Evaluating a team’s needs after a Championship is one of the toughest things to do in sports. Think of the Giants decision makers right now: How could this year have gone any better?
I suppose the Giants could have kept up their torrid opening month’s pace and won 107 games. They could have swept their way through the postseason. Either way the result is the same: another ring and another parade.
What if, for the sake of a thought exercise, the Giants had Matt Cain at their disposal? Let’s say he was pitching at his career average level. About all we can surmise is that the Giants wouldn’t have traded for Jake Peavy. And that, certainly, could have set off a disastrous chain of events. Perhaps a trade for Chase Utley or Asdrubal Cabrera, which would mean no Joe Panik. The Giants won a World Series by essentially losing all the starts that Matt Cain would have made. Furthermore they found Joe Panik. Recipe for success.
All that to say: evaluating a team is so much easier after winning 76 games. I think this why the Giants have had a hard time repeating, and maybe that’s actually a good thing. It allows for the brass to take a good honest look at things and act accordingly.
Nonetheless, evaluation must happen, and so here’s my (very preliminary) best shot at thinking about the 2015 San Francisco Giants.
- CF: All indications are that Angel Pagan will be ready to go and the starting CF/leadoff man in 2015. When he’s been healthy he’s been good and the Giants have won. It’s truly remarkable that they made it through the stretch run and postseason without him. The big questions for 2015 are (a) can Pagan stay healthy, and (b) can the Giants do some things to keep him around all year? If yes, I expect a productive year from him and this spot in the lineup
- 2B: Joe Panik will be your opening day second baseman. As great as Joe was (and I love this dude), know that there are going to be ups and downs next year. There will be a stretch where you will wonder about starting Matt Duffy. There will be a stretch where he goes to the bottom of the lineup to find his swing. But, I think Panik showed why he should be a fine major league player for a long time. He plays good defense and showed a solid approach at the plate that will be able to get out of slumps and find ways to help even when the hits aren’t falling. A subplot here is some guy named Marco Scutaro (remember him!). I sort of hope (and I guess the Giants have the same hope) that he retires, which would save the Giants about $7 million. It sounds like he’s going to try to play, and if he can resemble his old self in any way, he would be a great utility/back up guy to spell Panik against tough lefties or when he simply needs a day off.
- C: Buster Posey. Enough said. But while we are at, I will mention that the Giants have a couple of interesting things going on here. As we will see in a moment, the big decision this offseason (pun intended) focuses on Pablo Sandoval. If Pablo bolts, that opens things up for the Giants financially (they can spread the wealth). If he stays (which I think will happen) the Giants will try to keep their roster as flexible as possible, which has the potential to be a great thing. The Giants need to think about letting Posey play 1B about half the time, April through August. In order to do that, Brandon Belt will need to get some time in left field. It also means trusting Andrew Susac to catch. I would trust him. Doing so will allow Posey to stay fresh for the September/October run the team surely hopes to have next fall.
- 3B: Again, Pablo Sandoval will be the biggest story of the offseason. MLBTrade Rumors has Pablo coming back the Giants, but Sports Illustrated sees him going to the Red Sox. That seems to be the early odds around the game. My guess is the Giants bring him back a little longer and a higher price than might be comfortable. But, there are a couple of things to remember here: First, the Giants don’t have that many things to do this offseason, so the timing is good. Yes, they need to pay some other guys, but there aren’t gaping holes in this roster. Pablo is fat, but he is also 28, and there just aren’t many 28-year-old, middle of the order, gold glove caliber players out there. In fact there are none. Plus there’s no one knocking on the door in the farm system. Second, locking up Pablo ensures that the Giants will have a core of Pagan, Panik, Posey, Panda, Pence, Brandon, and Brandon (plus Blanco and other bench pieces) for at leas the next two years, and all but Pagan for the year after that. That means the majority of this core could be together for another 3 years. That might be what tips the scale (pun intended) in favor of spending the money to keep the Panda around.
- RF: Hunter Pence. It’s pretty remarkable how little there is to say here. He plays every day and he plays well. The end.
- LF: What is ironic, and sometimes lost, in the Giants run of the past 5 seasons is that for 15 years the Giants invested everything they had in Left Field, and they never won the World Series. And then since 2007 they’ve had no stability in LF and they’ve won 3 titles. Part of that is just interesting, but part of that is highly illustrative. It’s not that LF is not important, but it’s obviously not as critical as other spots on the diamond. And this is actually important, because there is a faction that argues the Giants let Pablo go, figure out a cheap 3B option (Chase Headly or Alberto Callaspo), and go big in LF and sign Yasmany Tomas or even try to get Nelson Cruz. I think that’s foolish. It’s much more difficult to figure out 3B well and mix and match in LF, than it is the other way around. Plus, leaving LF flexible allows the Giants put Belt there when Posey is at 1B and not lose Belt’s bat. It also would allow the Giants to carry Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez AND possibly Gary Brown (if they want speed and defense) or an Adam Duvall type (if they want power). I don’t think they bring Michael Morse back (although another cheap deal wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world). I’d rather see the Giants spend on Pablo and go cheap and flexible in LF because it seems to be working.
- 1B: Brandon Belt. As you may have noticed, I favor roster flexibility with Belt being in LF from time to time and Posey manning first base. I like the Giants ability to mix and match and find something that works, rather than being rigid and trying to have one guy be the answer at every position. But, most of the time, and certainly when the pressure is on late in the season this is where you want Brandon Belt.
- SS: Brandon Crawford. If he doesn’t at least make the Gold Glove finals next years I’m going to eat my hat and write a series of nasty letters to various baseball writers. Plus, he’s getting better at the plate. What’s not to love.
