Let me write two things on the blackboard before class starts. That way we might avoid the inevitable grumbling, spitwad throwing, and angry mob forming so often associated with Giant fans whenever a San Francisco player is criticized.*
First, newly signed and former San Francisco Giants outfielder Andres Torres is known as a dedicated athlete, a wonderful teammate and is apparently just a really nice guy. Second, Gregor Blanco is an excellent defensive outfielder who made a number of outstanding plays during the 2012 season and playoffs. And I'll stipulate that he's also a nice guy.
Now, back to the reality of scoring runs, winning baseball games, and getting to the 2013 post season.
San Francisco just signed the soon-to-be 35 year-old Torres to a one year $2m deal to either, a) split left field with Blanco in 2013; or, b) be the 4th outfielder for this team. In doing so, the Giants front office just threw a large bucket of cold water on their offense. And it's old, previously used cold water.
For the record, the Giants cut Torres loose after the 2011 season, when he hit .221 with a .312 OBP in 112 games. He ended up with the Mets in 2012, quickly losing his starting job in center field and ending up with a .230 BA and a .327 OBP in 132 games.
Although he hit .286 from the right side of the plate, Torres will soon be on the wrong side of 35 and his weak arm and lack of power make him a poor candidate for the 4th outfield spot.
The troubling thing here is that for the first time in a decade the Giants have actually been assembling a legitimate offense, one that doesn't have to depend on the team's outstanding pitching to win ball games. The re-signing of free agents Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, and the impending arbitration settlement with Hunter Pence, are all signals that the 2012 World Championship team's potent offense was being kept intact.
The single missing piece in the everyday line-up is a run-producing left fielder who can patch the gap between the 1-5 hitters and the 7 & 8 spots in the batting order. And neither Gregor Blanco and/or Andres Torres is that guy. (And when Brandon Belt hit 6th last year, the 7th/8th/9th spots became an offensive black hole.)
I noted before that free agent Nick Swisher was the perfect prototype. Last season with the Yankees Swisher had 60 XBH, 93 RBI, a .364 OBP. a .837 OPS, and was a hustling fielder who made only 3 errors in 107 outfield starts.
Swisher's $10m+ pricetag was apparently too much for Giants GM Brian Sabean after re-signing Pagan, Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt for a combined $78m (with additional paydays pending for a number of arbitration-eligible players).
Despite San Francisco's emergence in the past three years as a big market, big payroll team, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest they might know best when it comes to spending their own money. (Fans and writer/bloggers often view their favorite team's payroll ceiling as being located just beyond the international space station.)
Having said that, the news that the Giants apparently offered Ichiro Suzuki a 2 year $15 million deal seems to indicate additional resources are available in the vault at 3rd and King Streets. Suzuki ended up re-signing with the Yankees for $13 million over two years but he would have added a fascinating piece to the Giants' 2013 puzzle.
The best alternative to signing an everyday starter in left field is not an Andres Torres/Gregor Blanco platoon. There was a great missed opportunity to bring up a promising young bat from the Giants' farm system: outfielder Francisco Peguero.
Peguero is a right-handed 24 year-old extra-base hitter who has speed and center field abilities. A Peguero/Blanco platoon in left would have allowed the team to give Peguero enough big league at-bats to justify bringing him up. The potential payoff could be discovering that run-producer missing from the 2012 line-up (with little impact on the payroll).
I know the argument against this: the San Francisco Giants are a serious organization that has won the World Series two of the last three years and will likely be perennial post-season participants for years to come. They would rather go with veteran experience in left rather than experiment with an untested young player like Peguero.
The counters to that are that, 1) reliance on veteran players in key roles is a costly model that has not worked out well for the Giants organization the past ten years; and, 2) Brian Sabean has been known to be overly cautious in bringing minor league position players up to the big team. The delay in promoting Buster Posey at the start of the 2010 season is an example of the organization not recognizing when a player is ready to move up.
Despite that, San Francisco has been on a roll producing valuable home-grown position players like Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. Let's hope Francisco Peguero's 2013 spring training makes it impossible for the Giants to send him back to Fresno.
*When John Bowker (lifetime .232 BA) was traded to Pittsburgh in 2010, and Nate Schierholtz (lifetime .727 OPS) was sent to Philadelphia in 2012, each time local sportstalk radio callers were frantic– you would have thought the world ended and the Giants front office foolishly traded away quality hitters.