The 2011 San Francisco Giants Lineup
The San Francisco Giants just won the World Series. They wear gorgeous uniforms, and they play in a world-class city performing in front of a rabid fanbase who jam one of the best ballparks in the world to watch their team. Whatever the lackluster television ratings might say, I think it was a great post-season for Major League Baseball. The Giants won and and the Dallas baseball market had a chance to experience World Series baseball as well. That's two big markets that the game can count on for years to come.
I offer that preface because I don't want to come off as though I am not allowing the Giants their moment. Really, I couldn't be happier for them. I've been digging into their roster over at B-Ref and Fangraphs and I think it's a fascinating mix of players. But what I am also finding is that there's a lot of work to do in order to put together anything resembling a championship-caliber lineup together for 2011, even when you factor their remarkable pitching. Jeff Fletcher addressed the topic at Fanhouse yesterday, and ends his column this way:
So you can expect next year's Giants to look a lot like this year's, with good young pitching and a patchwork lineup.
Worked this year.
"If these (pitchers) stay healthy, they have a chance to do a lot of good things," Huff said. "Get some guys that pop the ball out, and that's all you need. Two or three runs is all you need."
Let's start with this year's lineup. Four - FOUR - players had a wOBA of over .330 who had 100 or more plate appearances.
Player PA wOBA
A. Huff 668 .388
P. Burrell 341 .371
B. Posey 443 .368
A. Torres 570 .363
Cody Ross came over from the Marlins and posted a .352 wOBA in 82 plate appearances, too. But that's it. For frame of reference, the lowly Houston Astros had five guys better the .330 mark. The Cincinnati Reds had ten. You get the picture.
For much of the season, the Giants were hanging on by a thread. On August 30th, they trailed the San Diego Padres by 5 games and were on the outside looking in for the Wild Card race, too. They finished the year on a tear, going 18-8 over the last month and clinching a post-season berth on the season's final day. Here is where the offense came from over that stretch:
Player PA OPS
C. Ross 65 .886
P. Burrell 94 .870
F. Sanchez 98 .840
A. Huff 121 .834
B. Posey 115 .818
J. Uribe 100 .800
"Smoke and mirrors" does a disservice to a team whose pitching dominates the way San Francisco's can and whose General Manager papered over his own roster blunders with mid-season fixes. Ross and Burrell paced the Giants playoff push, and then Ross was terrific into the post-season, too. It's important to ask what's sustainable and what's not. So, what about next year?
Huff is a free agent, but Fletcher seems to think he'll be back.
Look for them to re-sign Huff to at least a two-year deal, worth around $8 to $10 million a year.
That's fine, but it's not hard to see how such a move could go wrong. He's one season removed from .241/.310/.384 and turns 34 in December. I'd liken re-upping Huff now to the Red Sox re-signing Mike Lowell after his standout 2007, which Lowell capped by winning the World Series MVP. Great clubhouse guy, veteran, winning reputation, aging, solid performance track record. Plenty of people might feel good about a Huff extension because of all the goodwill generated in 2010, but that doesn't mean it will work out.
As for Burrell, he's gone. Uribe is unrestricted, too, and if I were Brian Sabean, he'd be getting a much longer look than Huff. Uribe's fielding versatility and sneaky pop make make him the type of player good teams should always try and carry, even if there won't be 650 plate appearances for him. Like Huff, Uribe will have his suitors but if you're going to overpay, do so for the younger middle infielder. The market is awful for middle infield types, anyway, and the Giants will have a gaping hole at shortstop since they're unlikely to pick up World Series MVP Edgar Renteria's option.
So let's say Uribe is back. Here is what we have:
C - Posey
1B - Open
2B - Sanchez
3B - Sandoval
SS - Uribe
OF - Ross
OF - Torres
OF - Rowand
That's still a lineup screaming for an impact bat. After all, even with Huff's career year, the Giants still were a below average offense. Posey could improve, I would expect some bounce-back from Sandoval and a full season of Ross's bat should help, but other than that, it's hard to see where the Giants might get increased production over and above 2010 without Huff's monster year mixed in.
There are a few necessary moves here. First, that's not a viable outfield at all. Thankfully, Ruben Amaro is reported rumored to be feeling sentimental for Rowand so the Giants could move him. It won't solve any money issues since the Giants would have to pick up a lot of his tab, but it frees up roster space and an outfield slot. I think the Giants would be nuts not to hop in the mix for one of Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. Sure you'd have to pay up, but if you're not going to invest now, then when? The rotation is cost-controlled and as deep as can be. Both players field excellently, an added bonus in spacious AT&T Park. Finally, the team should be flush coming off the World Series win. A payroll bump has to be in the cards. It seems like too good a fit not to consider. Werth or Crawford paired with Posey could form an excellent offensive core for years to come, supporting a truly outstanding group of pitchers.
At first base, another position they'll need to address if Huff walks, I might opt for another buy-low guy like the Giants netted with Huff in 2010. Carlos Pena looks as good as any other there, but Derrek Lee could be an attractive short-term option, too.
I don't think that Brian Sabean should feel satisfied with his "patchwork" offense. It worked but he got lucky, like all World Series winning teams do, and should recognize as much by taking a big swing for 2011. He oversees one of the great franchises in the game, one that should be a choice destination for stars like Werth and Crawford given the atmosphere we've all just witnessed.
Strike while the iron's hot, Sabes.