This is one of a series of posts in which we excoriate each team for their offseason blunders and grudgingly praise them for their occasion crafty stratagems.
There are rumbles around baseball that the Giants might be able to contend this season.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick calls them “dark-horse candidates to make a run in the NL West.” Tim Lincecum is coming off a Cy Young award. The signings of shortstop Edgar Renteria and pitchers Randy Johnson, Jeremy Affeldt, and Bob Howry have been generally well regarded by the media. Fans are optimistic about young position players like Pablo Sandoval, Manny Burriss, Eugenio Velez, and Fred Lewis. And the Giants’ farm system, derided as barren in recent years, was just ranked 5th in all of baseball by Baseball America and 9th overall by Keith Law.
So are the Giants about return to relevance after four straight losing seasons? Well, don’t hold your breath.
After all, this is a team that was a woeful 72-90 last season, and by rights and run differential, should have been even worse, at 67-95. That is a long hill to climb. Despite the strong rotation and bullpen, the Giants were 29th in the majors in runs last year, and it is uncertain how exactly Edgar Renteria and his .699 OPS last season are going to improve this situation.
Meanwhile, their purchasing power is still hugely hampered by stadium debt and the ridiculously unwise mega-contracts handed out to Barry Zito and then Aaron Rowand. And just how soon will the Giants’ much-touted youth movement be able to offer any assistance? They have two superb positional prospects in catcher Buster Posey and first baseman Angel Villalona, but both seem at least two years away. Meanwhile, their lone bright spot from last season, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, is all batting average – a swing-at-everything contact hitter kind of like a Vlad Guerrero with no power. His .345 average in limited plate appearances was thanks to BABIP and sample size, and is not at all sustainable.
So basically the Giants are heading into the 2009 season with solid pitching, but barely league average or worse hitters at every position on the diamond except catcher Bengie Molina. And it is the traditional slugging positions where the Giants are worst of all – all three outfielders OPS’d in the .700s, and first base has been a black hole for years now. Molina led the entire team with a mere 16 home runs.
Which is why, with about a 20-win mountain to climb from last year to reach contention, the Giant’s offseason moves make no sense at all. Since the Giants have no chance to content for at least another two years, any free agent veterans they sign are nothing more than place-holders. So why give Renteria $19 million over two years, or Randy Johnson $8 million for this season?
The answer, of course, is that Brian Sabean is also convinced, like the fans and a sizable contingent of the media, that the Giants are in it this year. In fact, he guarantees Jerry Crasnick that they will be over .500 this year. But then again, that’s what he said last season too. Not to mention that guys like Renteria and Johnson are big-name players, and Sabean has the biggest case of big-name-itis in baseball (yes, even bigger than Ned Colletti, who learned from the master).
A lot of people are giving Brian Sabean credit this year for making short term, low-risk signings, I suppose because it contrasts so glaringly with his recent past behavior of long-term, high-risk signings. But the other side of the coin with short-term signings is that if you actually have no realistic chance of winning within that time frame, then you’ve just thrown more money down the drain, and you might as well have just let some guys give you the same result for the major league minimum. Heck, maybe you even might find your next shortstop of the future, rather than letting Edger Renteria play out the string for $9 million per.
Offseason Grade: D
Acquisitions: Edgar Renteria, Randy Johnson, Jeremy Affeldt, Bob Howry
Losses: Rich Aurelia, Omar Vizquel
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:
LF Fred Lewis
RF Randy Winn
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Bengie Molina
1B Travis Ishikawa
CF Aaron Rowand
SS Edgar Renteria
2B Manny Burriss/Kevin Frandsen/Eugenio Velez
SP1 Tim Lincecum
SP2 Matt Cain
SP3 Randy Johnson
SP4 Jonathan Sanchez
SP5 Barry Zito
CL Brian Wilson