which we should not expect to hold up. He also posted a career low walk rate (5%) and career high strike out rate (13.3%). Furthermore, looking at his power, Cabrera’s career-high ISO of .164 last year likely will not be hold up in pitcher-friendly AT&T park. It is very reasonable to expect Melky’s numbers to regress to around .280/.315/.415 considering he is walking at a career low rate and he is not an Ichiro-type to live off consistently high BABIP.  Now 280/.315/.415 is still a decent slash considering the Giants were the second worst offense in the league last year but the issue comes in when we look at Melky’s defense.

Metrics place Cabrera as a below-average defender and even with that aside, his size and speed makes him a question to cover the vast CF area in San Francisco. He will probably end up spending a lot of time in LF which significantly decreases his value since he takes up what should be a offense-heavy position. All-in-all, this points to Sanchez being a more valuable asset than Melky and this next piece will prove why.

Just days after the trade was completed, I spoke to a Major League Scout who told me in confidence that Brian Cashman was willing to part with Brett Gardner in exchange for Sanchez. Doesn’t that make you wonder? Did the Giants not do their due diligence in shopping Sanchez or does Sabean see something in Melky that I don’t?

Angel Pagan is the other outfielder Sabean acquired through a trade which shipped out Andres Torres and right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Mets. This move gives the Giants a defensive option in CF as well as a “true” lead-off hitter. Pagan is coming off a down year where he saw is BABIP tank from .331 to .285 and consequently, his slash to drop to .262/.322/.372. Before last year, he was living off high BABIP, partly due to his speed. That number should normalize to around .300 making it reasonable to expect Pagan to bounce back a bit from last year. The loss of Ramirez is not too damaging given the Giants exceptional depth in the bullpen, however; you can never have enough arms in the ‘pen.

The biggest issue of the Giants offseason was letting Carlos Beltran go without making a strong push to resign the slugger. Beltran ended up in St. Louis on a very friendly two-year $26M deal. I understand losing him to a three-year deal, but at two-year $26M, it is tough to comprehend. He is too valuable of a bat at that price, especially considering the Giants gave up Zach Wheeler for a few months of Beltran.

Shortstop left in the hands of Brandon Crawford
The Giants felt no need to invest in a starting SS and instead opted to leave the position in the hands of the 25 year old Crawford who hit four points above the Mendoza line last year. This looks poor on the surface but Crawford is a stellar defensive player and is coming off a BABIP of just .228 which should normalize up this year. The Giants did pick up utility-man Ryan Theriot who could see time at SS.

OTHER NOTES
The club avoided an arbitration hearing with Lincecum by inking the ace to a two-year deal worth $40.5M, buying out his remaining arbitration years.

Ryan Vogelsong also received a two year deal worth $8.3M with a third-year club option.

Pablo Sandoval agreed to a three-year extension buying out his arbitration years for $17.15M.

Speedy CF Gregor Blanco will battle for the final outfield spot. Blanco boasts a career walk rate of 12.8% but severely lacks power.

2012 PAYROLL
Giants are looking at a payroll of around $135M for 2012 which is high and may be a factor in the club’s ability to add offense at the trade deadline, especially considering the change in CEO from Bill Neukom to Larry Baer last season.

2012 OUTLOOK
We know what the Giants strength is: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito make up one of the top rotations in baseball. Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson highlight what is also one of the top bullpens in the league. Manager Bruce Bochy recently stated that Zito, firmly, will be the 5th starter heading into the season; however, look for Eric Surkamp to make a push for the 5th spot as the season progresses.

Everything comes back to creating offense, and the Giants are depending on a healthy Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, a bounce-back year from Aubrey Huff, and the development of prospect Brandon Belt into a middle-of-the-order threat. Reports say Buster is definitely not 100% meaning he may see extensive time at 1B which would crowd the outfield with Huff, Melky, Pagan, Nate Schierholtz, and Belt.

The only for-sure spots are 3B with the Panda and 2B with Sanchez (as long as he stays off the DL). Brandon Crawford will be fun to watch at SS – if the Giants’ offensive struggles continue to affect the club’s ability to contend, expect the team to find an offensive upgrade at short.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

The Giants have been known for their ability to draft and develop star pitching talent but recently their system has been somewhat depleted, most notably with the Zach Wheeler trade. The team does have some offensive talent about to break into the league: top prospect OF Gary Brown will start the year in Double-A after spending a full season in Class-A, posting a .336/.407/.519 slash. Expect him in the big-league by 2013. Catcher Hector Sanchez is the other highlight budding in the minors. Sanchez was a late call-up last season and may be back this year if Posey establishes himself at 1B.

Bumgarner should get signed long-term soon so the Giants can avoid redoing a Lincy-type scenario. The southpaw has been stellar in his young career, posting a 2.67 FIP in 204+ innings last year. So far the club has yet to begin extension discussions.

The most intriguing factor for Giants is their payroll situation, which is blown up with notoriously bad contracts to Zito and Aaron Rowand. The good thing is that Rowand’s $13.5M is off the books after this year, along with the $10M Huff will get this year.  2013 will be Zito’s final guaranteed year and assuming his 2014 option does not vest (200+ innings in ‘13 or 400+ innings in ‘12 + ’13) he will be off the books with a $7M buyout.

This leaves the Giants with NO contract obligations in 2015 and beyond (just one of 9 teams with such situation) – quite impressive. That should allow them to sign both Cain and Lincecum to monstrous contracts while also locking up Posey and Sandoval before they hit FA in the next few years. While this is the likely route for the Giants brass, they actually have many options given such flexibility, including; shopping Lincecum or Cain and/or making a FA splash on a hitter in 2014.

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