Before we get started, I'll just mention that Shankbone has some interesting ideas in the most recent Fanpost on McCovey Chronicles. Check it out!
Although Brian Sabean specifically identified CF as the position of need where the Giants lack in-house options, they aren't exactly flush with corner outfielders either. With Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Mark DeRosa and Carlos Beltran free agents and Gamer released before the season was over, the Giants are left with just one established MLB corner outfielder on the roster, Nate Schierholtz. Sabes has proclaimed that Nate will be the starting RF next year, which is probably the Kiss of Death for poor Nate. Anyway, LF could be manned by either Huff or Belt, but Huff was terrible in the OF in 2011 and the Giants appear to be considering sending Belt to the minors to start the season. Let's scout the options:
RE-SIGN FREE AGENTS
Carlos Beltran- Beltran did exactly what the Giants wanted him to do when they traded Zack Wheeler for him at the trade deadline. It's just that the timing was all off. Beltran went into to a slump and then was injured right after he was acquired and right in the middle of the toughest part of the Giants schedule. Now, anyone who knows anything about baseball statistics knows anything can happen in a small sample size, but a lot of fans blame Beltran for the tailspin that knocked the Giants out of the NL West Division race. On top of that, Beltran's cool demeaner was taken, rightly or wrongly, as a lack of caring and hustle. Some fans also objected to him taking the starting RF job away from Nate even though Nate's injury made it a non-factor for the most part. Now that he's a free agent, Beltran possesses the best OF bat on the FA market. If the Giants can afford to sign him for no more than 3 years and still keep their starting pitching intact, by all means, they should sign him. An alignment of Beltran in LF with Nate in RF would seem to be preferable to the other way around, but when you're talking about a bat like Beltran's and an offense as pathetic as the Giants without him, I don't think it's worth quibbling over. Nate is a better RF, but it's not like Beltran is terrible.
Cody Ross- Ross is clearly hoping for a long term deal. I doubt he's going to find one on the open market. I hope the Giants have not burned their bridges with him. He can play CF and with the sorry state of the CF market, he might be a good value on no more than a 2 year deal. The Giants are clearly hoping next year's CF is a leadoff hitter, and Ross does not steal many bases. He does get on base at a decent rate and sees a lot of pitches. I'm not so sure a single leadoff hitter who steals bases really adds that much to an offense anyway.
Pat Burrell- Pat the Bat could come back on another low $$$ deal if he and the Giants are convinced his heel is OK. Otherwise he'll retire. Maybe $500K with incentives? I doubt he'll be brought back as the starter in LF though.
Mark DeRosa- In a similar situation as Burrell. The talk is that he'll sign a minor league deal with ATL or Houston to be closer to home. I could see a $500 K MLB deal with incentives working for the Giants though. He'd be coming back strictly as a backup/bat off the bench though, not the starting LF.
Josh Willingham 33 yo- Hard to believe that a guy who hit 29 HR's with an OPS of .810 in Oakland had a WAR of just 2.1, but Willingham is a terrible fielder, even for LF, which is a double negative. Willingham has been believed to be undervalued for so long that he'll likely be overvalued this offseason due to the dingers. I'm with Shankbone on this one. The Giants should stay away. He would cost a first round draft pick to boot.
Juan Rivera 33 yo- Rivera has had 2 good seasons in his career and has never played more than 138 games in a season, averaging less than 100. He seemed to help the Dodgers' offense gel after his mid-season acquisition. It's hard to imagine Ned Colletti not grossly overpaying to keep him. The Giants should show just enough interest to drive up the price!
Juan Pierre 34 yo- Here's a guy who's been believed to be overvalued for so long he may well be undervalued now. He's coming off a down season. Was it just a down season or is he starting a steep decline in his career trajectory? If the Giants are looking to get seriously faster on the basepaths, they might consider bringing in Pierre on a 1 year discount to play LF for him to try to rebuild his value, while also bringing in a Coco Crisp for CF, or even bringing back a Torres/Christian platoon. Another possibility would be to bring in DeJesus to play CF with Pierre in LF to do the leadoff duties.
Laynce Nix 31 yo- Had a nice season for the Nats and could probably be had for not too much. Do you really want this guy to be your starting LF though? I would think Belt is at least as good an option right now to say nothing of the future.
Ryan Ludwick 33 yo- Here's a guy who was undervalued for so long he became overvalued and now has been overvalued so long he may be undervalued again. Would probably hit a bit better in SF than in SD. One year deal to rebuild his value?
