Everyone in baseball seems to agree that the San Francisco Giants dodged a big bullet when the agents representing suspended hitting star Melky Cabrera turned down the Giant's overtures for a mid-season contract extension last July. CBSSports.com reported the Giants were poking around the 3 year $27 million range.
With the mega-offensive season Cabrera was putting up, I didn't imagine Cabrera's handlers would give a hometown discount to the Giants. It would have been irrestible to take Cabrera into free agency, where he would likely get something more along the lines of four years at $48 million.
At this point, the chances the Giants might activate Cabrera after his 50 game suspension are about equal to Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin getting invited to a Mensa meeting. But what if…
What if the Giants had signed Melky Cabrera to an extended contract in July? They would have been essentially "forced" to activate and play him the day after his suspension ended. Which would mean the Giants not only made the 2012 playoffs, but they would be moving up to the League Championship Series with Cabrera's bat back in the line-up.
Sure, the critics would still have slammed Cabrera and the Giants, but once he had done his time there would be little question about the legitimacy of San Francisco reactivating a player they just inked to a three year contract. You can make a strong argument that the Giants would actually be a lot better off if they had signed Cabrera before the PED use news broke.
What bad luck– they would be "stuck" with a player who was batting .346.
Of course it's all academic: first, Cabrera was headed to free agency. Second, who knows how much the testosterone he was applying to his skin helped him get to that .346 batting average. Most importantly for the Giants' brand, the front office might rather pass on having Cabrera's bat back if it also meant they would avoid three years of relentless negative PR.
What About Left Field?
The Giants are reportedly aggressively looking for help in left field before the waiver trade deadline hits at the end of August. Gregor Blanco (.234 BA/.329 OBP/.668 OPS) and Justin Christian (.133/.188/.343) will not be nearly enough to fill the empty milk bottle left on the porch by Melky Cabrera.
The August trade deadline is all about getting a player who will be eligible for the post season, but it's also one last opportunity for teams looking to dump salary to do so before the season ends. So an impact bat or two should be available at a reasonable price.
The Giants do not want to give up any of their top-tiered minor league prospects (think OF Francisco Peguero, CF Gary Brown, RP Heath Hembree, 2B Joe Panik, and 3B Chris Dominguez), but they have the ability to expand payroll to accommodate a sizable salary dump. You can start with the $1.6m the team is saving as part of Cabrera's suspension.
Possible names would include the Mets' LF Scott Hairston (.274 AVG/.522 SLG) who will be a free agent in October and is pulling down a paltry $1.1m in salary. Another October free agent is former-Giant outfielder Cody Ross (60 RBI, 18HR, .854 OPS) of the Red Sox, who has an accommodating $3m salary and an uncertain future with the Sox.
In-house solutions are available but they could be disruptive to the team's structure, which seems to have finally stabilized despite the loss of Cabrera. One such solution would be moving Brandon Belt from first base to left field, putting Pablo Sandoval at first and moving Marco Scutaro to third. Messing with Belt should be a non-starter– he is a defensive whiz at first base and his offensive numbers are climbing just when the team needs them most.
Promoting Francisco Peguero (103 games, .274 BA, 68 RBI) from Triple A Fresno could bring some electricity to the line-up and excitement among the fans, but GM Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy rarely look beyond veteran talent in times of need. And who can blame them since the Giants are in for the fight of their lives down the September stretch. Hopefully Peguero will be a September 1st call-up so the team can see what he brings to the show.
Whatever the front office is going to do they need to get it done in the next ten days. Will one more bat make a difference? You can bet your milk money on it.