Footprints in the Snow is FanHouse's look at the paths to be forged by MLB teams this winter as they look ahead to 2009.
The Giants were not a disappointment in 2008 as far as I'm concerned, because they only lost 90 games and did not finish in last place. Going into the season, in looking at the rosters, Giants fans had to expect 100 losses and a definite last place finish. Moving forward, there is hope for a quick franchise turnaround.
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and even the injury-prone Noah Lowry have the makings of a quality young starting rotation. They could be above average with offensive support and an improved defense. Bengie Molina and Aaron Rowand can be helpful players on a good team, but they cannot be the centerpieces of the offense, as they were this past season. Randy Winn and Fred Lewis are viable starters for '09, but they need to be slotted at the end of the batting order.
The key to the approach for 2009 is to try and compete without foregoing the future. The rotation, closer Brian Wilson, and potential stars like Madison Bumgarner, Conor Gillespie, and Buster Posey are too valuable to deal in a trade just to land one player.
Who may leave:
Omar Vizquel, free agent
Rich Aurilia, free agent
Jonathan Sanchez, rumored in trade talk
What do they need?
Well, pretty much everything. The Giants were ninth in the NL in ERA and fielding percentage, so the pitching and defense are relatively average. The pressing need is offense, specifically power. Only the Padres scored fewer runs in '08, only the Nats had a lower OPS, and no one came even close to the pathetic 94 home runs hit by the Giants. The second lowest total in the entire major leagues was 111 by the Twins.
One thing they don't need is to clean house in order to compete in 2009 with an older, patchwork offense. The past few years the Giants front office has spent their resources shoring up the minor league system, and to start trading young starting pitching in order to make big splash (the Matt Cain for Prince Fielder yearning many Giants fans have) would be incredibly short-sighted. The Giants need to build around the young starting pitching and allow their farm system to develop. Signing two to three free agent infielders with power would make the team as competitive as it needs to be in 2009.
What should they do?
First of all, I'd go right at free agent bopper Adam Dunn and teach him to play first base. He's quite overshadowed in this free agent market, so making an early run at him should save money. Dunn gives the Giants the bonafide cleanup hitter they so desperately need (at least 40 home runs for five straight years, career OBP of .381). He'll be shaky at first base early on, but it's the easiest position on the field. The key is getting some infielders who can make accurate throws to him early in the season.
So I'd spend the amount of money needed to sign Rafael Furcal and Joe Crede. In those two, they get quality offensive players who can make accurate throws to the new first basemen. With the returning parts -- I'd go with Kevin Frandsen at 2B -- you can put together a nice lineup both offensively and defensively. If the starting pitching continued to progress, the Giants would be looking at a near .500 season. Furcal, Crede, and Dunn are all old enough that they could make way for the youth movement in a few years if the prospects are ready. They are also young enough to finish out their contracts should the prospects hit a wall.
Yes, those are three huge contracts to be added, but with Vizquel and Aurilia taking almost $10 million off the books and the possibility of re-generating public excitement in the franchise, I believe ownership would allow the increase in payroll.
What will they do?
Unfortunately, I think they are going to deal Jonathan Sanchez. This is a typical Brian Sabean, face-saving-type move. He didn't give up his top two young guns, but he had to give up the third one in order to shore up the offense, right? That's what he'll tell you. Hopefully they land a productive power bat in return.
I believe the Giants will sign Furcal, yet won't even sniff Crede. The Dunn move I suggested above is far too creative for the Giants, so they wouldn't even bat an eye. There are rumors circling about possible attention being paid by Giants brass to Pat Burrell, and that the Giants are shopping Rowand. I do not buy either one of those moves happening.
Also, expect the Giants to sign a veteran or two for the bullpen. We're talking the Bob Howry, Scott Eyre, David Weathers group. Wilson will definitely keep the closing duties.
So, yeah, to sum it up ... the 2008 Giants will likely look similar, but adding Furcal to the mix and a power-hitting corner outfielder after trading Sanchez will give them a bit of a different flavor. The main thing is that the kids just keep getting older and more experienced, something Giants fans know plenty about.
Hat-Tip: MLBTradeRumors for the rumor talk
Footprints in the Snow: San Francisco Giants originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Mon, 10 Nov 2008 14:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.