Raul Ibanez 40 yo- A Brian Sabean special if there ever was one. I could seriously see Sabes signing him to a 2 year deal. MCC might melt down into an orange and black puddle if that were to happen!
Conor Jackson 30 yo- Conor Jackson had an OPS of .822 for the D'Backs in 2008 and appeared to be a budding star. He contracted Valley Fever and has never fully recovered. Still, gotta be intrigued by the upside here. He could be a Sabean "lightning in a bottle" special on a cheap 1 year deal or even a minor league ST invite.
Jonny Gomes 31 yo- Gomes has been a darling of the Saber crowd for a long time due to his relatively high OBP's and SLG% compared to his BA's. He's been a terrible fielder most of his career but actually had a + UZR in 2011. That is likely a sample size fluke though. Another potential bargain bin pickup.
Johnny Damon 37 yo- Damon hit 16 HR's and had 19 SB's for the Rays last year. Knows how to get on base. Might want to finish his career in the AL and on the east coast though.
MIchael Cuddyer 33 yo- Solid hitter who can play multiple positions if necessary. Sabes was rumored to be pursuing him at the trade deadline. The only problem with signing him is it will likely take an overpay and he will cost a first round draft pick.
David DeJesus 32 yo- Yikes! 32 years old? How time flies! Another player Sabes has pursued at the trade deadline, this time back in 2010. Coming off a weak season with Oakland. He can play all 3 OF positions and might sign a 1 year deal to try and rebuild his value. He'd probably prefer a more hitter friendly environment to do it in though. Doesn't hit HR's or steal bases. His value is dependent on BA/OBP and doubles power.
JD Drew 36 yo- If the fans didn't like Beltran's style, they would hate Drew's. He will probably either re-up with Boston or retire anyway. Just don't see him coming to SF although he is getting into Sabean Special territory age-wise.
Kosuke Fukudome 35 yo- Almost all his value is tied to his OBP, which is actually quite good. Sabean has seemed to be allergic to Japanese players since the Shinjo debacle. Still, there might be enough veteran savvy here to interest him and there is still serious marketing potential for Asian ballplayers in SF.
Brad Hawpe 33 yo- Terrible fielder who was a terror at the plate in Colorado, but his offense tanked in San Diego. Seems to be more of a first baseman now and it's hard to see how he fits in SF. Has a $6 M option with a $1 M buyout that likely won't be picked up.
Jason Kubel 29 yo- Once a highly rated prospect, Kubel has never quite lived up to his perceived potential in Minnesota. He's a solid hitter coming off a down year with a career OPS of close to .800. Terrible fielding probably limits him to the AL.
Nick Swisher 31 yo- Swisher has been a fairly reliable 4 WAR player and is coming off a 3.8 WAR season for the Yankees, so his $10.25 M option should be picked up. The Yankees are almost desperate for LHP's. Would they have interest in trading him for Jonathan Sanchez, or perish the thought, part of a bigger package for Cain?
Carlos Quentin 29 yo- Could be part of a housecleaning in ChiTown. Has hit 20+ HR's 4 seasons in a row, but has had trouble staying on the field due to injuries. Has never played more than 131 games in a season. Interesting option as long as the price isn't too high.
Logan Morrison 24 yo- This guy is in the doghouse with Marlins ownership big time due to his big mouth and indiscriminate use of Twitter. Not sure what the status of his grievance with the Marlins is, but that can't be helping to rebuild his relationship with his employers. He's certainly not popular with Giants fans either after some of the things he said in the wake of Buster's injury. Still, this is a business and LoMo is a serious hitter who is cost-controlled for years to come. Gotta think about it for the right price.
Andre Ethier 30 yo- Yikes! 30 yo? Time flies again! Ethier has made noises about not being thrilled with the Dodgers situation and the feelings may be mutual. His power numbers were way off this year and he has battled nagging injuries the last 2 years. Ethier is a good player, but he seems to be more interested in building his GQ portfolio than his baseball career. He tends to start off very hot every season and get progressively weaker as the season goes along which makes me think he does not spend a lot of time on conditioning. Still, he'd probably be an upgrade for the Giants. Doubt Agent Ned would trade him within the division even if he is Agent Ned.
I'm sure there are a lot of other possibilities out there that I'm not thinking of. Any other ideas from readers? Send in your comments!
Personally, I'd be OK with sticking Belt out there for a full season and see what he can do. As much as he struggled in his first season and as much as he was jerked around, he still hit enough HR's to project to the high 20's over a full season. I think he's just a sliver away from being a monster at the plate.