Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Giants On The Hot Stove

Those who know me know that I am a die hard San Francisco Giants fan, and I've written on this blog just how excited I am for the 2010 season.

Much of that optimism and excitement obviously stems from the sudden uptick in the team's farm system as well as the major league success of home grown talent like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval.

On top of that is the stated intention of new managing general partner Bill Neukom to build a winning team on what he calls the "Giants Way". A greater emphasis on player development and sustaining success from within is the main focus of the "Giants Way", which in the opinion of this Giants fan is the way to go.

For too long standard operating procedure was to use the minor leagues as a breeding ground for trade bait as the big league club supplemented their ranks with veteran free agents. A practice that not only proved (for the most part) futile, but ridiculously expensive as well.

As one of the few teams left in baseball that don't rely heavily on statistical analysis when it comes to player personnel decisions, the Giants own the dubious distinction of owning three of the four worst contracts in the league (Vernon Wells notwithstanding), and perhaps in all of professional sports.

Combined, Barry Zito (7 years, $126 million), Aaron Rowand (5 years, $60 million) and Edgar Renteria (2 years, $18.5 million) will cost the Giants $39.5 million in 2010. By comparison, the Florida Marlins had a total payroll of just under $37 million in 2009 and are expected to cut that back to somewhere in the $35 million range next season.

Despite those awful moves, I've been a staunch supporter of GM Brian Sabean and was happy to see that his efforts in 2009 were rewarded with a 2-year contract extension. I appreciate some of Sabean's old school tactics in terms of loyalty to players and coaches, as well as his willingness to pull the trigger on a trade.

That said, the next couple of years will show whether or not it was him or, as I believe, the previous ownership group that was mostly to blame for the bad contracts and the neutering of the farm system.

This winter the Giants are reportedly in the market for the two premier free agent outfielders, Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. And as much as I would welcome the addition of either one, it might be wise for the team to pass on both in favor of cheaper alternatives.

Marlon Byrd ($3.06 million in 2009) is one name that stands out in terms of possible outfield answers. Byrd hit a career-high 20 homeruns in 2009, albeit in a great hitters park in Texas. He's also posted an OPS of .800-plus each of the last three seasons and his 27.7 VORP ranked 10th among all center fielders in baseball

Scott Podsednik ($800,000 in 2009) is another name that the Giants should consider despite his role as a slap-and-dash type who offers little in the way of power. Playing a full season for the first time since 2006, Podsednik hit .304 and stole 30 bases for the White Sox, and his .353 on-base percentage would have ranked second on the Giants in 2009. Pairing him at the top of the lineup with second baseman Freddy Sanchez could give the Giants the kind of top-of-the-order stability it needs.

Last on the list of potential low-cost, low-risk signees is first baseman Nick Johnson ($5.5 million in 2009). Like Podsednik, Johnson wouldn't give the Giants the kind of power production most feel they need, but his career .402 on-base percentage would be a welcome addition to a lineup filled with free swingers. Johnson is also a decent defender who owns a .992 career fielding percentage.

While those three names may not be exciting for Giants fans to hear, they do represent a smarter way of going about things in the long run. Also, when you consider the free agent class of 2011 which could include players like J.J. Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn, it further strengthens the case against making a big free agent splash this off-season.

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