Winter is coming and while no fire-upchucking dragons have been sighted in the sky, the mythical MLB hot stove is glowing red hot.
Deals are being made and trades are going down.
Since the end of the World Series, Seattle Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto has made six trades, netting ten new players; he also picked up four players off the waiver wire and signed two minor free agents.
And Dipoto isn’t done yet.
The Mariners won 86 games and missed the AL playoffs by three wins. Jerry Dipoto is proactively doing something about that.
The Mets have done what they desperately needed to do by signing free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four year $110 million contract. With their starting pitching depth and Cespedes in the fold the Mets are ready to roll in 2017.
The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Washington Nationals each have outstanding prospects and immediate needs– a combination that usually ignites blockbuster trades and eye-catching free agent signings.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants are apparently busily preparing the menu for Fanfest 2017, and deciding what the team’s new media slogan will be.
I understand they’ve whittled next year’s slogan down to three choices: “Together We’re Very Strong Giants”, “The Giants and Us: Really Tall Together”, and “Everyone Run Away, the Giants Are Coming”. The final announcement will be an awesome offseason highlight for the franchise.
This is also the time of year when we see endless variations on the following tired MLB article: “Five Things The Tigers Need to Do For 2017”, and so on. It’s the famous “list” cliche piece that allows writers to pull out whatever they can reach from their rear ends and pretend to be baseball smart.
Those who look down on that kind of lazy, pandering baseball writing have much more important things to discuss. Luckily I’m not one of those people. So…
“Six Things the San Francisco Giants Need to Do Before Opening Day 2017”
It’s kind of scary to start this list because the San Francisco Giants front office usually only does one thing each off-season, and then spends the rest of the time talking about their limited budget.
There’s only so much you can do when you’re the 4th richest MLB franchise ($2.25 billion) with the 3rd highest revenue in 2016 ($409 million). I also heard that principal Giants owner Charles Johnson ($5 billion) just purchased North Carolina so he’s also kind of busy.
Anyway here’s what San Francisco needs to do if they really want to contend next season (and I hate to start out with a negative, but… ).
1. Clean up that mess in the bullpen.
But do not sign or trade for a free agent “closer” who will only work in the 9th inning if the Giants are ahead. Dump that role-play model from 1995 and re-tool the bullpen with pitchers who can enter games at high leverage moments when the game is actually on the line.
Despite 32 blown saves this year, there are some promising pen pieces to build around: RHP Derek Law (61 games, 0.96 WHIP), LHP Steven Okert (3.21 ERA 14 SO, 4BB, 14IP), veteran LHP Will Smith (26G, .197 opponents BA), and RHP George Kontos (57G, 1.16 WHIP).
2. Finally fix the left field problem.
Angel Pagan will always be one of my favorite players from this era of Giants history. But now the Giants have to move on and make left field a run-producing position in the everyday line-up.
It looks like San Francisco is going with a “let’s see what happens” plan with Mac Williamson and/or Jarrett Parker in left field. Once again, because Brian Sabean insists on keeping young players too long in the minors, it’s startling to realize that Williamson will be 27 years old in 2017 and Parker will be 28.
Having said that, Williamson just may have the power and plate discipline combo that gets him the job.
3. Third base? Really?
General Manager Bobby Evans recently reassured the media that Eduardo Nunez will the the Giants starting third baseman in 2017. Nunez has a lifetime .716 OPS, little power, and to put it kindly has a heavy glove in the infield.
The only Giants prospect any other MLB team wants from San Francisco’s terrible minor league system is infielder Christian Arroyo (who will be 22 next year). Arroyo hit a bit of a wall in Double A Richmond in 2016 but put up a plus .800 OPS in each of 2014 and 2015.
I realize the Giants want to “season” Arroyo for another two years or more, but this is when you sit Nunez on the bench and give the rookie a chance (i.e., more than a look in Spring Training).
4. Make an attempt to create a bench that contributes to wins.
San Francisco’s normal approach to their bench make-up is to get a couple of decent infielders and a couple of decent outfielders who will not embarrass themselves in the field. This defense-centric model rarely produces late inning runs, or quality game replacements for tired or injured starters.
Eduardo Nunez and 3B Conor Gillaspie are exactly the kind of bench players who have the tools to contribute to wins during the season. Their defense may not be A+ but their bats can generate runs in the final two or three innings, when they are often needed the most.
5. Have the moxie to cut high salaried players who no longer contribute.
The Giants did this in mid-season in 2011 when they cut OF Aaron Rowand and IF Miguel Tejada and ate $15.3 million in salary. Spots on the 25 man roster are too valuable to waste because of money or player branding.
There are at least two players whom San Francisco should not allow to drag this team down just because they are owed ridiculous amounts of money:
> RHP Matt Cain $21 million in 2017 (and a $7.5m buyout in 2018) = $28.5 million. Cain hasn’t produced since 2012, so you want another year of that? Either trade him and eat a large hunk of salary or cut him.
> OF Denard Span will make $9 million in 2017, $9m in 2018, and has a $4 million buyout in 2019 = $22 million. It’s hard to imagine watching Span’s .712 OPS and weak center field defense for another two years.
6. Begin the process of making the farm system valuable.
This is not only about bringing up MLB-ready players to AT&T Park, it’s about about having the assets to make trades with other organizations. Spend the money, amp up the international scouting, make trades that rebuild the minor league system.
Baseball America has the following organizational ratings for the Giants (out of 30 MLB teams): 2011: 23rd; 2012: 21st; 2013: 28th; 2014: 19th; 2015: 26th. And they likely will be lower than 26th for 2016.
When it comes to making trades, none of the other teams have any reason to call the Giants (or answer their calls) because San Francisco has nothing to offer (except Arroyo). Let’s change that.
The best way to show any professional sports fanbase that ownership, management, and the front office are truly dedicated to winning is to create not just a championship team, but a championship organization. And to make the hard decisions it takes to get there.