The Giants aren’t generally talked about as big spenders for a very simple reason: They play in a division with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the most expensive team in baseball history.
The Dodgers’ spending partially obscures the fact that the Giants, at around $170 million in payroll by the end of last year, put together the second-most expensive team in the National League in 2015, and they paid the luxury tax for the first time. While the Giants are known around baseball as even-year champs, agents and marquee free agents see a club with holes to fill, and plenty to spend.
The offseason officially kicks off this weekend, and few teams, if any, will be mentioned more than the Giants over the next month, up to and through the winter meetings. In one of the juiciest free agent pitching markets ever, Bobby Evans and Co. are seeking not one, but two starters. They also are looking for a left fielder after deciding not to pick up options on Nori Aoki and Marlon Byrd.
Just about every big name will be connected to the three-time champs in one way or another. A proven winner with deep pockets makes for an intriguing home for free agents, and Evans has made it clear that the front office intends to cast a wide net and be as creative as possible in search of reinforcements.
“We have a lot of things we want to address and want to look at,” he said this week.
That all starts with the rotation, and the Giants will aim high. Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann have plenty of fans in the organization, and you can bet that the Giants will at least check in on David Price a year after making a serious run at a similarly durable left-hander, Jon Lester.
Greinke is the jewel of this class, and not just because he may win a Cy Young Award later this month. Adding a pitcher who was worth about six Wins Above Replacement in 2015 (per FanGraphs) wouldn’t just be a boon to the rotation, it would strike a direct blow to the rival Dodgers. At the very least, a prolonged run at Greinke would drive up the final price if the right-hander opts to stay in Los Angeles. There is literally no downside to that chase.
Although team president and CEO Larry Baer has said the organization doesn’t intend to be a tax team for a second straight year, the Giants easily have the wherewithal to chase the market’s most expensive pitchers. Tim Lincecum (free agent) and Tim Hudson (retired) alone represented $30 million in payroll that’s off the books, and that generally is the yearly range for a top-of-the-market starter.
Evans has no qualms about going after such pitchers, but the Giants are careful in their evaluations. They sought Lester — even dispatching Buster Posey to help with the recruiting — because they were confident he was worth the price, but others will be crossed off because of durability or performance concerns. Few organizations know this road better than the Giants. They gave $126 million to Barry Zito and got very little production in return, and Matt Cain — once considered as sturdy a pitcher as there was in the game — has had trouble staying healthy since signing a six-year extension.
If the Giants opt for a second-tier starter, they’ll have plenty of options. Mike Leake will be a target regardless of how the organization fares with bigger names, and Jeff Samardzija is viewed by some as a tremendous upside play. The likes of John Lackey, Scott Kazmir and Yovani Gallardo highlight the next tier of starters, and pitchers like Doug Fister (a Merced native who would be a great fit) and Hisashi Isakuma are available on short-term deals.
In an ideal world, Bruce Bochy will head into the holidays knowing he has a second ace slotted behind Madison Bumgarner and Leake ready to fill out a rotation that also will feature Jake Peavy and Cain. The Giants may not be able to get two guys, however, no matter how hard they push. The Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs and Yankees have similar war chests and are competing for the same crop, and many others are ready to spend on pitching, including the division rival Diamondbacks, who stand as the biggest competition for Leake’s services.
Evans may find that the easiest way to add a second starter is to scour the trade market and target a pitcher who is becoming too expensive for a small market or rebuilding team. On this front, keep an eye on the Atlanta Braves. They’re loading up on prospects in advance of a move to a new park, and right-handers Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran may not fit that timeline.
Evans, Baer and Bochy sat at a podium the day after the season ended and spoke over and over again about the need to focus on pitching, but the plans have changed a bit in recent weeks. There is now a hole in left field, and this market is flush with options, from Jayson Heyward, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes at the top end, to Gerardo Parra and Colby Rasmus at much lower prices. Unlike with the pitching market, don’t expect a run at the big names here. The lineup is already one of the best in the National League and the nine-figure deal it would take to get any of those top guys would be better spent on a starting pitcher.
Aoki’s option was declined in part because the Giants aren’t sure what the trade market will hold in terms of left field options, and they want to be open-minded. Evans has repeatedly mentioned international options, too, and Korean outfielder Ah-Seop Son will be posted and available. Conveniently, the 27-year-old already plays for the Lotte Giants in the KBO.
When the heavy lifting is done, the Giants won’t be. Bochy would like another veteran reliever after the retirement of Jeremy Affeldt and also could use a veteran backup for Matt Duffy. The Giants soon will have to decide whether to bring arbitration-eligible long reliever Yusmeiro Petit back, and while Ryan Vogelsong does not expect to return, you can never rule out a reunion when it comes to these two sides.
January is usually a quiet time for teams, but the first month of 2016 figures to be a busy one for Lincecum. His rehab from hip surgery is on schedule and as spring training approaches the Giants and Lincecum will have to decide whether the former superstar wants to continue making AT&T Park his home.
The guess here is that No. 55 jogs onto the Scottsdale Stadium field when pitchers and catchers report in February. Will he be stretching with Greinke? Zimmermann? Leake? The next month holds all the answers, and it promises to be a wild one.