Sunday, September 25, 2011

The wickedest $135 million dollar team in Major League Baseball in 2012.

Hey all.  I keep looking at various scenarios for the Giants roster for 2012 and beyond.  The biggest obstacle I see is obviously payroll budget.  Consider that the Giants spent $38M to ‘build’ this 2011 team with new contract signings (Huff, Ross, Tejada, DeRosa, Fontenot, Burrell, etc) for a total 2011 payroll of $121 million.  If my projections are even remotely accurate, we’ll need to spend about $26M more on current player salaries rising (Lincecum, Cain, Sandoval, Romo, Schierholtz, etc).  Once Huff’s $10M salary for 2012 is also subtracted from the amount available, that leaves (38 – 25 - 10) $3M left.

We also need to account for the $34.5M we can trim from our payroll (Ross, Tejada, DeRosa, Wilson, etc).  It gets a bit complicated...  And yes, you read correctly that I'd trade Wilson- more on this below.  Let's revisit our 2012 budget.  I see our key players (including Rowand's contract) costing $95 million for 2012.  Add Barry Zito and we're at $114 million.

If the Giants stay around the 2011 payroll of $121M, you have $7M to get three starters (SS, CF, LF), one bench player, a fifth starter, one bullpen arm, and a closer to replace Wilson.

Ain’t gonna happen.  Not even a Rick Ankiel LF, Clint Barmes SS, and Coco Crisp CF/lead-off can happen for less than $15M combined.

Just FYI, MLB league minimum for 2012 I project will be right about $440,000.  If you used prospects at league minimum to fill all seven of these roles, that would cost $3.08 million.

Quite simply?  The payroll must go up in 2012.

This actually would be a perfect time to get a major player.

We could use a long-term corner outfielder, which either removes Belt or Schierholtz from our future plans.  Remember, we should expect Gary Brown in CF soon-ish.  That means a corner outfielder leaves only one outfield position still available.  I’d say Belt should have much higher trade value, so he’d be in a trade package IMO.

We could try for a major first baseman (I wrote about what our team would look like if we got Pujols), but we have to consider a possible log jam at first that we’ll run into.  First, Huff and possibly Pill for 2012, then what if Posey moves away from catching to first?  What if our top power prospect Ricky Oropesa (1B/3B)  is ready by 2014?  The more I look at these long term scenarios, the less I like the idea of Pujols or any other big first base acquisition.

Here’s my position outlook:

