Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Do the Giants Need to Make More Moves?

When the Giants lost out in the bidding for Zack Greinke and signed Jeff Samardzija for less than half the total cost, many people assumed they would re-allocate the savings, add in the extra $10 M or so needed to reach the Luxury Tax threshold, and go get themselves another SP and/or OF at the Winter Meetings.  The Giants themselves seemed to be saying it was their intention to do just that.  Then as the Winter Meetings moved along and the Giants delegation came home to introduce Samardzija to the fans, their tone seemed to drift, first to a lack of urgency, of letting the market come to them, then to a sense that while more additions would be nice, they are not necessary because after all, the Giants do have themselves a roster right now.

Maybe the Giants are just trying to cool the market off a bit before making their move, or maybe they have done some internal re-evaluations on the fly and decided their internal options are better than they thought going into the offseason.  Or maybe it's some old fashioned lowering of expectations.  It does raise an interesting question:  Do the Giants need to make more moves?  Putting it another way, what would the team look like if the season started today?

For this exercise, we will stipulate that Catcher, the Infield and the Bullpen are all set for the season right now.  That leaves SP and OF as the two continuing question marks.  Let's start with the starting rotation:

As it currently stands, the rotation consists of Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Chris Heston.  The depth chart on the farm would most likely be Clayton Blackburn, Adalberto Mejia then either Ty Blach or Chris Stratton.  Tyler Beede and Chase Johnson, who both have AA experience could be within striking distance by midseason.  Let's break it down a bit further:

1.  Madison Bumgarner is the ace.  Barring unforeseen injury, he will continue to be one of the top pitchers in MLB giving his team a great chance to win every time he pitches while going deep in games sparing the bullpen.

2.  Jeff Samardzija has the potential to be a great #2 or even an ace.  There are a whole host of reasons for his poor performance last season with the ChiSox, not the least of which he was pitching for the ChiSox.  He's not a lock to bounce back in 2016, but it's a pretty good bet.

3.  Jake Peavy probably comes down to health.  If he's the guy who finished the season in 2015, he's a solid #3.  If the injuries crop up again, not so much.

4.  Matt Cain gave a ray of hope in his final game of 2015 that he can bounce back in 2016 after essentially 2 lost seasons.  At the very least, he gets an earlier start on throwing and building up his arm this offseason.  Big question mark, though.

5.  Did Chris Heston wear down at the end of last season or did the league figure him out?  It might be safer to get the answer while using him in long relief and spot starting than in the rotation, but if he is the guy who we saw in the first half last year, he is better than a #5 starter.

That is a rotation right there.  Does it compete in the NL West?  Well, the Dodgers don't have their two-headed monster in their rotation anymore.  They have Clayton Kershaw and a bunch of bigger question marks than the Giants.  The D'Backs have Grienke heading up their rotation with Patrick Corbin and Shelby Miller #2 and 3.  Are Corbin and Miller better than Samardzija and Peavy?  After those 3, the D'Backs rotation is iffy.  Colorado and San Diego won't be factors, at least in 2016.  Of course, the Dodgers and D'Backs can still add and probably will.  The Giants probably still do not want to go into the season with 3/5's of their rotation made up of Peavy, Cain and Heston no matter how much they believe in the arms on the farm.

How about the OF?  The Giants current OF roster consists of Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson.  Kyle Blanks will probably be invited to spring training on a minor league deal.  There is really no depth beyond those names in the upper minors, especially with Devin Harris being taken in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.  Let's take a closer look:

Hunter Pence will almost certainly bounce back.  His wrist injury was flukey and one which he should fully recover from.  The oblique strain was most likely a result of all the missed time from the fracture.  When he did play, Pence was his usually dynamo self in the middle of the lineup.

Angel Pagan is coming off a horrible season, but is under contract for one more season at $10 M.  Bruce Bochy is saying he liked what he saw in September when Pagan seemed to be finally fully healthy.  Maybe Boch is talking about his hitting because there were several plays in the OF where Pagan was either dogging it or being tentative out of fear of re-injuring himself.  Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean were both quite upfront in saying they think the final year of his contract will be a positive factor in his performance in 2016.  The unspoken corollary is they think him not being in a walk year may have adversely affected his performance in 2014 and 2015.

Gregor Blanco is Gregor Blanco.  People keep relegating him to being the the 4'th OF and he keeps winning a starting job as the season progresses.  He is coming off his best season as a Giant and has averaged 3 fWAR per 600 PA's over the past 4 seasons.  Ideally, you probably still want him as your 4'th OF.

