By: Ben Leonard
The offseason isn’t supposed to be the Giants’ time to shine. Usually, they let the big spenders take the spotlight in December and January, while they make moves in July to tweak their club — it’s a strategy that’s worked out pretty well for them the past few years.
But this year, the usually “frugal” Giants have started to spend like those teams that they vowed not to be like after the Barry Zito deal, spending $220 million on pitching. But even after spending all that money, they still have a glaring hole: they need an outfielder. Preferably one that can play defense better than Mark Trumbo (sorry Angel Pagan).
Despite some great years and moments as a Giant, Pagan is not up to the task of being a major league center fielder anymore — he lost the most runs defensively in baseball last season, behind even Hanley Ramirez (!) in defensive runs saved. Because veterans, Bruce Bochy has him penciled in as his everyday center fielder heading into 2016, but that’s not to say the Giants aren’t looking for an upgrade, at least in depth.
They’ve been connected to nearly every outfielder on the market, from Justin Upton to Yoenis Cespedes to Alex Gordon to…. Alejandro de Aza, who thankfully the Mets picked up.
Bobby Evans has indicated that he’d rather have Blanco in the fourth outfielder role, which is questionable given Pagan’s defense (or lack thereof) in center, and even in left. But after three World Series, we’ll have to excuse him for ignoring sabermetrics and even the eye test.
Going forward, it looks like the Giants are looking for a left fielder or someone with the versatility to play center in the case that Pagan gets injured, or is just terrible like he probably will be. The team reportedly still has “flexibility” to spend after the two monster contracts to Cueto and Samardzija, but probably not enough flexibility to sign an Upton or a Cespedes. McCovey Cove is a cash cow, but there’s not quite money flowing in the Bay yet.
That leaves the Giants with a list of four names: Alex Gordon, Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson, and Denard Span. Let’s go through all of them and their potential fit and Steamer numbers:
Alex Gordon (.265/.351/.428 Steamer (3.5 WAR))
Would you believe me if I told you that over the last five years as an outfielder, Gordon was less valuable than only Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Bautista? Probably not, but that doesn’t make it not true.
Gordon has Giant written all over him — scrappy above-average offense, good defense, and a veteran undervalued around the league. He’d be perfect to roam left field at AT&T Park — if it weren’t for the cost. He’s reportedly set to earn a salary in the $90-110 million range, which would be a bargain given his level of production, but in terms of raw salary numbers, it might be difficult after the Cueto signing. The Giants were “hot” for Gordon before the Cueto deal, but not much news has come about since the signing. It’s safe to say the Giants aren’t so hot on Gordon anymore. Don’t worry Alex, somebody else will be hot for you.
Dexter Fowler (.250/.347/.387 Steamer (1.5 WAR))
Fowler is interesting because along with his slightly above average bat (career 107 wRC+), he can play center field, but not well. He played every inning roaming the friendly confines of the outfield at Wrigley, but lost 12 runs (-12 DRS) for the Cubs, and has lost 56 over his career. He’s got range, but his mediocre arm would make him a questionable fit in San Francisco because the Giants have a poor man’s Fowler in Pagan. His defense would play up in left, but still. He had the best year of the three remaining free agents after Gordon, but he’s not a dynamic player by any stretch.
Austin Jackson (.259/.317/.376 Steamer (1.4 WAR))
Jackson has a similar profile to Fowler with his ability to play center, but with league average defense and a steadily declining bat.
Offensively, he’d be about the same as Pagan with better defense, but it’s hard to see them dishing out an extra $10 million or so per year to a guy that would only be a modest upgrade over Pagan. He’s probably the least likely of these three to sign with the Giants because they’d probably rather have Blanco and Pagan than him anyway.
Denard Span (.278/.337/.392 Steamer (2.2 WAR))
Denard Span’s a sneaky player. You forget about him in all the hooplah and antics surrounding Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon in Washington. He’s like Washington’s version of Gregor Blanco, and the Giants are smart in making a push for him. Despite undergoing hip surgery in August and missing a good chunk of time, he projects the best next year for the Giants both defensively and offensively of the bunch, at a similar price. He’s been an above-average defensive center fielder throughout his career (29 DRS), one with good on-base skills and an average overall offensive game. The Giants are reportedly competing with small-market Baltimore and Kansas City for his services — not a battle they should lose.
Doing nothing wouldn’t be a terrible option for the Giants, who have Blanco (he’s good, how many times do I have to tell you!?!) and potentially Jarrett Parker in case Pagan goes down.
A cool little snapshot of Blanco’s last four years:
From 2012 to 2015: Take away everyone with negative D or baserunning value, or below-ave K%, BB%, wRc+. 11 players and Gregor Blanco remain.
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) August 12, 2015
Sure, having Blanco out there isn’t great like Gordon, but they won a World Series with Blanco in center and Juan Perez in left. Blanco gets on base (.368 OBP), plays good defense, and runs well — letting him start wouldn’t be as scary as you’d think. He’s basically been a full-time outfielder for the last four years — what’s one more?
Cover Image: Kansas City Royals’ Alex Gordon hits an RBI single during the fifth inning of Game 4 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)