  • 1B: We have Huff for 2012, love it or hate it.  We might be able to unload him if we pay some of his salary, but with his 2011 numbers, I’m not even sure we’ll find a taker anyways.  We could platoon Pill with Huff for 2012 and I’d be okay with that as long as Huff bats 6th or 7th.  Maybe Posey moves to first as Hector Sanchez, Tommy Joseph, or Andrew Susac solidfy their role as catcher in the next couple years.  We kinda have more first base options than we need.
  • 2B: Obviously we all hope Freddy Sanchez can remain healthy through 2012.  Still, we’ll need a Freddy Contingency Plan (FCP), and I think Brandon Crawford, Ryan Cavan, or Charlie Culberson would do well.  They could double as an infield utility (UT) player.  Crawford is the only one of these three who hasn’t played 3B and had very limited time at 2B I think.  In mid/late 2012 or by 2013 I expect Joe Panik to take 2B for the long term in SF.
  • SS:  We have Crawford, and he’s no lead-off hitter, he’d be an 8-hitter, and we don’t know if Bochy/Sabean would even give him a try as our starter.  IMHO, we don’t have another option in our system.  Both switch-hitters; Cavan might be, Ehire Adrianza just doesn’t ‘wow’ me with his performance in the minors.  I think our best acquisition would be an upgrade at shortstop.  That’s why I’m interested in Erick Aybar.
  • 3B: Pablo Sandoval. Need I say more?  He isn’t going anywhere, except maybe to first base as he gets older, but I doubt he changes position for at least six years, or we get an unbelievable third baseman and have no first baseman on our team.  We could seriously off-load our third base prospects in trades (like Conor Gillaspie and maybe Chris Dominguez), they shouldn’t figure on playing time in SF.
  • C: We have Posey, but how long will he remain our backstop?  Hector Sanchez is beginning to show well, Tommy Joseph is making noise in our system, and we haven’t even sniffed what our high draft pick Andrew Susac can do in pro ball.  If any other catcher shows the ability to contribute offensively at the major league level, expect Posey moving to first base rather soon-ish.
  • LF: In our park, I consider left field to be a ‘power position’ about equivalent to third base, just a tad below the ‘power’ of a first baseman.  Is Brandon Belt that guy?  Can he really field well enough?  He seems a better first baseman than outfielder IMO.  We have Francisco Peguero who might be a nice LF, but perhaps not enough power to justify the short field/range requirements of this position.  Also, as long as he doesn’t take walks, his OBP will almost certainly be too low to justify a starting role.  Left field should be our second highest priority this off season.  We need a great hitter in LF who will help contribute from at least the fifth position in our lineup.
  • CF: We have a one-year question mark here, as I expect Gary Brown to be fast-tracked and up by late 2012 and starting in center by 2013.  He’s got all the tools defensively, including an arm that might get outfield assists from deep in Triples Alley.  I expect he’ll be called up once he shows he can take a few more walks, since he’s being ‘programmed’ to be our future lead-off hitter.  Brown should be absolutely electric to watch on both sides of the ball, and a good chance he’ll be an absolute fan favorite (alongside Lincecum, Sandoval, and Posey).
  • RF:  We have a great defensive right fielder in Nate Schierholtz, whose batting has come around enough to earn the starting role for 2012 IMHO.  But he’s been injured enough to also introduce doubts.  Maybe if Nate is our weakest offensive player, he’s a lock.  But if we try Crawford at SS or Belt in LF, we really can’t hold two on our starting roster IMO.  Our corner outfield positions are the two weakest spots power spots on our 2012 roster.  I’ve been a huge fan of Schierholtz, but in fairness, he might be out.

Some may think Coco Crisp would be a good CF/lead-off hitter, or Jimmy Rollins would be great as SS and lead-off.  In both instances, I say no.  I say that is only in the context of (or comparison to) what we’ve had here recently.  But, truthfully, we should be building a much stronger team than that and hold much higher expectations.  I’m not saying get Beltran for four years and $64M, or Jose Reyes for $120M and 6 years.  I’m saying we need a better balance of youth, speed, power, avg, OBP, OPS in healthy players.  With our elite pitchers, Sandoval, Posey, and the expectations for Brown and Panik; our standards should really be higher for our offensive upgrades decisions.

A major point I’m trying to communicate is that money should not be a hindrance.  We’ve got enough to get a key player.  We have nearly ‘perfect’ balance of young, talented prospects to keep a payroll budget moving forward.  We have several high prospects we could trade.  I’d challenge any Giants fan to consider any potential acquisitions with this benchmark in mind:

If the powerhouses;  like the Yankees, Red Sox, or Phillies; were looking for an acquisition…  Would [this player] be up to their standards for value and performance?”  I think we should hold to no less a standard than any other baseball team.  We can absolutely be as competitive as ANY of them.

Do you seriously believe the Red Sox would target Coco Crisp if they needed a lead-off hitter and center fielder?  I think not.  Why should we?  It’s not fair to argue we don’t have their payroll, we also don’t have their payroll obligations.  We have a lot of team-controlled youth/talent.  Our spending power is tremendous.  The Yankees (for example) have very little spending power left, with the likes of Sabathia A-Rod, and Burnett.  And they’ll hit the Luxury Tax (yet again) and pay a huge additional percentage if they add much to their already bloated payroll.

So, here’s my new rationalization.  We have most positions locked up with great potential players from 2013 moving onward, except our corner outfield spots and shortstop.