Jarrett Parker probably earned the right to see if his September 2015 performance was for real.  He could be another Giants rookie who came out of nowhere.  On the other hand, he has always had very high K rates in the minors and that could well catch up to him with extended looks in the majors.

It's not like the Giants would be leaning on Parker with no back up in sight. You don't have to squint very hard to see Mac Williamson becoming a monster in LF by midseason.  So much so, in fact, that I would kind of hate to see him get blocked by a big multi-year contract to an expensive FA OF.  With Jason Heyward off the table, I might actually be happier with a De Aza or Byrd on a 1 year deal as placeholders for Big Mac.  Blanks has been plagued by injuries but when he has played, he's hit over .300 for the last 2 seasons.  He may well be 500 PA's away from a breakout season.

In summary, I think the Giants really do need to sign another #3 or better SP if they really want to make a serious run for another even-year championship.   Cespedes or Upton would probably not make me angry about blocking Big Mac, but anything less and I would prefer 1 year deals for De Aza or Byrd.

What do you think?  Are the Giants obligated to spend their unspent money up to the Luxury Tax threshold, or would you be OK with trusting the kids and rolling with what they have now?


  1. I love the Samardzija signing, but arguably the best part of the deal is the financial flexibility it gave the club in contrast to a megadeal for Greinke. I do think they should apply some of that money to signing another starter. That is an absolute MUST in my mind. Not because I don't trust Heston; Not because I don't trust Peavy's health; Not because I believe Cain is as poor a pitcher as he showed last year. But put all 3 of those possibilities together, and that's too many gambles for one rotation. I'd love the Giants to make a play for Cueto, but at this point bringing Mike Leake back wouldn't be a bad decision either.

    To put it simply, I'm not in favor of the front office sitting on its hands at this point. They don't necessarily have to make big splash moves, but there's definitely still some holes that need patching.

    Cove Chatter

  2. IMO, they do need another starter and a proven outfielder. Right now, they could compete but the stars would have to align and they couldn't have too many injuries. I think the Giants brass knows this and will be active soon on the trade front. They have made many not so subtle hints to that as well.

    Billy Baseball

  3. I'm comfortable with the rotation. Cain and Pevay just got a year of rest and they don't need to be their old selves. If they can pitch nearly 200 innings of solid ball, the offense and pen should be good enough. Giants also have a lot of good young pitchers coming of age. The concerns you have with blocking Mac I have with blocking Blackburn.

    On that note, Blackburn is similar to Parker. Maybe not the best tools, but has always performed at a high level. Parker looks like he could go .250/.340/.450 with good wheels and D. That's a solid player. Are we sure he can't play CF in the majors?

    If the Giants clearly need another option, it's in center. I was hoping for a deal for Maybin, but Austin Jackson may be a good buy low type. Something short with promise knowing that Blanco could fill in if they underperform. If you want a rotation option, Fister is similar. Get him on a short, make-good deal and see if he performs.

    1. "The concerns you have with blocking Mac I have with blocking Blackburn."

      I'm not so worried about this, as Peavy is a FA after next year, and Cain the year after. The Giants have aligned themselves VERY nicely to allow the cream of the pitching prospect crop to join the big league team as they prove themselves out.

    2. Blackburn and Beede could be ready this year. Mejia and Chase Johnson the year after. Lots of 2-3 types arms that could slot in 3-5 behind MadBum and Samardzija. If we were talking Price, ok. Closing a rotation spot that Blackburn could fill now, and for 5 more years, so the Giants can pay too much for Leake over too long is not wise. The 2018 class of FA is stacked. No need to blow the wad now.

    3. I think it should be clear by now that the Giants are not just rolling over and paying Leake what he is asking for.

  4. I think the Giants need to make another move. They could add an OF (Gordon, Cespedes or Upton would provide an upgrade), but the rotation has the greater need.

    Like has already been said, Peavy, Cain and Heston are three big question marks. Unfortunately, the remaining SP free agents themselves don't provide an easy answer.

    Chen and Leake are solid, if unspectacular pitchers. Both provide some innings, but neither is gonna scare a great lineup.

    If his health was assured, I'd say Cueto should be the prime target. Considering he hasn't signed yet, though, I have to assume that many teams doubt his health. Thus, a Cueto signing itself could just be another question mark. Undoubtedly, though, he's the caliber of pitcher the Giants need. He just doesn't provide the same level of assurance a Greinke or Price would have in the health department.

    The way I see it, the Giants have three approaches they can take.

