((HT: BASTA/Ben Leonard))
First, it was Pablo Sandoval. Then, it was Yasmany Tomas. Now, it is Jon Lester. The Giants may be fortunate to have lost out this time, as doling out a six-year deal to a thirty year old starter is a very risky proposition. Lester has logged a massive amount of innings over the years, and he has accumulated more wear-and-tear than your average thirty year old. Outsiders may be looking too much into his 2.46 ERA in 2014; it defied a 3.10 xFIP, and he stranded a much higher percentage of runners on base than his career average. Lester is very good, but he is certainly not worth $155 million. However, the Giants were very much in the thick of the race themselves, as they reportedly offered six years and $150 million. That figure gives us a rough estimate of the budget going forward to fill in vacancies at third base, possibly left field, and in the starting rotation. Sabean likely would be willing to dole out roughly $25-50 million more than the $150 million offered to Lester, and he showed that he is willing to compete with the big spenders. What should Sabean do with this unfathomable amount of money to better his franchise?
Option One: Max Scherzer and Trevor Plouffe
Scherzer made one of the most perplexing financial decisions a player could make: turning down a six year- $140 deal to risk injury and decline before hitting free-agency. It seems to have paid off, as he is demanding a $200 million dollar deal from teams. That figure likely isn’t realistic, as no pitcher besides Clayton Kershaw has cleared the $200 million threshold; however, he has been remarkably consistent, and even more valuable than Lester.
2012 32 187.2 11.08 2.88 1.10 0.333 76.5% 36.5% 11.6% 3.74 3.27 3.23 4.5
2013 32 214.1 10.08 2.35 0.76 0.259 74.4% 36.3% 7.6% 2.90 2.74 3.16 6.4
2014 33 220.1 10.29 2.57 0.74 0.315 77.2% 36.7% 7.5% 3.15 2.85 3.12 5.6
His only “subpar” season was in 2012, as a result of an inflated BABIP and HR/FB ratio, despite similar peripherals. The Giants would kill to have Scherzer at the top of their rotation, along with Bumgarner and Cain. His price tag would be the only question mark. It remains to be seen if Sabean will go over $200 million for a free agent, given his tendencies to only lock up his own players. If the Giants do in fact break the bank to sign Scherzer, Sabean will need to go searching for third base options in the bargain bin. As a speculative pick, Trevor Plouffe would be a great option for both the Giants and the Twins.
The Twins do not have much of a need at third base, as they are still rebuilding, and have prized hot corner prospect Miguel Sano coming up in the next few years. They are not primed to win now, and Plouffe is unlikely to fit in the Twins’ long-term plan because of Sano. However, the Giants would need to part with a prospect from an already-thin farm system to do so. Andrew Susac, Kyle Crick or Gary Brown likely could get a deal done with Minnesota, at a very minimal cost. Plouffe earned just $2.4 million in 2014, while posting a .335 wOBA along with a solid 3.5 WAR, better than Pablo Sandoval’s. He is a solid all-around player, as his 7.8 defensive component of FanGraphs’ WAR was seventh best among third basemen last year. Plouffe and Scherzer would likely be the best option for the Giants, albeit not the cheapest. Gregor Blanco is a perfectly competent everyday left fielder, as all Giants fans should come to recognize, and there is no dire need to replace him.
Option Two: Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, Brandon McCarthy
The Braves are suddenly in rebuilding mode, as they traded away star outfielder Jason Heyward to the Cardinals. Atlanta is looking ahead to their new ballpark in 2017, and their front office is willing to part with present stars to help their future. The Giants could fill their “hole” in left with the talented Upton, and provide a fill-in at thrid base for Sandoval, all in one trade.
However, Upton is a rather overrated asset, mostly because of his power. He is a weak defender, and would not fit in well at AT&T Park. As you can see, his value is inflated by his power, but his defense holds him back. In addition, he would be only a rental type player, as his contract expires after this season.
