Giants GM Sabean has busy winter ahead

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Brian Sabean will have a shiny new contract extension thanks to the Giants’ turnaround this season, but as discussed Thursday, he’s going to have to rework his team’s offense if he expects to take it to the next level.
The opportunity will certainly be there. The Giants would seem to have just two locks for the 2010 lineup in corner infielder Pablo Sandoval and outfielder Aaron Rowand. The payroll, which came in at just under $90 million this year, should expand, probably to $100 million or so.
That would leave the Giants with about $35 million to spend. They’re currently at $52 million for 2010, but Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez are due large raises as first-time arbitration-eligible players. The latter two figure to come in at $5.5 million-$6 million combined. Lincecum could aim for the $10 million that Ryan Howard received a super-two player in 2008, but the Giants would save additional money there by signing him to a long-term deal.
So, let’s examine the Giants’ options position by position and figure out how that money would best be spent.
Catcher
In-house options: Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside, Steve Holm
If the Giants are ready to trust Posey after he hit .325/.416/.531 between high-A San Jose and Triple-A Fresno in his first full pro season, they’ll have more money to spend elsewhere. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to give him another two or three months in the minors, but they’re probably not going to be able to get free agent Bengie Molina to go for the idea of sticking around on a one-year contract and then fading into a reserve role as the year goes on.
So Molina is likely a goner. Inking Yorvit Torrealba, Brian Schneider or Jason Kendall to a one-year deal and then having Posey compete against the veteran in spring training seems like the best strategy.
First base-third base
In-house options: Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa, Ryan Garko, John Bowker, Jesus Guzman, Ryan Rohlinger
We’ll combine these two positions, since we know Sandoval will be starting at one of them. The 23-year-old is committed to getting into better shape this winter, and if he does, he might last at the hot corner for a couple of more years. Still, he’s been below average there this season and it’s hard to imagine him staying at the position for the long haul. He might become a Gold Glove first baseman someday if he makes the switch, so I still think third base is a viable place for the Giants to upgrade this winter.
If Sandoval stays at third, then first base becomes a prime spot for an upgrade. As is, it’s shaping up as a platoon situation, with Ishikawa and Bowker battling for the job against right-handers and either Garko or an outside acquisition getting the nod against lefties. Garko is eligible for arbitration for the first time and is probably due $1.5 million or so. He’d likely be non-tendered if the Giants acquire another corner infield option.
Second base
In-house options: Freddy Sanchez, Eugenio Velez, Kevin Frandsen, Emmanuel Burriss, Matt Downs
Sanchez’s $8.1 million option would have vested had he stayed healthy after joining the Giants. As is, the team will buy it out for $600,000. Still, the Giants could re-sign him at a lesser salary. The internal alternatives are unattractive. Velez offers some intriguing potential at the top of the lineup, but his footwork at second is terrible and he makes far more sense in the outfield. Frandsen has fallen out of favor and likely will be traded or non-tendered.
Shortstop
In-house options: Edgar Renteria, Emmanuel Burriss
Sabean made a huge mistake with Renteria, but that the deal was just two years means he doesn’t have to be guaranteed anything entering 2010. He can be a $9 million backup or he could potentially be traded for another bad contract (Milton Bradley’s?). The Giants could re-sign free agent Juan Uribe to battle for the job at shortstop. There aren’t going to be any star shortstops available this winter, but Marco Scutaro could be a significant upgrade.
Center field
In-house options: Aaron Rowand, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres
Rowand is owed another $36 million over the next three years and has never been worse than adequate, so he can remain a starter. Perhaps the Giants will look for ways to move him, but they’d likely only be able to exchange him for another bad contract at a position that’s easier to fill. Given that the best free agents this winter play the corner positions, it makes sense to live with Rowand in center.
Left field-right field
In-house options: Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, Fred Lewis, John Bowker, Andres Torres
Obviously, the Giants are going to do something here. They could let the players above battle for one starting job if they sign one outfielder and a corner infielder or they might fill both outfield openings with veterans. Ideally, neither scenario would involve re-signing Randy Winn.
Here’s my lineup idea:
SS Marco Scutaro
2B Akinori Iwamura
1B Pablo Sandoval
LF Vladimir Guerrero
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Buster Posey
CF Aaron Rowand
Bench: Eugenio Velez, John Bowker, Edgar Renteria, Brian Schneider, Andres Torres
If the Giants eschew going after Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, they could potentially land four above average regulars for their $35 million. Guerrero and Beltre don’t seem likely to get much more than $10 million per year — and Guerrero might have to settle for a one-year contract — and Scutaro is probably due around $7.5 million per year for two years. The Giants could vastly upgrade their infield defense and break in a couple of younger players. Schierholtz probably won’t be much of an asset offensively in right field, but he is a very good defender, which is very important in AT&T’s big right field.
Now, I don’t really expect it to work out that way. The Giants figure to go hard after both Holliday and Bay, and I think they have to be considered one of the favorites to land one of the two. Chone Figgins is another possible target with the team in need of a leadoff man. If they fail in their bids, then they could aim to trade for Carl Crawford or Prince Fielder. Dan Uggla is a lesser name that makes sense for the team, though I’d prefer him at third base.
If, on the other hand, the Giants opt to overspend on Orlando Hudson and aim for past-their-prime players like Jermaine Dye and Carlos Delgado, it could be a disappointing 2010. Sabean has always thought older means better, at least when it comes to position players, and he clearly values predictability over upside. Consider it a very bad sign if he kicks off the offseason by talking with Winn about a new deal.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.