    (1) They can sign Cueto and add a complementary OF (like Byrd)

    (2) They can sign Upton/Gordon/Cespedes and take a flyer on someone like Cliff Lee

    (3) They go for a middle-of-the-road approach and sign Leake/Chen/Kazmir plus someone like Fowler or Parra. This option is the one most likely to make fans upset, and understandably so. With the money the Giants have left to spend, they really need to take advantage and acquire a great player to fill either their starting pitching or outfield need.

  5. I'm thinking the Giants have about $25-to-$30 million a year left in their budget. But I'm not sure how much will need to be reserved for arbitration raises.

    I've wanted two starting pitchers since we started talking about FA and 2016. I'd be happy with anyone of Cueto, Chen, Kazmir or Leake. Of the four, Chen might be the the most intriguing for the Giants because he's gotten better and better despite pitching in Camden Yards, which is the Band-box to end all Band-Boxes. Kazmir's injury history may keep the Giants away from him.

    That would leave Cain, Heston and Blackburn to duke it out for the #5 spot and the long-relief spot. I would put the odds on Heston to the pen. I think Cain will get first dibs on the 5th rotation spot in the hopes he will recover his Cainliness.

    In the OF, I'm not sure, but I have thoughts:

    1. Parker is atypical and hard to project. His best fielding in the minors was at CF though he's been (primarily) a RF the past few years. He's got good speed and he's 95/131 in stolen bases in the minors. And while it's true he strikes out a lot, he walks a lot AND he hits with a very high hard-contact/line-drive rate like Brandon Belt which, consequently, produces an exceptional BABIP and a higher BA than you'd otherwise expect for someone who strikes out so much.

    2. Williamson is more typical than Parker. No red flags at this point even if his AAA season wasn't very good as he bounced back and played very well in the Arizona Fall League.

    3. There are lots of second & third tier OFers that could provide bench depth, relief starting and possible platoon splits.

    4. There are some good OFers out there -- Cespedes, Gordon, a few others.

    But what happens in the OF (I believe) will, ultimately, depend on what they decided to do about the rotation.

  6. One outfield name I keep coming back to as a good answer to our current needs is Denard Span. Yeah, he's not the stud that Cespedes or Upton are (don't want Upton anyway; he's an attitude problem), but Span won't cost near as much either. Span's a decent center, has good speed, and would still allow flexibility. Just a thought.
    And, yes, we still need 1 more starting pitcher. At this point, I'm less picky about which one.

  7. In my opinion, the Giants absolutely need another "quality" starting pitcher to compete in the NL for a play-off spot. Having said that, the Giants should sign one of the following three - Cueto, Leake or Chen.

    After signing a pitcher, the Giants should add a left-fielder on a one year contract. I'd like to see them bring back Marlon Bryd and keep Mac Williamson on the roster as a fifth outfielder.

  8. Two perspectives need to be added:

    1. Starting Pitcher: It's not just this year but 2107 too. Peavy is up, so it becomes MadBum, Shark and a bunch of questions marks Cain, Heston, other rooks. And next year's FA market for starters sucks.

    So you get your #2 - #3 FA starter NOW. Period. Giants need to be aggressive, spend the money, and get the guy they want NOW. No shake out Evans, get the best buds.

    2. OF. Team perspective. The Giants in 2015 had a top-five rated defense and offense. And that's without Pence and Panik and with McGehee. A full year of Pence, Panik, Duffy already make the Giants a better defensive and offensive team. As a team the Giants are top-notch even with Pagan.

    So the issue is Pagan's backup both in CF and lead off. As DocB correctly states, Blanco in 2015 stepped up his game and proved he can play LF/CF everyday and hit leadoff. So Blanco when not playing LF can back up Pagan. Works.

    So LF and bench depth. Blanco can't play everyday LF if Pagan goes down/needs rest. So yes, the Giants need a LF and bench depth 4th and 5th OF. Fortunately, the Giants do have Williamson in the wings and Parker and Blanks as possibles. This the perfect setup to have Williamson win the everyday LF job backed up by one of Parker/Blanks and a vet like DeAza. No need to spend big here, let the market shake out the best cheap FA vet.

    1. Monterey -

      "Starting Pitcher: It's not just this year but 2107 too. Peavy is up, so it becomes MadBum, Shark and a bunch of questions marks...And next year's FA market for starters sucks."

      See my post about the 2018 FA class below, as it adds to this interesting conversation. You're correct that we need a #3 for the next two years, but after 2017 all heck breaks loose!

