Now that Angel Pagan has agreed to a four-year, $40M deal to remain a Giant, the Giants will turn their attention to getting the Marco Scutaro deal done and finding a right-handed compliment bat to platoon in LF with Gregor Blanco. Blanco, who will turn 29 this December, had a very productive year for the Giants, appearing in 141 games, playing great defense at all three OF positions, excelling on the base paths, and hitting just enough – 91 wRC+ — to be valuable. All things considered, Blanco was worth 2.4 wins by FanGraphs’ WAR. In recent years, the Giants have excelled at plucking up minor league free agents and turning them into valuable contributors. Blanco is certainly one of these players.
The good news for the Giants is that Blanco does things — namely defense and baserunning — that he’s likely to do well in 2013. When compared to LF standards, Blanco is way above average on defense. This is, as you know, because most teams prefer to hide their worst outfielders and potted plants in LF. Blanco, by comparison, is way, way above average. Blanco’s biggest drawback is his bat — or lack thereof. There’s good reason to think that Blanco’s fast start last year — leading up to June 1st he posted a .823 OPS and afterwards just a .614 OPS — was more a product of good fortune in a small sample than real, actual development as a hitter. As a hitter, Blanco has always been able to get on base (.349 OBP), but his power has almost always been non-existent (.331 SLG). Blanco’s power isn’t Burrissian, but it’s far below average. Think if Burriss was allowed to use a metal bat. That’s probably Blanco’s power potential.
The Giants will look to find a veteran bat to platoon with Blanco in LF. Nick Swisher makes a lot of sense for this team but when you factor in a) what he’ll cost, and b) the Giants will lose their first-rounder if they sign him, it’s a deal that isn’t going to happen. (Though, it’s quite possible that if the team loses out on Scutaro, they’ll divert their funds towards a player like Swisher.) Look for the Giants to go after a low-cost veteran of some sort. The goal should be to help protect Blanco against LHP and to give the team a little insurance in case he Torresplodes.
Give the Giants’ price range and budget, they’ll most likely be looking at the following outfielders:
Scott Hairston - The Good Stuff is that Hairston has always been tough on LHP, batting a career .276/.325/.500 against them. In that regard, he’s a good platoon-mate for a player like Blanco. He’s also coming off a pretty nice year for the Mets — 118 wRC+. Hairston’s downside is largely health-related, as he’s often hurt, and the fact that he’ll probably command a two-year deal in the range of what Jonny Gomes just received from the Red Sox (two-years, $10M). Defensively, Hairston looks like he’s an average defender — maybe a tick below — in LF. True fact: Hairston has hit 95 career home runs, 93 of them have been against the Giants. Scott Hairston is the equivalent of Randy Winn to Diamondback fans; or Cody Ross to Phillies fans. But, if you can get past the initial revulsion, he does have a fit on the Giants. You just have to ignore his toad face and look at the bigger picture.
Ben Francisco - Francisco is often thought of as a lefty masher, but his career splits actually slightly favor him against RHP (.755 to .743 OPS). He’ll be 31 years old in 2013 and he’s coming off a pretty lousy year; he split 2012 between the Blue Jays, Astros, and Rays. At best, he’s a league average bat with some defensive problems in the field. Since 2009, he’s posted the following Defensive Runs Saved scores in the OF: -5, -1, -9, and -8 runs below average. Those are all in part-time play. If you roughly pro-rate those to a full season in the field, you’re closer to -10 to -15 runs on defense. I’m not sure if Francisco is that bad at defense, but if you’re going to platoon with a defense first player, you really need to hit the cover off the ball, which Francisco really has never done. He’ll come very cheaply, though. Most likely a small non-guaranteed deal.
Andruw Jones - I haven’t heard much on Andruw Jones at this point, but he fits the mold for what the Giants might be looking for. Jones’ days as a top defensive CF are way long gone — he hasn’t played a single inning in CF since a brief run in 2010 for the White Sox — but more recently he’s been a corner OF and DH for the Yankees. Jones’ age (36 in 2013) and his down year this past season (.197/.294/.408) should drive down his price to around the one year level. He earned just $2M in 2012. His power scores are undoubtedly a little inflated over the past three years from playing in hitters parks, but if you want power out of your platoon position, Jones offers just that. Since 2009, he’s posted the following ISO scores: .221, .239, .296, and .212.
It’s possible that the team could also look at Ryan Ludwick, but he comes with his own set of problems: 2-3 year commitment, age, inconsistent track record. I think he’s a pretty risky bet, actually. It’s clear that the Giants really need to address LF before the season starts. Blanco is one of those players that’s underrated in a sense, but I think you have to go into a season with a better starting option. I love Blanco as the super 4th OF that can swap between all three positions, but as a full-time starter I think he’s going to be stretched. Protecting Blanco against LHP seems like the smart move. And, additionally, if the team decided to bring in the plodding type, Blanco would be a pretty nice late inning defensive replacement.
So, yeah. Scott Hairston. It could happen. It might make you hurl, but it could happen. It would even make a little sense, too.