- Bobby Abreu: Like we need another OF. Giants should pass.
- Derek Lowe: El Lefty Malo has been making multiple pitches for the Giants to sign him (latest here). As I noted on his site, I would rather improve the bullpen so that Lincecum and Cain win the games they should have won instead of having the bullpen lose them, than get a starter and improve the #5 starting spot. I like Lowe as a starter, if we could get him, the relievers and a hitter then I would be OK with it, but economics says that the Giants realistically can only get a hitter and either two relievers or one starter. I would rather have two relievers.
- Kerry Wood: Speaking of relievers, I would love him but he probably wants to close, so he probably wouldn't want to come here. And with his stats, I don't see why another team won't sign him as closer. But if he's still available after New Year's, maybe he'll be amenable to being our righty set-up man.
- Randy Johnson: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs.
- Juan Cruz: This article makes him sound like ROOGY; if so, pass, we need a righty set-up reliever instead.
- Mike Mussina: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs.
- Jason Giambi: He really should be a DH, pass.
- John Smoltz: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs. Or if he's willing to be our righty set-up reliever for the going market price for one of those.
- Cesar Izturis: Sounds like a great defensive SS and his bat couldn't have been worse than what we had last season, probably an upgrade over the poor hitting Bocock and Vizquel showed much of the season, even as poorly as Izturis hits. And I would assume that he would not make that much money, in the $3-5M range, and Sabean loves good defense.
- Russell Branyan: Lots of Giants fans like him and he's free again and could play 3B for us. I would rather play Sandoval there mostly full-time and give some of our prospects starting time at 1B, but Branyan could be a nice proven pickup, though I'm not sure how he would fit in, as both Ishikawa and Bowker are also lefties and Sandoval switch-hits, so the only combo that would work is Branyan at 3B, Ishi/Bow at 1B, and Sandoval at C, and that's against RHP. Molina would not be happy losing a lot of starts that way, so this combo would used not very often. More likely would be Branyan at 3B and Sandoval at 1B against RHP, maybe Frandsen at 3B and Sandoval at 1B against LHP. Basically it's Branyan vs. Ish/Bow. I think I would rather see what they can do, particularly Ishikawa, but the Giants are looking for experience. However, given Sabean's statements, I don't see the Giants getting him, he is not really a big acquisition, very complementary, won't be that big a boost to the lineup necessarily.
First, I'll note again that I would rather play the hand we are dealt with than add free agents. But the Giants have to sell tickets so they need to get a few free agents, one to "prove" to ticket buyers that they are serious about winning, two to hopefully win enough to be respectable in the division, which they were not that far from in 2008. If Roberts would have went on the DL at the start of the season, the Giants probably wouldn't have lost those 6 games he started and produced very little. That would have put them more around 74-75 win level in 2008, which is not that far from .500 or 81 wins.
Out of this group of free agents, the one who sticks out as attractive to the Giants is Cesar Izturis. Unfortunately, the best comparison is Neifi Perez, but if we can get him at a cheap enough contract, a la what we've been paying Vizquel, I think it could work out. His overall career stats have been hurt by playing in LA for home, .652 OPS away vs. .606 OPS at home, and he has hit .663 OPS in 157 PA at AT&T Park. Giants SS collectively hit .228/.295/.281/.576, so he could be a huge improvement offensively, as poorly as he has hit during his career. And the article notes his +21 Plus/Minus rating for 2008, which is great fielding in that rating system. He got $2.85M last year from the Cards and $3-4M in 2006-2007. That would not be too bad and he would still improve the offense.
Two others I like but doubt we would get are Kerry Wood and John Smoltz. I assume they will get better contracts and roles with other teams. But if not, they could be very interesting additions for a good price (assuming it goes down with the lack of demand), Wood as set-up, Smoltz either as setup or possibly even starter. There is risk with both that they could come up lame at some point during their contract, but when they are healthy, they are lights out.
Benefit of Lights Out Relievers
And that's what we need, lights out relievers. People forget already, but the Giants bullpen was actually pretty good early on. Valdez and Taschner were shutting things down then handing off to Wilson, and the Giants outside of the losses that Dave Roberts gave us by trying to play with his injury were around .500. Then Valdez was lost for what turned out to be the season, which pushed Walker into that role, and things went downhill from there, plus along the way Taschner wasn't effective anymore either, perhaps he was pushed into a role where he couldn't succeed in. That's when the team started going downhill in terms of losing, helped by the loss of Durham from the offense. Then when we got Romo and Hinshaw going well for us at the end, plus some offense back, we played .500 ball again.
