Over the last 2 weeks, we've discussed what went right and what went wrong with the San Francisco Giants in 2008. So, now that the off-season is right around the corner, we will take a look at what the Giants can (realistically) do to get better this winter.
Of course we all want Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, even an Adam Dunn would bring some excitement to one of the lowliest offenses in the game, but after spending 126 million in January 2007 for Barry Zito, and another 60 million over 5 years for Aaron Rowand in December of last year, the Giants won't have a whole bunch of money to throw around at free agents. Heck, with the way it has gone with Zito and after a sub par first year from Rowand, I wouldn't bet on the Giants being very active in free agency at all. Therefore, in order to make changes with this team, they will have to do it the good old fashion way, make trades, and the Giants will actually have some pieces to move. With the playoffs in full swing, it's still a little tough to predict exactly what will transpire come November and December, but it's never to early to speculate.
Jonathan Sanchez had a breakout this year in his first season as a full-time starter, and although he didn't finish the year in strong fashion, it looks like all that talent he has is starting to surface, and teams will have interest in him this winter. There is also Noah Lowry, who is less likely to be dealt because teams aren't clear on his health, who the Giants may dangle in exchange for some offense. Tim Lincecum will not be dealt anytime soon after the year he just put together, so Giants fans can breathe easy knowing he'll stay put. I also don't think the Giants are willing to deal Matt Cain, unless it lands them an all-star caliber bat in their 20's (Prince Fielder, Garret Atkins?). However, the Giants do have a plethora of young pitchers in their system so Cain may not be as untouchable as we all think. Henry Schulman came out with an article before the end of the year mentioning the Giants and Florida Marlins as possible trade partners because the Marlins have an abundance of infielders entering arbitration's (Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla, Dallas McPhereson and Mike Jacobs) who the Giants may have interest in. Dan Uggla is particularly interesting because of his power. However, I would not give up Matt Cain for Uggla. Sanchez and Burris or Velez; maybe, but no way I give up Cain. Uggla is a decent player, but he'll be 29 before the start of next season and his career .262 average doesn't exactly jump out at you. But he's averaged 30 home runs over the last 3 seasons while no Giant (besides Barry Bonds) has hit even 20 over the last 2 years, so they could use the power. He also reminds me a little of Jeff Kent when the Giants acquired him from Cleveland back in '97. A lot of power from the second base spot, but not much average yet. If he can learn like Kent did, he would be well worth Sanchez and Burris, but I'm not totally sold on Uggla right now. Joe Crede and Hank Blalock are potential free agents so if the Giants decide to hold onto their pitching and sign someone this winter, it would probably be one of those 2 guys.
Another goal of this off-season should be to try and find Nate Schierholtz a permanent position. I'm sorry, but if he's back in Fresno in April while Randy Winn is starting in right field everyday, Sabean and Bochy are even dumber than I thought. The Giants must find a way to get this kid 400+ at-bats in 2009 to see exactly what he can do at this level. He's proven himself everywhere but San Francisco, but he also hasn't had much of a chance here. The Giants need to make sure he get's his chance next year or else they should try and package him in a trade somewhere because this dude needs to be playing. The outfield is a bit crowded though right now, but if the Giants want their best team to be playing night in and night out, and outfield of Lewis-Rowand-Schierholtz is the way to go.
The Giants also must shore up there bullpen. Their were some bright spots that emerged this summer, but they could use another veteran or 2 for influence and stability. Tyler Walker and Jack Taschener were supposed to be those veteran leaders for the pen this year, but both were horribly ineffective and the Giants found themselves a new pair of set-up guys in Alex Hinshaw and Sergio Romo to get the ball to their new young closer, Brian Wilson. Ideally, I'd like to see the Giants acquire another quality righty and lefty to help fill out the pen, but the free agent market for relievers isn't very good either. Kyle Farnsworth and David Weathers would be upgrades, but not if there seeking outrageous deals. Juan Cruz and Jeremy Affeldt are also available and each of those guys have been solid and have some upside. Maybe they add a Weathers or someone like that, but Sabean has never been one to spend on the bullpen unless he absolutely has to (Armondo Benitez) so look for him to try and fill the bullpen vacancies in house or with Spring Training invitees (like Keiichi Yabu in 2008).
What I would like to see the Giants do is try to get a few guys on the cheap this year as Florida did last year with Cantu and McPhereson. One guy who immediately comes to mind is Rocco Baldelli. The Giants don't really need more outfielders, but this guy is pretty special (as seen this postseason) when healthy. The only problem with him is that he's rarely healthy enough to play. If the Giants could get him on the type of deal the Marlins got Cantu, I'd be ecstatic, but my money is on him returning to Tampa on an incentive laden contract. However, those should be the guys that Sabean should target this winter. 20-somethings that have had some success and could be had on the cheap. My guess is that they will make a move this winter that catches some headlines. Not as big as the Barry Zito move, but maybe a little bigger than the Aaron Rowand deal. We'll see, the team needs a lot of work and should we should see a much different product at the opening of 2009 than we saw this year.
2009 Depth Chart (as of October 15th 2008): C: Bengie Molina, Pablo Sandoval 1B: Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa 2B: Kevin Frandsen, Eugenio Velez SS: Emmanuel Burris, Alex Ochoa 3B: Ryan Rohlinger, Connor Gillaspie LF: Fred Lewis, Dave Roberts CF: Aaron Rowand, Dave Roberts RF: Randy Winn, Nate Schierholtz P: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jon Sanchez, Noah Lowry, Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Alex Hinshaw, Sergio Romo, Merkin Valdez, Billy Sadler
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