not-Whiteside and Stewart
Ideally, before the July 31 trade deadline, the Giants would acquire Player X that ‘Doesn’t Suck’. It seems simple, sure, but the truth is that the Giants need to infuse some life into their lineup. It’s difficult to find a lineup in the major leagues that couldn’t stand to be upgraded at more positions than that of the Giants.
Catcher? Yes. First? Yes. Second? Yes. Shortstop? Yes. Left field? Maybe. Center field? Hard to say. Right field? Looking good for now. Third? … thank god for Pablo Sandoval.
While those positions that the Giants need to upgrade at most are the hardest to fill (up-the-middle positions), given the number of position they can address, at least they have options. That, I suppose, is the one positive you can take from their terrible offense: there’s plenty to improve and potentially a number of ways to go about realizing that improvement.
So here goes…
Let’s start with a chart. We (Otis) used both the weighted on-base average (wOBA) over the past three years for a selection of players as well as their rest of season (ROS) ZiPS wOBA to get a feel for what can be expected from each hitter going forward, offense-wise. We then used the ‘(wOBA minus replaced player’s wOBA) divided by 1.15′ formula to translate the projections into runs over 250 plate appearances.
Getting a player like J.J. Hardy would be the biggest no brainer, provided that the Orioles don’t put the Giants over a barrel for him. Hardy is a much better hitter than either Miguel Tejada or Brandon Crawford, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a difference between his and Crawford’s glove – he’s always been rated favorably in that department. He’s easily a 10 run improvement, as close to as certain as things can get.
The real question, though, is whether the Orioles would part with him and what they’d want in return. Our hunch? They’d want Crawford heading to Baltimore, and almost certainly something more. The Orioles are rumored as liking Hardy very much, in fact so much so that they’re attempting to extend him. If talks fall through, it’s likely he’d become available, but that doesn’t mean they’d be willing to let him go cheaply at that point. Given the current state of shortstops in the game today, I’d think quite the contrary.
Update: This portion was written before the Hardy boat had sailed. Baltimore succeeded in locking up J.J.
Still, he or someone like him ought to be the apple of the Giants’ eye. Jose Reyes also falls into this category, but we’re inclined to cross him off my shopping list outright. Reyes has Scott Boras as an agent, will become a free agent at the end of the season, will require a large contract to sign this offseason (and is very unlikely to sign prior to hitting the open market, given the ‘Best Player in Baseball’ stamp that’s been bandied about his name lately), is currently injured, has an injury history, and would likely wrestle a mountain of blue-chip prospects from the acquiring franchise.
To put it bluntly, and though as attractive as an ice cold brew on a warm summer day, he carries with him far too many uncertainties at too high of a cost, both in cost to sign him later and in prospect booty. Hardy seems the much safer bet, and as always with investments, a reduction in risk yields a reduction in reward.
If Reyes is platinum (with laid in diamonds) and Hardy is gold, there’s another opportunity further beneath these two. Let’s call Jamey Carroll the bronze medal. He’d probably be something around a five run upgrade and could play both shortstop and second base, which would be a useful thing to have around to sit Mike Fontenot versus lefties.
Another area of opportunity is undoubtedly the catching position. The Giants are probably looking for a short-term option here because they expect Buster Posey to reclaim his rightful throne next season. In the meantime, Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside aren’t cutting it. Stewart carries a wet noodle for a bat and Whiteside just isn’t an everyday catcher defensively, nor does he hit especially well. Lately he’s hit some, to all of our surprise, but it seems overly optimistic to believe he’s the right guy to take this team deep into October.
Viable options vary from Ronny Paulino to Yorvit Torrealba to Ramon Hernandez to David Ross. Ross seems like the best player available with three outstanding seasons in a row with Atlanta in limited playing time (he backs up the marvelous Brian McCann), but he likely wouldn’t come cheaply if at all.
A more likely scenario is probably some variant of a league-average catcher, which would probably net something close to five runs. On defense, it’s hard to know what to expect from a catcher acquired in a trade. That’s partially because we still don’t have a great feel for what catcher defense is worth, and partially because we just aren’t sure whether Eli Whiteside is going to stop sucking at it at some point.
…we just aren’t sure whether Eli Whiteside is going to stop sucking at [catching] at some point. — Otis
How about a corner outfielder? Better yet, how about Carlos Beltran? Well, that’s a trickier matter for two reasons. The first is that, with Nate Schierholtz and (presumably) a healthy Cody Ross, the Giants already have it more or less covered. The second is that Beltran might be expensive and comes with some question marks.
