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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Giants' possible targets through free agency

With only Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy and an uncertain Matt Cain under contact for 2016, it's obvious where the majority of the Giants' attention should be early on in the offseason. Luckily for them, there are set to be more than a few options in the free-agent market.

Last winter, the Giants were in heavy pursuit of one of the top arms on the market in Jon Lester, narrowly missing out to the Chicago Cubs. They also strongly considered James Shields too, but wound up spending significantly less by re-signing Jake Peavy and I think they did so with an eye towards this offseason. Here is the list of the upper-tier arms that are set to hit the open market after the World Series: RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Zach Grienke, LHP Scott Kazmir, LHP David Price, RHP Jordan Zimmerman. Any of those guys, some more than others obviously, would look nice slotted behind MadBum in the Giants rotaion. The problem is, the Giants need more than just a single, top of the rotation arm, so that may enable them from going after a top guy like Price or Grienke. They need to add at least two starters, and also will need to address left field as well as shoring up the bullpen. With that in mind, their goal should be to add at least one arm from the group mentioned above, and maybe one from the second-tier of free agent starters which also isn't too shabby. That list includes RHP Jeff Samardzija, RHP Yovanni Gallardo, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Marco Estrada, RHP Matt Latos, RHP Mike Leake and RHP Ian Kennedy. I would be all for bringing in Cueto/Zimmerman as well as a guy like Kennedy, Samardzija or even re-signing Mike Leake. A MadBum-Cueto/Zimmerman-Leake-Peavy-Cain/Heston rotation would be the strongest the Giants have entered a season with since 2012.

Obviously I'd love to see them land Grienke and give them that 1-2 punch the Dodgers have had the last few seasons. It would weaken the Dodgers, as there really is no equivalent to Grienke out there for the Dodgers to replace him with (Price is close, but not quite up to Grienke's level), and would make the Giants rotation a strength again even if that was their only upgrade there this offseason and both Cain and Heston wound up on the opening day staff. However, if it's a difference of $40-60M or more on a deal for Cueto or Zimmerman rather than Grienke, it could make quite a difference in ability to make another impact-upgrade.

Again, as they stand now, it's not quite clear what they'll do in terms of their starting left-fielder job and their returning center fielder is coming back in final year of his deal and has seen his play drastically decline ever since the end of 2012. Luckily for them, some in-house candidates did emerge at the end of the 2015 season, and there's always Gregor Blanco you can fall back on, but they may be in the market for two outfielders this winter just to really shore things up out there. As far as some of the outfielders go, the Giants will have the option at retaining Nori Aoki or letting him become a free agent by not tendering him a deal, so the ball is in their court with him. Seeing as he'll still be relatively cheap and was a highly productive player when healthy last season, retaining him may not be a bad idea if they want to slot most of their free dollars into the rotation. However, if they want to venture outside of Aoki, they could look at minimal upgrades like Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson, or go into the next tiere and look at Jayson Heyward, Justin Upton or Yeonis Cespedes. After watching Aoki succeed in the leadoff spot last season, and seeing that he'll probably make around $7M compared to a guy like Fowler, who is virtually Aoki with more pop and less average and will likely land a multi-year deal worth over $12M annually, I like him more and more. However, if the Giants do want to upgrade, Cespedes would seem to be the ideal guy. Solid defender, great athlete and home run-champion type power that really came to light after moving over to the NL this summer.

The infield looks rock-solid with Kelby Tomlinson likely to become the utility guy in 2016 and all positions solidified with above-average guys at each position. They could use another veteran infielder who can play shortstop and take free agent Joaquin Arias' old role. Macier Izturis, Mike Aviles and Juan Uribe are the three guys who I would make immediate inquires about. An Uribe reunion would be pretty sweet, as he'd provide plenty of pop from the right side off the bench, as well as multi-position versatility. Izturis would give them another speed guy with good defense and contact, sort of a Blanco for the infield and Aviles is a solid all-around player, although he may hold out for a gig that promises more playing time.

Of course, we still have some time before free agency kicks off, but it may come sooner than later after the Kansas City Royals have looked like an unstoppable steamroller all postseason long that even the young power arms of the Mets haven't yet been able to tame. Speaking of which, Johnny Cueto may have erased some of the doubts people had about him with his outing in game two. If that's his last start of 2015 then I would feel absolutely fine with the Giants giving him a multi-year deal. I wouldn't give him Jon Lester money, but a 5-year/$100M deal wouldn't be outrageous in my opinion. I'd say he and Zimmerman are pretty darn equal, although Zimmerman has the edge in the durability department and Cueto can be more dominant when he's right. Zimmerman probably is the safe choice and if the money was pretty similar, I'd take him, but I just think Cueto, who didn't have an ERA higher than 2.82 since 2010 before his switching of leagues in July, has the slightest of edges when both are at their best. Another thing against Cueto though is his clubhouse reputation which is less than stellar.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Thursday, October 08, 2015

In-house players could impact 2016 roster

It looked for a second there towards the end of August that the Giants may have a late season push in them after all, however, as the injuries amounted down the stretch, the Giants drifted further and further out of contention as September grew later.

First off, I'd like to thank you for returning to The Giants Baseball Blog, as we've been on a short hiatus for over the last month or so. The Giants falling out of contention coincided with hour changes at work and it enabled me from watching games on a daily basis and prevented me from being able to give genuine thoughts that weren't already being discussed on the web on airwaves. However, the season has ended and everybody has their own opinion on how things went, what can be taken from the 2015 season and of course, what needs to be done to return to success in 2016. During the offseason, we'll certainly be checking in weekly then once spring training rolls back around we should return to multiple posts per week again. So hang in there with us. I'm still trying to figure out scheduling with new job.