  9. Pretty much all has been covered..I am always of the mind that when you have a club within reach of a World Series, you go for it in the near term (meaning 1-3 years)..To me, that is where the Giants are and, to do that and beat the competition, they indeed need another starter and a starting OF..And, best of all, the Giants have the money!!

    The starter because Cain can not be counted on, Heston might have been a one year flash, and the other guys (I LOVE Blackburn) need some time. The question is, how good of a SP do you go for? I trust the Giant management on pitchers...SO, if they go with Chen...or Leake....or Cueto...I'll believe them...Where I draw the line is Ian Kennedy, RFyan Vogelsong and the ilk...

    OF is just as much of a need all because of Angel Pagan..I like Williamson and Parker but just not convinced for this year.Personally, I think the Pagan is shot and will only bite the Giants in the ass sometime this year..I'd rather the Giants build their OF as if he didn't exist....Problem is, there really aren't many CFs available? Are FOWLER, SPAN, maybe RAJAI DAVIS on a shorties. somebody else good enough? Perhaps there is a trade to be made....Mayb Jake MARISNICK form HOU?

    Or do you focus on LF,cross your fingers on Pagan but knowing BLANCO will have to be moved there fairly quickly??

    Not an easy job, but the wholes need to be filled...

    One other area is that I still worry like crazy about an injury to DUFFY with NOBODY in the system or team to take his place.....Just a thought, but GORDON used to play 3B (Blanco can move to CF?)..


    1. What does Blackburn need to prove?

    2. What does Blackburn need to prove? I would say he needs to prove he can come to camp in as good shape as he ended 2015. That is to get a chance to compete for a MLB job out of spring training. He also needs to prove he has the stuff to get MLB hitters out. Of course, he can't prove that until he gets to face them in a large enough sample size to be significant.

  10. Something to add to the conversation:

    This article came up on my phone as a "potential interest" (nice work there, Google machine), and indeed I had not seen this Immense typhoon headed baseball's way just yet.

    Basic Summary: 2018 will be the free agent class to break all free agent classes. The top notables that year will include - Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, AJ Pollack, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Joe Mauer, Dee Gordon, Charlie Blackmon, Clayton Kershaw, David Price (opt out), JHeyward (opt out), Dallas Keuchel, Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez...etc.

    The list goes on!! Some of those guys will sign extensions before then, but the top tier likely will not.

    So, on some level, you've got to wonder if the Giants - as a very big-market team, and with more revenue in the pipeline - are keeping bullets in the gun (missing Upton and Cespedes this year) and holding out for this incredible break-neck class of 2018 that's looming on the horizon. Duffy, Panik, Crawford, Posey, Bumgarner and Samardzija will all be cost-locked well through that 2018 season, giving the Giants fantastic financial flexibility to add to the team depth of All-Stars.

    By then Arroyo, Williamson/Parker, Bickford, Beede, Blackburn, Garcia and a whole corps of relief arms should hopefully be present to fill the pitching, bench and OF voids.

    Just food for thought.

    I still am on the boat of the Giants needing to pick up another #2, or at least another mid-3's ERA, 200 inning eater. None of those are currently slated to arise from the farm in the next 2 years. Perhaps THAT'S why a 2-year deal for Kennedy or Kazmir is so much more appealing to the Giants FO. Oooooohhhhh. Now I get it. That 2 year deal would finish in 2018. Goodness....very interesting!

    1. Saw that article. Very interesting!

    2. Nice catch, RB. Hurts my head to even think that far out, but is an even year.

  11. I think everyone who posts on this site is smart enough to know that the Giants aren't going to sign any of the big names to play LF. Cueto isn't going to happen either. The most likely scenario is they resign De Aza or Byrd or both to hold down LF for a minute and they resign Leake. I'm not a huge fan of Leake really only because of his performance for us last year but this might just be enough to win the division even if the Dodgers sign Cueto.

    What I would prefer to happen is they focus on one of the 3 intriguing lefties still out there. Kazmir, Chen, and Cliff Lee would all be low risk and reasonably cheap considering their upside and how the market is right now. Not only would each of these pitchers give us another lefty in the rotation but any of them could slide in and be our number 3 starter behind Sharky.

    As for LF I guess I am fine with something bottom of the barrel like Byrd or De Aza. It has worked for us in the past with guys like Huff and Morse. Ever since the Rowand deal seems like they have zero interest in taking a chance which is also why we have ended up with Maxwell and Mcgehee. The one thing that is hard to know is whether either Parker or Williamson will end up contributing next year like Duffy did last year. It is hard as a fan to know there is money left to spend and quality free agents available but I guess we have to keep the faith and trust Sabes and Evans.