Will the San Francisco Giants finally make a free agency splash in 2016?
The last major free-agent deal the San Francisco Giants made was signing Aaron Rowand to a five-year, $60 million contract in 2008. Before that, it was Barry Zito, whom the Giants locked up for seven years at $126 million in 2007—the largest contract ever given to a pitcher at that time.
Since then, the Giants haven’t inked more then a two-year deal to a single free agent who was not their own. Although Zito’s Game 5 performance in the 2012 NLCS alone was worth every cent of his deal in the minds’ of many Giants fans (#RallyZito), both his and Rowand’s contracts became expensive albatrosses that hung over subsequent front office decisions. In response, former GM and current VP of Baseball Operations Brian Sabean resorted to extending the contracts of homegrown stars (e.g. Posey, Cain, Bumgarner), making smart in-season moves (e.g. Ross, Scutaro, Peavy), and even the occasional aggressive deadline deal (e.g. Beltran, Pence) to improve the roster.
This strategy obviously proved fruitful, but looking ahead to next season, it’s likely that 2016 will finally be the year the Giants jump into the free-agent market in a big way.
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The Giants’ projected payroll for next year sits at $154 million, well below this year’s $173 million Opening Day payroll. This estimate takes into account both the fact that the Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Affeldt and Scutaro contracts will all be coming of the books, as well as Crawford’s and Belt’s upcoming salary increases in arbitration. That extra $19 million leaves some intriguing possibilities, and the Giants front office should be very aggressive come the Winter Meetings.
After Bumgarner, the Giants rotation has been with filled with uncertainty. I could list the stats to back up this assertion, but you’ve probably already read them ad nauseam, so I’ll spare you. Of the starters set to return next year—Peavy, Cain, and Heston—none complete the kind of 1-2 punch needed to compete in the current National League landscape.
Looking at next year’s top playoff contenders in the NL, you find the likely pitching tandems of Kershaw-Greinke, Harvey-deGrom, Sherzer-Strasburg, Arrieta-Lester, and Wainwright-Wacha. Yes, the Giants were able to ride Bumgarner to last year’s World Series victory, but to complete a roster that is already set up to win both now and in the future, it’s clear they need at least one more stellar arm in the rotation.
Mar 16, 2015; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The big name starting pitching names in next year’s deep free agent class include Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto, David Price, Scott Kazmir, and possibly Greinke if he opts out of his contract with The Dodgers. The Giants have already been linked to Jordan Zimmerman via Ken Rosenthal, and Mike Leake is also reportedly open to the possibility of resigning with the team. The team will likely show up in rumors involving most of these names at some point during the offseason, but it’s telling that we’re already hearing reports.
The Giants are a team built on homegrown talent, which is not going to change anytime soon. The battery of Bumgarner and Posey coupled with arguably the best all-around infield in the majors is a testament to the success of this organizational philosophy. The coming offseason, however, will represent something of an admission that riding with their guys and then seeing what’s needed at the deadline is not going to cut it next year.
In addition to adding one or possibly two new arms to the rotation, the Giants have a number of decisions to make regarding upgrading the bullpen, adding a potential outfield power bat, and which of their own eight pending free agents to resign. But whatever happens next winter, expect the Giants to be a major player in the free agent market and to enter the 2016 season with a team equipped to defend their even-year crown.