He’s a legitimately excellent player. And even if the Giants eat roughly half his salary for 2011 (which would ring in at around $9 million buckaroos), he might cost you a quality prospect in a deal, too. Because neither Schierholtz or Ross is going to carry a team offensively – and the question also remains whether or not they should be platooned, perhaps with one another – he’d still be a huge improvement offensively. While he doesn’t have the legs to play center any longer (at least not exclusively), we have to assume he wouldn’t be too much of a letdown in the outfield, either.
But how many at-bats he gets and from whom they are displaced is the real question. If Beltran takes all or most of Aaron Rowand’s at-bats, well you’re probably looking at a 10 run improvement (roughly a win). But if he’s replacing another, it’s much tougher to judge. If, for example, you use the last three years as the talent level for Ross, Schierholtz, Rowand and Burrell, he’s a 10 run improvement from every player except Andres Torres. If you use the rest of the season (ROS) ZiPS (which is more bearish on Torres and Beltran), he’s between a five and 10 run improvement over everyone but Rowand.
Remarkably, Rowand has actually been worse at the plate in 2011 than in 2010. That’s probably not something we considered coming into the season, that he’d go from really bad to really, really bad, but it is where we stand today. And it also incorporates his hot start that was so BABiP-fueled.
I think it’s safe to say that a player like Hunter Pence might have a similar impact on the offense, or perhaps just slightly less so of one. He does currently sport an average on balls in play (BABiP) of .385 and just a .328 mark over his career, which gives me pause.
With him, though, comes both a negative and a positive. The positive is that he would not be a rental and would be under control for longer. He’d continue to get expensive, but control of the player is key. That said, with that extra control comes a higher cost in talent; the Giants would have to give up someone quite good from their minor league system, to be sure. Adding the expected cost is the fact that Houston appears motivated to keep Pence in Texas.
Another interesting player that has come up in media banter is B.J. Upton. If you plug his previous three-seaseon wOBA (.330) and ROS ZiPS wOBA (.342), you get a player that’s worth about eight more runs than Aaron Rowand, but that doesn’t include his defense or his ability to steal bases. In him, the Giants would be acquiring a player that can play great center field defense in a park (and for a staff) that requires it. He’d also be a stolen base threat ( as a 40 per year type player) for a lineup that doesn’t have many of them. And he should theoretically improve some because of the simple fact that he’d be moving from not only the tougher American League, but also from the toughest division in baseball to one of the weaker divisions in the less-challenging Senior Circuit, the NL West.
Throw in some other stuff that might not be real — he could thrive while playing for a team that plays home games in front of a full-full crowd instead of a half-full crowd, and he could even get some brotherly rivalry going with Justin Upton. And some stuff that is real — he has legitimate upside — and you might have yourself a player worth grabbing.
He has plenty of pop (15 home runs this season), and for that reason and those above he happens to be a player that we might covet more than any other. One of us here at Bay City Ball would certainly be willing to part with Zack Wheeler for him. But he’s far from a consensus choice on the blog staff; one of us sees him as Cody Ross with more speed and a better glove, and certainly not a player that puts the Giants over the top.
Last but far from least, first base has become a nightmare for the Giants. Aubrey Huff received his reparation contract from Sabean this winter and promptly became a pumpkin. His offensive skills have withered with haste. The Giants so far seem perfectly content to give him enough rope to hang himself with it, and the wrist injury to Brandon Belt gave them every reason to do so. But Belt has returned from rehab and is currently taking his cuts in Triple-A Fresno, so he’s just a phone call and a plane ride away. Here’s a brief look at our thoughts on the subject.
The only problem is that, from all hints given by Sabean and Bochy, he feels much, much further away than that. He “failed” to keep the job coming out of spring training in limited at-bats. Strangely enough, though, his season wOBA is actually better than that of Huff. Neither is good, granted. But one is young, unproven and perhaps striking out too often in Triple-A, while the other is a grizzled veteran that helped win them a World Series last season and who is under contract for the next one and a half seasons for around $17 million.
First base is a position we all agree the Giants should not look to upgrade, unless that means replacing Mr. 4-3 (Huff) with Belt’s patient bat. But regardless of what they do, they should first and foremost look for a way to improve the roster without mortgaging their future too terribly. Opportunities to play playoff baseball and win World Series’ don’t come along too often when you’re not the New York Yankees.