Those are reasons why I think the Giants are not that far away from playing .500 ball. A season is not static, a one snapshot captures all type of phenomenon, you have to look at the parts and see what's there and why they were successful in parts and not successful in other parts, and see which represent the team going forward, the successful or the unsuccessful parts. What I see is a team capable of .500 as is.
Here is what I see for the Giants in 2009 right now:
Starting Rotation: Lincecum should continue to do well, his 2009 was foretold by his 2008 after he adjusted to the league. It should only get better, as scary a proposition that sounds for opposing batters. Cain had his first season where he actually pitched well overall on the road, showing progress, development, and maturity. With a stronger bullpen, the wins he had but lost should boost his W/L and get Giants fans off his back about him being a "loser"; he's no loser, he's a gamer.
Next, we have Zito and Sanchez combine to be the 3/4 starters. Zito showed great improvement late in the season, showing that his fastball was back to early career velocity when he was most successful, plus he was striking out batters in a volume that he hadn't done in 4-5 seasons, again, back early in his career. However, even if he falters, he has pitched about that of a #4 starter most of this time as a Giant. Sanchez, meanwhile, pitched like a top of rotation starter for most of 2008 before horrible starts ruined his season. He and Zito might falter, but I expect one or the other to be able to pitch like a #3 or better while the other one would be a #4 starter for 2009.
People worry about the #5 starter, and if we were trying to win the division, that would be a worry, but most teams have a crappy #5 anyway, so whether Lowry, Misch, Pucetas or whoever ends up there, no matter how badly he pitches, it would be no worse than other team's #5. And our #5 starter problems should be over in 2010 when either Bumgarner or Alderson or both join the rotation.
Bullpen: We now have a core group of Wilson, Affeldt, Romo, and Hinshaw. Wilson is the closer and did very well when put into save situations and very NOT well when put into non-save situations, so the simple solution is to not use him in non-save situations much. Affeldt and Romo both have closer-like characteristics, so set-up should be good, plus Hinshaw was pretty good pitching in against both LHP and RHP. Affeldt probably anchors the 8th while Romo and Hinshaw got the 7th covered, plus contribute regularly to 8th.
If the Giants are able to obtain a vet righty reliever to be the set-up guy, even better. An improved bullpen could add up to 10 wins to Lincecum and Cain together. Lincecum lost 5 wins himself in 2008 and I would think that Cain had lost at least that many. That right there would bring us to over .500 if nothing else is changed.
Offense: Biggest question mark on the team now, which is not a surprise to any Giants fan, it's like saying the sky is blue and moon circles the Earth. As much crap that Rowand took from fans, his OPS+ was 94, not worth $12M but an average CF gets around $9-10M today anyway, so he wasn't that big a drag on the offense overall. His problem was hitting great in April/May then hitting crappy the rest of the season. You don't lose hitting ability suddenly like that unless you are injured, so I think if he's healthy in 2009, you will see great stuff. Ay, matey, dar be the catch: he's often injured.
But Molina was good, as well as Lewis, Winn, and Sandoval. And I would expect Schierholtz to do well if he was given the chance in 2009. Frandsen and Burriss both look like they can hit in the majors as well, their strikeout rate is very good thus far in the majors, small samples, but still they are doing what they were doing in the minors, so that's a good sign. Velez, as well, showed some sign of life in his bat late in the year as well, and his strikeout rate was good too, though not as good as Frandsen or Burriss. So we should be set for middle infielders for 2009 as well, barring any huge setbacks for the trio, plus the Giants are looking to add a SS it seems, which should solidify that even further.
It is the corner infield where the last question mark is, whichever one that Sandoval isn't playing. Again, we all know that. We just don't know what Sabean is going to do about it, if anything. Just because you plan on filling a position does not mean that you do that no matter what, sometimes you have to change your plans to fit reality. I think the Giants should just go with Ishikawa and see what happens, then give others a chance if he falters. 2009 should be for learning stuff like that with prospects we already have and not for spending big money on free agents.
Yet, even with all the questions marks, the Giants were able to win at a .500 rate for much of the season. The key, obviously, is to keep it going throughout the season and end up closer to .500 than in 2008. I think that relief was an area of great leverage where an upgrade there would pay larger dividends than anywhere else on the roster. As much as I would like to see the Giants get another hitter, I'm not convinced that we should spend big money on another hitter, I don't see us getting the value for the money given our needs, we should save the money to get this hitter next off-season once it is clearer what we have and don't have in order to be contenders in 2010.