Throw our whole farm system at the LA Dodgers and trade for Matt Kemp this off season.

Our team roster is pretty solid for 4-6 years, excepting a few bench players and several arms we’ll need.  You may ask, why not wait until 2013 when he’d be a free agent?  First, there are no certainties, he might re-sign with the Dodgers.  We’d be bidding against the rest of the baseball world.  He may get injured.  He might stay hot and fetch even more salary on the open market.  Lots of maybes.  Plus, it should be a crime to waste another year of this historic SF Giants pitching just to ‘hope’ we can get Kemp for 2013.  No way, why wait.

As I just reviewed, we should be fine giving up a handful of mid or high prospects, since they won’t see the majors unless they can steal a position away from the likes of Posey, Sandoval, Brown, Panik, etc.

Let’s say (for instance) we can send Brandon Belt, Ehire Adrianza, Conor Gillaspie, (maybe Nate Schierholtz?), and RHP Drew Bowlin to LAD for Matt Kemp.  Let’s say Kemp signs a $92M front-loaded 5-year contract with us (21, 27, 18, 14, 12),  in order to leave a second big paycheck ‘window’ available for himself when he is still 31 (like Pujols is now).  We could keep Brown in CF, and have a serious center fielder playing RF for us with Kemp’s range.  I’d love it.

I'd like this lineup to start in 2012:
  1. SS  Erick Aybar
  2. 2B  Freddy Sanchez
  3. CF  Matt Kemp
  4. 3B  Pablo Sandoval
  5. C    Buster Posey
  6. LF  Vernon Wells
  7. 1B  Brett Pill
  8. RF  Nate Schierholtz

Now, to fill out the rest of our lineup.  I still want Erick Aybar SS and Vernon Wells LF for Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito, and maybe a prospect or two.  (Please read my previous posts on this).  Again, I’d trade away most of the farm.  With only a few major exceptions (I’ll get to these).  The problem is, the Angels have a very deep farm system and a tight lineup already.  They’ll most certainly be looking for bullpen pitchers.  And we’ll need to keep some of ours for our roster.  Remember, they are getting a solid lefty starter and wiping out their bad contract in Wells, and they’re absolutely flush with shortstops already.

We could maintain a $135 million lineup from 2012-2106.
This lineup would start in 2013:
  1. CF  Gary Brown
  2. SS  Erick Aybar
  3. RF  Matt Kemp
  4. 3B  Pablo Sandoval
  5. 1B  Buster Posey
  6. LF  Vernon Wells
  7. C    Tommy Joseph
  8. 2B  Joe Panik

I don’t see a single weakness or question mark here in the above lineup.  No ‘doubts’ like “will Belt hit well enough, or “is Schierholtz able to keep his job,” or “will Crawford kill rallies, hitting eighth and making for two easy outs with the pitcher following,” or “how will Pill do over the course of an entire season.”

I see a legit offense.  A SERIOUS offense.

I still have a few concerns as I project the Giants’ 25-man roster through 2016.  I understand that there is no way of knowing whether Osiris Matos will be called up before Dan Otero, or whether we can start Justin Fitzgerald in our rotation for 2013.  Maybe Ryan Cavan plays so well he steals away the starting shortstop job from Aybar.  Who knows, right?  So, some projections (or assumptions, if you will) have to be made to fill out the team.  For example, I think Heath Hembree would need to be slotted as our closer from 2012 onward.  At least in 2012, we’ll have Casilla, Romo, and Lopez all on hand; if Hembree isn’t quite up to task yet.

Yes, I’d trade Brian Wilson this off season.  We could ‘ask’ for the specific pieces we’d need sooner or later.  Wilson is likely to make $10-15M in 2013 as an arb-4 eligible player, and we likely can’t write him a major, long-term contract with Kemp, Lincecum, Cain, Sandoval, Posey, etc…  Without easily crossing $150M per year.  Plus, let’s not worry about his arm and potential injuries.  He should still have considerable market value, top closers are one of the scarcest commodities in all of baseball.  He's also only 30 years old in 2012.

