Here’s the deal: I wanted to watch the game last night but I just couldn’t get into it. I watched the last half of the 6th but that was it. Most unexciting final game of the World Series, ever? I think the format was messing me up. It’s just not as exciting to watch a baseball game that’s starting in the 6th inning than it is to watch a full game from beginning to end. Anyone else feel this way?
So, where do the Giants go from here? We’ll probably have to endure a couple of months of middling rumors and Casey Blake scares — I’m looking at you oldjacket — before the dust settles.
We’ll have to wait and see what Brian Sabean and the Giants do this offseason. But, here’s a Hot Stove League shopping list of items the Giants should be looking for:
1. Defensive Upgrades – The Giants’ defense in 2008 wasn’t very good. Remember ‘Speed and Defense’? Well, the Giants didn’t come through on defense. The outfield was average to slightly above average but the infield was one of the worst in the National League. Infield offenders include: Jose Castillo, Ray Durham, and John Bowker. Thankfully, two of the three just listed are no longer on the Giants. The Giants should strongly consider the impact of defense when they fill 3B, 2B, and 1B.
The Giants outfield was average to above average. Outstanding work in RF by Randy Winn and solid work in LF by Fred Lewis helped to mask Aaron Rowand’s defensive problems. Rowand was about -7 runs under your average CF in the National League in ’08. His days as top flight defensive CF are probably over. What the Giants will need from Rowand is for him to hold his ground and defend around average in CF, if he can’t do that, his value starts dipping.
2. Bullpen Help – Fixing the bullpen should be another priority for the Giants this offseason. The bad news is that Sabean will most likely spend cash on the free agent market to bring in a reliever. I hate, hate, hate, spending FA dollars on relief help. There are some high priced targets on the market this year — Fuentes, K-Rod, etc. — that are going to get overpayed for their services based on the save stat and a reliever mentality.
Why do I hate spending money on relievers? Because if you look at the leader board of top relievers in any year, you’ll find a good portion of them were picked up for free or next to nothing the previous year. Relievers fluctuate a lot. It’s much easier to, with little cost, find a guy who can throw you 50 innings of average relief than it is to find 150 innings of average starting. Before this season had anyone heard of: Grant Balfour, Matt Thornton, or Chris Sampson? I doubt it, but they were some of the best relievers in baseball this year. Better yet, would you want to sign them to multi-year deals for large sums of money? Probably not. The point is this: you don’t have to always have the Riveras, Papelbons, or Wagners to have a solid bullpen. Some of this is luck — the right guys breaking the right way — but I would argue that an even larger part of it is smart team construction.
A perfect example of cheap bullpen talent is Keiichi Yabu’s 2008 season for the Giants. He was acquired for nothing and gave the Giants 68 innings of 3.57 ERA baseball. Will he likely repeat his ’08 season? Probably not, but the Giants get kudos for giving him a chance and he rewarded them nicely. This is what I mean when I say it’s easier to find 50+ innings of solid relief than it is to find starting pitching.
I much, much prefer to bring in some low cost arms with upside — say, pitchers with high K%’s but have battled command issues — and sort them out in Spring Training. But, at this point in time, the Giants seem determined to head into the FA market and spend money on the bullpen. In addition to money, they’ll most likely have to kick a draft pick for whichever reliever they sign.
The good news is that the Giants cleared out Tyler Walker, Kevin Correia, and Brad Hennessey from the bullpen. I’m hoping they do the same with Taschner but we’ll have to wait and see. The good news continues in that the team might have found a late inning reliever in Sergio Romo who pitched fantastically for the Giants in ’08. Mix in guys like Alex Hinshaw, Billy Salder, and Brian Wilson and you’ve got the beginnings of a better bullpen.
3. Avoid Large Deals – I know this is a list of things the Giants should do, but this is one thing they shouldn’t do. Don’t panic and overpay on the market for mediocre production. Look, we know our offense needs work. That’s a reality. But don’t freak out and sign Casey Blake to a 3-year deal. Just don’t do that.
4. Find Free Talent – Look for cheap, low-cost, talent with upside. We’ve talked about Josh Phelps and he’s a good example. Nelson Cruz was a great find (clarification: he was DFA’d, no one wanted him and he returned to the Rangers) for the Rangers last year. Most likely the Giants will continue to transition next year and that means losing some games along the way. This is a bad thing for the short-term, but it affords the Giants some flexibility if they can take advantage of it. With another transition year on the horizon, the Giants can bring in players like Phelps or Cruz and give them playing time. Much more playing time than contending or fringe-contending teams would be able to give. If you’ve done your homework, and catch a few breaks, you might find some long-term solutions in the process.
These are the four biggies that stick out to me right now. This post is a little broad but for now, I think it’s a decent guideline for the Giants. I’m working on a more detailed offseason plan of action, so keep an eye out for that.
Basically, it all comes down to making smart, prudent decisions that won’t sandbag you for future years. It’s about not over-reacting and looking to the future, the honest-to-goodness future. My two-part comment starter for you is this:
Comment Starter: 1) How much will Sabes be able to plan for the future when he could be on his way out? Do you foresee any foolish ‘One last shot’ plays for NL West? and 2) What did my list miss? What’s your shopping list look like?