Chris Johnson would become the Giants’ everyday third baseman, which is not a very safe proposition. His value relies on batting average, which is not very consistent. Random placement of batted balls varies immensely from season to season, and without much power in his game, his value fluctuates rapidly from year to year. He hit .321 in 2013, but it was fueled by an absurd .394 BABIP, which predictably fell back to earth in 2014, creating a massive dip in wRC+ (127 to 82). Johnson is also a below-average defender, which cannot counteract his inconsistency at the plate.
The Giants would likely need to part with some combination of Susac, Crick, and Brown (and maybe a major leaguer) to acquire Upton and Johnson, who would be somewhat ill-suited for San Francisco. It would be considerably cheaper, but more of a bandage-type move than a long term replacement.
To fill the void at starting pitcher, the Giants could plug in Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy would be relatively cheap, somewhere around twelve to fifteen million per year for three to four years. He posted an inflated 4.05 ERA, fueled by an unusually high HR/FB rate, and he underachieved mightily relative to his xFIP (2.87). AT&T Park would rationalize these numbers, and likely drop his ERA into the low three range. McCarthy would be a steal for the Giants, and he would make the lackluster additions of Upton and Johnson somewhat palatable.
2013 11.7% 25.0% 0.201 0.321 0.263 0.354 0.464 0.357 128 5.6 26.0 -16.3 3.1
2014 9.4% 26.7% 0.221 0.332 0.270 0.342 0.491 0.363 133 0.6 24.4 -7.7 3.9
Option Three: Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, and Jonny Gomes
Chase Headley and Scherzer would likely be unattainable together, as it would simply cost too much. Headley has an offer on the table for four years and sixty-five million from an unknown team. Coupled with Scherzer’s high demands, it would be too much over budget. However, if you replace Scherzer with McCarthy, it gives the Giants a lot more wiggle room to sign Headley. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Headley has quietly become the best defensive third baseman in the game. Despite his MLB-best 21.6 defensive component of Fangraphs’ WAR, Headley lost out on the Gold Glove, partly because he switched leagues (traded from Padres to Yankees). The switch-hitting third baseman was better than Sandoval in terms of WAR last season (4.4-2.7), despite a somewhat subpar offensive year. After the trade to New York, he did post a 121 wRC+ after a wRC+ of just 90 with San Diego. Headley would bring veteran leadership to San Francisco, along with Gold Glove-caliber defense at third. He also brings breakout offensive potential. In 2012, Headley hit thirty-one home runs and posted a 145 wRC+ , despite playing his home games in the cavernous Petco Park.
Jonny Gomes is a speculative add, given the Giants’ stated desire to add a platoon bat to pair with Gregor Blanco in left. He would come very cheap, likely on a one or two year deal for minimal money. He rakes against left handed pitching, and would complement Blanco perfectly in a platoon, even though Blanco is adept in left. He has posted a .861 OPS against lefties in his career, along with a 133 wRC+. The Giants could stomach his relatively poor defense, as he would not be a full-time player.
Option Four: Cole Hamels (UPDATE)
The Giants are reportedly in on the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. However, this seems to be a long-shot, as the Giants don’t have the major league or minor league talent to compete with the Dodgers or Red Sox in potential trade offers.
The first trio, McCarthy/Headley/Gomes would be the most financially sound, along with being more future-proof than the Upton/Johnson/McCarthy deal. The Upton deal is unlikely at this point, but it does accomplish most of the Giants’ goals in one fell swoop. The Scherzer/Plouffe option would be the best on the field for the Giants, but money could be an issue. In the end, some combination of these will likely be employed by Sabean. The Giants will sign a starting pitcher; the front office has made this very clear. The Giants need someone to fill in for the weak Petit/Lincecum spot, and to provide insurance in case of injury or lack of production, whether that be McCarthy, Scherzer, or even Ervin Santana.
Stats and info courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball Reference