While I’m saying we could basically ‘trade the farm’ to get our team set up for a five-year window, we still need a few quality players to enhance our 40-man roster and account for any possible injury time to our starters.

Can Fitzgerald be our 5th starter in 2012 and onward?  We’ll likely need another starting pitcher in 2014 if we only sign Vogelsong to a 2-year contract.  How about Craig Westcott or Ryan Verdugo?  We’ll need to hold onto at least two or three that could fill out our rotation.  Again, we also must be responsible in case there is a long-term injury to one of our starters (let’s absolutely hope this never happens!).

I see other holes we’ll need filled, like a few relief pitchers.  And our bench players.  I’d be pretty okay using (pretty much) the same five players all the way through until they become arbitration eligible, unless another prospect shows more promise at some future time.  I’d like both Culberson and Cavan as infield and utility players, and would like at least one of them to get some experience (this winter) playing LF in case of an emergency.  Huff would be our first base option in 2012 and I’d try to keep Pill for those duties after that.  Then, a decision of Hector Sanchez or Chris Stewart for catcher, and I think Sanchez wins out, as a switch-hitter and still learning.  Stewart, as solid as he is defensively, I think we pretty much know what we’ve got.  I think Hector has some untapped potential- or ‘hidden’ upside.

I’m not forgetting Tommy Joseph or Andrew Susac either.  I think it likely we could see Joseph starting in 2013 with Posey moving to first base, with Hector still the 2nd catcher.  If Susac proves he develops into the catcher we should all hope for, either Joseph or Sanchez could potentially be traded for young prospects that will continue our long-term development.

Another sad realism is, eventually I think Lincecum would be traded.  By 2017 we’d be carrying a lot of high “teen” to twenty-million dollar salaries (Posey, Sandoval, Cain, Bumgarner, Hembree, etc).  But let's not worry that far ahead.  As a reminder of the realities, our bench players will also need to be moved and our bullpen would need to be entirely refreshed.  They’d all be making full market salaries by that point.  So, the trades replenish our positions and pen.  Let’s also consider the unimaginable, maybe one or two of our players really slump for a year or two, we’ll need to consider trade options- just in case.

As an example of how this succeeds, look at what the Astros got for Hunter Pence this trade deadline.  They got nearly half a team; and under team control and still not even close to arbitration (league minimum salaries for up to three years).

As an example of poor team management, look at how Carl Crawford was priced out of Tampa because they could no longer afford to pay him a full-market contract.  Look at how Colorado had to trade away Ubaldo Jimenez after signing the monstrous Tulowitski contract, and pricing themselves out of retaining a key pitcher.  Colorado can’t carry a massive payroll in a small media market.  Look at Seattle and how they are the worst team, yet they spend $100M per year.  We’ll need to balance this out by trading a key player or two.  It can be done.  And I believe we can have great continuity with our core team.

We can field a team from 2012 to 2016 that would be spectacular.  That is a five-year window.  And each year it would cost $135M by my estimates.  I am encouraged by my projections, I just hope the Giants brain trust doesn’t continue to acquire aged and over-priced veterans who may or may not be injured.

The players in my estimated 2013 lineup would still be quite young, here are their ages:

  • Brown (23), Aybar (29), Kemp (28), Sandoval (27), Posey (26), Wells (34), Joseph (22), Panik (22).
  • Culberson (24), Cavan (26), Pill (30), Peguero (25), H. Sanchez (23).
  • Lincecum (29), Bumgarner (24), Cain (28), Vogelsong (36), Fitzgerald (27).
  • Otero (28), Casilla (33), Matos (29), Romo (30), Runzler (27), Lopez (36), Hembree (24).

I believe this could be our SF Giants team in 2012.
$135M is what it would take.
Have some bake sales.  Hold an all-out yard sale.  Trade the farm.

It could happen.

Image credit: Matt Kemp from

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