Gregor Blanco OF
Juan Perez OF
Gary Brown OF
Travis Ishikawa 1B/OF
Matt Duffy INF
Joaquin Arias INF
Marco Scutaro INF
Andrew Susac C
Hector Sanchez C
Obviously, there aren’t enough roster spots for all these guys. I would like to see the Giants commit to Gary Brown over Juan Perez (although Perez has shown he can handle the playoffs which is no small thing for a team trying to repeat), so if they only carry two OF my two are Brown and Blanco (for a nice righty/lefty speed and defense combo). However, if they go with flexibility all three could be in play. If they don’t bring Morse back that could open a spot for Ishikawa. I’d prefer the INF be Scutaro and Arias, because that would allow Duffy to develop at AAA. But, I also think Matt’s ready to do this full-time if need be. Finally, let’s all hope that Hector Sanchez can get healthy both for his personal well-being, but also because he creates a couple of opportunities for the Giants. He allows Posey to play more 1B and he could be a trade chip.
In my mind, this is actually the biggest issue for the Giants this offseason. Pablo will dominate the headlines, but what the Giants do here will determine how successful they are at repeating next year (more on this in a later post).
The Giants could do nothing and actually field a starting five. It could look like: Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Lincecum, Petit. They are all back next year.
However, this doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, and we all know the Giants like depth, so there will be moves. I think Peavy is gone, Vogelsong could return, Petit and Lincecum will battle in the spring for the 5th spot, and the Giants could add someone else to the mix. But who and for how much are the interesting questions. There is no one knocking on the door right now in the system, but it’s not inconceivable that we start to see the next wave of good, young pitchers late in 2015 and ready to go for 2016.
- Madison Bumgarner. No doubt here, although hold your breath on him staying healthy, strong, and effective all year. My guess is he’s fine in 2015, but wear and tear could become an issue later on down the road.
- Matt Cain. I have very little doubt that Matt Cain still has several good years in him. The question is how good? I think he probably has 2 elite years left and then several good years after that…he’ll be the fly ball version of Tim Hudson from 2017 on. His injuries are not the red-flag-structural sort, but more of the wear-and-tear-from-a-decade-of-professional-pitching sort. I’m counting on him being a horse next year.
- Here comes the really big decision and the most important move of the offseason. The Giants could go cheap here and bring back Ryan Vogelsong (not the worst idea and it may be what they have to do if they sign Pablo), but I think they need to do more than that. Trade Rumors has the Giants signing Ervin Santana (which I would be ecstatic about at 3 yrs/39 million), and SI has the team picking up Japanese import Kenta Maeda (which I would be less ecstatic about, but it would be interesting). They could also go high risk, high reward here and bring in Brett Anderson or Brandon McCarthy. My preference/prediction is Santana, because I think he’s the best pitcher, for the best deal, and he will be a bridge guy (Lincecum and Hudson are gone after 2015), while the Giants wait on Kyle Crick, Tyler Beede, et al. to figure it out). Remember, the Giants have a 2-3 year window with the majority of the current core, so it wouldn’t hurt to invest in a 3 year pitcher if he’s the right guy (and I think Santana is the right guy… and it would be the right park and the right team behind him…just hope the price is right).
- Tim Hudson. Hudson could be worse next year. In fact, his overall numbers will likely be worse because it’s hard to imagine him replicating the stretch he produced to start 2014. But, he could also be better. Why? How? Well, consider that he had massive ankle surgery late in the season in 2013. I think part of the reason he slowed down was that his ankle rehab prevented him from a normal offseason workout. He should be able to get his body ready to go, be more consistent throughout 2015, and hopefully finish stronger than he did this year.
- Tim Lincecum/Yusmeiro Petit. The Giants are hoping Lincecum can figure something out and be the guy here. I actually think he would benefit from a move to the ‘pen and the team would be better off giving 175 innings to Petit in a starting role and 100ish to Lincecum in a super reliever role. Who knows, maybe Timmy finds himself in bullpen (wouldn’t be the first time) and can become yet another weapon for Bochy late in games.
The big question in the ‘pen is whether the Giants bring back Sergio Romo, an integral part of the “Core 4” who have gotten huge, late outs in all 3 World Series runs. Romo, though, could command closer money from a team desperate for help closing out games (and that is A LOT of teams). I think Romo is gone (I for one will be sad about this, as will all the Mexican-American Giants’ fans, of which there are many).
Bullpens are incredibly hard to predict, but the Giants will count on Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez (all returning) for sure, plus Hunter Strickland, Jean Machi, George Kontos, Juan Guitierrez, Tim Lincecum, Eric Cordier, Derek Law, and even Brett Bochy will be in the mix. Count on the Giants to make some offers to guys on minor league deals. They also seem to find gems every year.
Opening Day Roster:
Starting Line Up
- CF Angel Pagan
- 2B Joe Panik
- C Buster Posey
- 3B Pablo Sandoval
- RF Hunter Pence
- 1B Brandon Belt
- SS Brandon Crawford
- LF Gregor Blanco
- OF Juan Perez
- OF Gary Brown
- INF Marco Scutaro
- INF Joaquin Arias
- C Andrew Susac
- C/1B Hector Sanchez
- Madison Bumgarner
- Matt Cain
- Ervin Santana
- Tim Hudson
- Tim Lincecum
- Santiago Casilla (CL)
- Jeremy Affeldt
- Javier Lopez
- Jean Machi
- Hunter Strickland
- George Kontos
- Yusmeiro Petit