The San Francisco Giants’ 2012 Opening Day line-up will reflect three critical franchise mandates: 1) payroll budgetary limitations; 2) management’s commitment to keeping the starting pitching core intact; and, 3) improving the offense. Note that “improving the offense” comes in 3rd– get used to it because that’s the way that particular dog will hunt for the next several years.
Effective Major League Baseball franchise management is a strange and complex combination of business savvy, deep experience, and the ability to identify and understand intangibles. Otherwise we could simply take the team’s projected $125 million budget, pull out a calculator and skip all the analysis and reckless speculation. And we can’t have that.
For the past several years this team has been committed to a model that features strong and deep starting pitching, an above average bullpen core that can be tweaked or reinvented any time between December and August, and just enough offense to compete. Using that template let’s look at which position players should be retained for 2012:
Keepers: 2012 positons filled
Pablo Sandoval was the team’s offensive foundation in 2011 despite going on the DL April 30th and missing 40 games with a wrist injury. Sandoval led the Giants in RBI (70) and home runs (26), and had a .909 OPS. His range and footwork at 3rd have improved each year and he is just this side of a gold glove.
Sandoval’s weight issues will always be a shadow looming over his performance at the plate and on the field and he is currently arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career.
Buster Posey will be behind home plate on Opening Day and should regain both his offensive momentum and his leadership role in the clubhouse. For 2013 there has to be serious discussions around moving Posey to the infield or left field with Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez off the books at the end of the 2012 season.
The 2013 season could bring huge changes to the infield: a Sandoval weight jihad could flip-flop Posey and Sandoval at 1st and 3rd while 2011 #1 draft pick Joe Panik looks to have the chops to take over at second base. There is also a possiblity the catcher position could be filled in-house by minor league propsects Hector Sanchez or Tommy Joseph.
Freddy Sanchez signed a 1 year extention for 2012 at $6 million and will be pegged as the starting second baseman. DL insurance at second has been mandatory throughout Sanchez’s injury-filled tenure as a Giant. Jeff Keppinger was hitting .307 when San Francisco picked him up from the Astros in mid-season to take over for Sanchez but his production tailed off and he hit .255 the rest of the year. Keppinger earned $2.3 million in 2011 and that puts him on the bubble in terms of being the Sanchez insurance policy.
The Giants have more affordable options in the speedy Emmanuel Burriss ($405K in 2011) or the versatile Mike Fontenot ($1.05 million in 2011), although Keppinger, Burriss and Fontenot are all arbitration-eligible so the price of Sanchez-insurance could increase over last year.
Aubrey Huff will complete his two year $22 million contract in 2012 which means the Giants will be compelled to play him. If he recaptures his career average RBI production Huff would see time at 1st base and/or left field. Obviously the Giants’ take on the status of Brandon Belt will determine where and when Huff plays next season, but his $11 million salary buys Huff the first half of the 2012 season to prove he is back as an RBI producer; if he falters for a second year in a row expect him to be riding the pine by mid-July.
Cody Ross brings a nice combination of speedy defense and extra base hit production to the outfield, but things start to get crowded once you come to grips with the fact that only three players normally play in the outfield, and two sit on the bench.
So here’s what should happen:
> The Giants’ number 1 priority should be to sign or trade for a starting center fielder/lead-off hitter to replace Andres Torres. Nothing the team does this off-season will improve the offense better. Torres deserves a chance to catch on with another team and find his 2010 mojo.
It is no secret that Oakland A’s free agent Coco Crisp would be ideal.
> The frosting on the outfield cake would be for the Giants to also sign free agent rightfielder Carlos Beltran to a three year $36 million contract. Beltran brings stability to right field and takes over as the #3 hitter in the batting order. Beltran surrounded by an actual lead-off hitter plus Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey looks like a nice recipe for increased run production at a reasonable price.
> That leaves Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz as the outfield back-ups; Ross can play all three positions, Schierholtz can play right and left. Ross is a starter who can take over every day at any time but his $6.3 million salary in 2011 may be a bigger payday than the Giants want to pay for a back-up outfielder. On the other hand, that $6m would be a great salary savings to swing toward signing Crisp and/or Beltran.
Schierholtz is a career-long back-up, and he should stay a back-up. Because if it comes down to having Brandon Belt play every day or Nate Schierholtz play every day, it’s the biggest no-brainer of all time (or second biggest, after that home loan commercial on the radio). Brandon Belt needs to be in the 2012 line-up every day.
Who has to go
We have already identified Andres Torres, whose 2011 performance was one of the reasons the Giants did not make the playoffs.
> Aaron Rowand (the Giants will eat $12 million of his salary in 2012), Miguel Tejada, and (hopefully) Orlando Cabrera are out.
> The wonderful Pat Burrell will not likely come back but he would be a great addition to the Giants’ coaching unit.
> With Posey back it appears that either Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart will be cut. Whiteside has been a rock for the past two years, but Stewart brings an added dimension of defense, and will likely back up Posey.
Who needs a chance to perform
> Brandon Crawford should be given the chance to become the everyday shortstop. Nothing replaces the defensive range and ability he brings to back up the starting and bullpen pitching. Enough of the 35+ year old free agent veterans at short who can’t hit or field. Brian I’m begging you, please.
> Mark DeRosa had an injury-filled two year tenure that only allowed glimpses of his offensive abilities. DeRosa brings a lot to the table and I would like to see a one year contract with an option year for 2013.
> Rookie Brett Pill was written off as too old (27) to catch on in the Majors, but he hit .300 in 15 games with 7 XBH, 9 RBI and a .881 OPS. Let’s see how far the old rookie can take this.
So what do we have if this all works out the way it should?
2012 SF Giants line-up
1. Coco Crisp CF
2. Freddy Sanchez 2B
3. Carlos Beltran RF
4. Pablo Sandoval 3B
5. Buster Posey C
6. Brandon Belt 1B
7. Aubrey Huff LF
8. Brandon Crawford SS
Next: Starting and bullpen pitching