What Should the Giants Do About Their Outfield?

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.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.48.29 PM

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.

Do Nothing

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:

 

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)

 

This article has 20 Comments

  1. I like Williamson and Parker. Let them fight it out, but I still like Gordon in the mix considering both Pagan AND Blanco are FA after this season. Need a leadoff hitter which Gordon can do.

  2. I wonder if the Giants would do a Casilla, Beede, and Black for Brett Gardner and 5 million. You’d essentially be trading the salaries of Casilla and Gardner and the Yankees would get a couple of prospects. Giants would stay under the luxury tax and get an all star outfielder.

    1. The only way the Yankees get any young ++ pitching from any club is if Aaron Judge is the outfielder in the trade. Gardner was a mess last year, I’d say his years as a productive player are over.

  3. I think the Giants are already set! Put Posey in left, pick up a backup cather! Play Blanco in center, useTomlinson as a backup, utility player! Parker needs to get more consistent abs, and could provide needed depth!

  4. I think we must remember the Giants are trying to operate below the Luxury tax threshold of $189M for the 2016 season. They barely went over last year which is unfortunate because they could be taxed at a higher rate if they exceed the threshold again in 2016. With a new CBA coming after the 2016 season and the high probability that the Luxury tax threshold will rise for 2017 and beyond it makes sense for the Giants to be aware of their proximity to the threshold in 2016 and not exceed it so they can “reset” their Luxury tax rate and try to operate below it in the future.
    With this in mind, the Giants have about $11M to play with before they exceed the $189M threshold for 2016 after taking into account arbitration eligible players and pre-arb players along with the rest of the possible Giants 25-man Opening day roster. Because injuries must be considered and planned for the Giants probably don’t want to push the $11M they have to play with so they’ll probably look to spend closer to $8M. UNLESS! Unless they shed some salary to give them more flexibility to sign one of the big free agents and still remain under the $189M salary cap.
    One idea I have is trading Santiago Casilla, who is set to make $6.5M in the final year of his contract. Casilla has been good and is undervalued at $6.5M so the Giants should have no problem finding a taker for his services. Also, the Giants have a surplus of bullpen arms in the minors who are ready to step up now and are probably better than Casilla but will only cost the Giants the league minimum of roughly $500K/year. Trading Casilla would effectively give the Giants $14M-$17M to find a left fielder for 2016. Ideally, the Giants could trade Casilla for an outfielder and kill two birds with one stone or just use the new resources from Casilla’s departure and shop on the open market for a outfield upgrade.
    Either way, trading Casilla(who let’s face it, isn’t really a fan favorite like Romo is) to create more payroll flexibility and upgrade the outfield and stay below the Luxury tax almost seems like a no-brainer considering the great minor league bullpen arms the Giants have waiting in the wings (Black, Crick, Law, et. al). Moving some other large contracts to create more flexibility isn’t really feasible because not many teams are going to take Cain or Pagan or Peavy (full no trade clause). UNLESS! Unless the Giants add some of their prospects to Cain and another team takes on the rest of his contact, but I digress…

  5. Gerrardo Parra will be the left fielder. The Giants have looong wanted him and now is there chance to get him. Everything fits, including the price range.

  6. Pagan was playing center field injured. We all remember seeing pagans crazy diving catches and blistering speed to catch up to balls we thought were hits. Playing one year injured doesn’t turn Pagan into ramirez. Also, Pagan isn’t a poor man’s anything. When he signed his contract it wasn’t a team friendly deal. It made him by far the highest paid giants outfielder, until they got pence. Not only that, but I doubt fowler gets the money Pagan did on his last deal. Pagan is an underrated player on an underrated team, but could we please get an author who is Capable of critical thought and analysis?

    1. Pagans always been a poor defender. The flashy plays just cloud your judgement. Most of them ended up being diving or leaping because he takes horrendous routes. Bottom lie is if he isn’t hitting he isn’t worth playing and he’s been that way throughout his career.

  7. The way I look at it, Pagan is Casey McGehee. He gets an opportunity in ST and probably April-May to re-establish himself in a walk year, while Jarrett Parker, Kelby Tomlinson, and Mac Williamson try to force their way into the lineup like Joe Panik and Matt Duffy did. If neither happens, Blanco stabilizes CF and we are looking for an OF at the deadline (again).

    Pagan was an unmitigated disaster in CF last year, but if he has a bounce-back in him, it’ll be in the year before he hits free agency. And possibly in LF.

    1. this is the most likely …getting a salary dump at the trade deadline will only cost 1/2 years salary AND will not be as costly from a prospects perspective

  8. Good stuff but agree comparison to Hanley is not a true comparison. The idea of doing nothing right now may be the best move the Giants can make right now. Head into spring with Parker designated as LF and Blanco as backup for either CF or LF. If Parker can’t win the position out right than find a trade.

    Crazy money in a outfield FA market where Gordon is best fit. Evans and Giants will play it smart and let the market come to them.

  9. “…he lost the most runs defensively in baseball last season, behind even Hanley Ramirez (!) in defensive runs saved.”

    Not to defend Pagan’s play, but your comparison to Ramirez is idiotic:

    Ramirez DRS 2015 = -19
    Pagan DRS 2015 = -20

    Ramirez Innings played in OF 2015 = 747.2
    Pagan Innings played in OF 2015 = 1,061.1

    So Pagan plays ~ 33% more in the OF last year than did Ramirez and puts up a DRS value ~ 5% worse than Ramirez and you imply that he was worse than Ramirez in the OF? Either you are trolling from the author’s position or you are ill-informed. In either case, you should not be taken seriously. Please stop.

    1. What’s idiotic is that you think it matters that Pagan was only the SECOND biggest outfield disaster in baseball. The important takeaway wasn’t who was worse between the two, it’s that Pagan was horrendous, and kept getting playing time while continuing to look horrendous, and has already been gifted the leadoff spot AND CF while giving no reason to believe he’ll be any better this year.

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