SAN FRANCISCO -- The start of the new year has brought a familiar sight to social media. You don’t have to look hard to find clips of players ranging from Mike Trout to Bartolo Colon (seriously) going through workouts, preparing for a reporting day that is now just over a month away.
January is traditionally a quiet time for Major League Baseball, a month to ramp up the throwing and lifting before pitchers and catchers officially report in mid February. The biggest news tends to come from Hall of Fame announcements, but this January is going to be a bit different.
As the new season approaches some big names are still out there searching for new teams -- and for the Giants, that’s a very positive development.
When Johnny Cueto signed a contract before the holidays and brought the offseason spending spree a hair under $300 million (counting Brandon Crawford’s extension), the Giants knew they had to be patient. With a hole in left field, they had no intention of quickly dropping their third massive deal of the offseason. It now appears they might not have to.
There are about a half-dozen outfielders remaining who would represent some sort of meaningful upgrade for the Giants outfield, and with few teams jumping out to add these names, the Giants remain in position to check the final box off their offseason wish list.
The Big Two: This was the Big Three a day ago, but Alex Gordon reportedly agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal with the Royals on Wednesday morning. When the Giants checked on Gordon in December, the asking price was $100 million over five years, with a belief that four and $80 would ultimately be acceptable. Those numbers were close on a per-year basis, but the Giants still aren’t eager to pay that much for an outfielder, whether it be Gordon, Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. If Gordon, 32 in a month, got $18 million per, Upton and Cespedes should get more.
Giants fans would like nothing more than to add another All-Star to a haul that already includes Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, but the organization will owe about $160 million to 15 players in 2016 once Brandon Belt and George Kontos go through the arbitration process, and they don’t intend to go all that deep into the competitive balance tax. Plus, the Giants already have five players who will be making $15 million or more in 2018 and at some point they’ll have to break the bank for Madison Bumgarner.
Bobby Evans showed creativity with the Cueto opt-out, and the Giants could try to do the same with one of these guys, allowing a new left fielder to hit the market in a year or two. The problem is that any outfielder who wants to take another crack at free agency won’t want to be putting up his numbers at AT&T Park (Upton complained about the park on Twitter years ago).
Cespedes and Upton remain long shots.
The Next Tier: Evans said over and over again at the Winter Meetings that he would like to find a left fielder who can also play center. Oft-injured starter Angel Pagan is entering the last year of his deal and Gregor Blanco is, too. There doesn’t appear to be a 2017 center fielder in the minors. Dexter Fowler is the best one on the market, but some in the organization are dubious that he’d be that much of a defensive upgrade over Pagan. While Fowler posted a picture from the Warriors game Monday, there’s been no word that the 29-year-old — who has worked out with Barry Bonds in the past — actually met with the Giants.
Denard Span recently tweeted a video that showed him jumping over hurdles, hoping to prove that his surgically-repaired hip is healthy. The career center fielder would be a great fit, but the injuries would have to be a concern to an organization that has had trouble keeping its center fielder on the field the last three seasons.
Gerardo Parra is an excellent defender and a similar player to Blanco, who has shown he’s a good fit for the ballpark.
This tier is where the patience comes in. One of these guys is going to be left without a chair, and the Gordon deal shows that the prices are lower than expected. A team that waits it out — and the Giants can afford to because Blanco is still around — could end up with a steal.
The Other Options: It’s hard to project trades, but guys like Carlos Gonzalez and Jay Bruce are available, and Charlie Blackmon and Marcell Ozuna could be. Austin Jackson should come cheap, and while he doesn’t hit much, his glove is just fine in center. Remember Marlon Byrd’s cameo? He’s still out there, and he proved that his right-handed power plays at AT&T Park. Other unsigned corner options include former Padre and Bay Area native Will Venable and lefty-masher Ryan Raburn. ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote recently that Ian Desmond could play the outfield as a super-utility guy, which could intrigue a Giants staff that not long ago had Matt Duffy ticketed for a Ben Zobrist-ish role, and also has considered it for Kelby Tomlinson.
Finally, there’s the option of … just doing nothing. Over the last three seasons, Blanco ranks 17th among NL outfielders in WAR (7.1), ahead of Fowler, Parra and CarGo. The problem is Blanco tends to fill in for Pagan for long stretches, meaning the Giants can’t just pencil him into left full-time. They would like to add another player to that Pagan-Blanco mix and give Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson more time to develop.
The Giants want to be patient with those two, just as they hoped to be patient with this position player market. On Jan. 6, there’s little reason to now alter course. Spring training might be coming fast, but there are plenty of good outfield options still available.