So enough boring stuff and back to baseball talk, which after 6 weeks of no posting, I'm itching to get back to. Now, despite another disappointing finish to a post-championship season, the Giants' have to view the emergence of some of their younger players in that final month as the silver lining. With key contributors like Hunter Pence and Joe Panik missing most of the last 6 weeks of the year, it opened the door for Jarrett Parker and Kelby Tomlinson and both showed they're ready to make an impact on the 2016 roster. Those were the two most impacting young position players the Giants brought up in 2015 and I, for one, can't wait to see these guys next spring. Although they didn't get to shine on the big stage like Joe Panik and Matt Duffy did last October, Giants fans have to feel pretty good knowing those guys should be able to lock down roster spots on next years 25-man and cost next to nothing (in terms of baseball money that is). One major issue I had with the 2014 roster coming in, and again, an issue that arouse during the season and bit them in the rear on more than one occasion, was the lack of depth going in. With the way they were able to develop Tomlinson and Parker, along with the impending return of Gregor Blanco and Andrew Sussac, I'd say the Giants bench is almost set and we're not even close to November.

Another bright spot surrounds yet another rookie who played a much more prominent role throughout the 2015 campaign than Parker and Tomlinson did, and that was new third basemen Matt Duffy. Brandon Crawford had a very nice five months offensively and all, but to me the big surprise of the 2015 season had to be the emergence of Matt Duffy, hands down. The guy not only took the the third base gig from Casey McGehee and ran with it, but he ended up outperforming the guy the Giants almost paid $100M to play that very same position (Pablo Sandoval). I can't tell you how good of a non-move that was now. Imagine if the Giants were tied into a long-term Pablo deal on top of the Cain contract? Yeah, things could be a lot worse. Instead, Duffy looks like he's not only going to be a solid performer at third base for the foreseeable future, but this guy quickly has developed into a cornerstone of the franchise. His numbers did fade a bit down the stretch and his average for the year did end up a shade below .300, but his rookie slash-line was none too shabby (.295/12/77/.762). He plays solid defense, and can hit just about anywhere in the order. He's like a more powerful version of Bill Mueller and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him up around 20 jacks next year with that same high average and solid defense.

On the mound, the Giants really had one guy really step up out of nowhere and really help anchor the starting rotation. Chris Heston was one of the best stories of the Giants for the first couple months of the season, as the rookie right-hander kept the rotation from completely falling apart when Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Tim Hudson all missed time early on and Ryan Vogelsong just couldn't get hitters out. The thing with Heston is he really seemed to hit a wall once the calendar flipped to August, which is really to be expected for a young pitcher going through his first big league season. The 27 year-old's second half numbers (66 IP, 65 H, 34 BB, 55 K, 4.91 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) paled in comparison to his first half line (111 IP, 104 H, 35 BB, 89 K, 3.39 ERA, 1.20 WHIP).

Nevertheless, he showed the ability to lock down a rotation spot for the 2016 season, where hopefully the Giants find enough depth to have him in the 5 slot. Heston as a number five is pretty darn good. Heston as your number three as he was for much of the 2015 season though, leaves a lot to be desired. We know Madison Bumgarner's gonna be there atop the rotation for 2016, but after that things become a little muddied. Jake Peavy will also be in there somewhere after his strong finish to 2015, but the Giants are likely hoping it's as a 3rd or 4th guy rather than their number two behind MadBum. But that's offseason stuff we'll get to eventually.


Down in the bullpen, the Giants also had some fresh faces come through and provide a huge shot in the arm, especially in the second half of the year. Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich were two guys that didn't come close to making the roster out of spring and George Kontos made is as the 13th arm if I'm not mistaking, so none of these three had huge expectations coming in. However, when all was said and done, those three had prominent, late-inning roles with the club and likely locked in their spots for the 2016 bunch. With Jeremy Affeldt set to retire, it opens up a left-handed role that Osich immediately takes the drivers seat for. The Giants may look to find another veteran in free agency, but have to feel confident with their in-house replacement as a fall-back.

I know Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo aren't going anywhere and will likely again be your 8th and 9th inning guys in 2016 (at least to start) but the Kontos/Strickland combo is right on their heels. Many Giants fans even voiced their desire for Boch to give Strickland a chance at closing those last couple weeks of the season but the Giants late-inning releif situation was hardly the reason why they aren't playing in October, and Boch is a huge believer in the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

There are all kinds of  2015 season reviews on the Giants out there with the season just coming to an end Sunday, and Instead of going through all the good and bad happenings of this season today, I really wanted to kind of focus on the positives and the new faces that burst onto the scene and look like they're here for good. Next week we'll start breaking down the veteran guys who will be back, as well as some of the areas the Giants should be looking to upgrade when free agency does open for business.

All in all, it's a major disappointment that this team once again failed to reach the postseason after winning it all just the year prior and it's the reason why most pundits hesitate to call the Giants string of championships a "dynasty". Sure, the Giants have been the best postseason team in baseball over the last half-decade, but they've been far from the best regular season team and Brian Sabean needs to figure out a way to improve that. Again, I bring up the depth issue, as that seemed to be the problem in 2011, 2013 and again in 2015. Hopefully the breakthrough of some of their younger players alleviates their depth concerns for next year but Sabean and Bobby Evans need to do a better job at planning for the unexpected like injuries or veterans maybe not performing like they have in years past.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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