There are a lot of imperfect fits in free agency. Finding someone, especially on the position-player side, who substantially improves the lineup will be hard to come by, but there is still a way for the SF Giants to upgrade the roster and that is through pitching and defense.
2 areas where the SF Giants can still upgrade the roster for next season
On the pitching side, there are a lot of options still available. The Giants have been in the market for a frontline starter, but it feels like they need to revise that plan. They need a frontline starter and another reliable arm.
They have a legitimate ace in Logan Webb and if they can pair that with another frontline starter such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto, that would give them a formidable duo. Plus, adding another reliable arm like a Seth Lugo or Marcus Stroman to pair with Alex Cobb and Kyle Harrison would give them the makings of a good rotation.
Cobb is expected to miss the start of the season, creating an opportunity for Keaton Winn or Tristan Beck. It may, unfortunately, push some of the younger pitchers down the depth chart, but this is an area where they can create a competitive advantage.
They are not going to compete with teams like the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the offensive side. There is no one who in free agency who can bridge that gap.
However, they can, at the very least, try to create a rotation that can compete with other top pitching staffs. The Dodgers have more questions than answers in the rotation and the Braves were closer to the middle of the pack in 2023 with a 4.31 rotation ERA.
You look around the rest of the National League and many rotations are top-heavy. The Philadelphia Phillies are an example of that with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola atop the rotation. The Giants can gain an advantage by putting together that is more balanced. They have the makings of it with Webb and Cobb, but need to supplement that core. The farm system will help, but they need more predictability as well.
And, how can the Giants support a good pitching staff? With a quality defense. The infield defense led baseball with +28 Outs Above Average (OAA) in 2023. Should they be content with that or should they try to address a strength?
I am right there with you in saying that signing Matt Chapman for $20 million a year is likely going to be too much money. However, you know who benefits from having Chapman in the infield? The pitching staff that typically leads baseball in inducing ground balls. Adding a four-time Gold Glove winner adds to that strength. Plus, they need a good defensive shortstop as that was the weak point in the infield.
J.D Davis' defense at third base was solid in 2023. Chapman has the track record with the glove in his favor. Plus, Davis could still find playing time by moving across the diamond. Or, a trade could be a possibility.
On the other hand, everyone knows that the Giants' outfield defense has been horrid in recent seasons. The outfield had the third-worst mark in baseball with -13 OAA.
Again, I am right there with you in recognizing that players like Harrison Bader or Kevin Kiermaier are not exciting names. However, both are still fantastic defenders in the outfield. Kiermaier (+13 OAA) and Bader (+9 OAA) were second and seventh among outfielders in terms of OAA in 2023, respectively. Adding two glove-first outfielders would quickly make a weakness a strength and it would be a more cost-efficient option than some of the top names on the market.
These additions will not substantially upgrade the lineup. However, there are few players in free agency with well-rounded skill sets. Chapman might be one exception. Cody Bellinger could be another, but he is going to wait out the market. And, if the demands of a $250 million contract are true, that is going to be a steep price for teams.
Some of the best bats in free agency are designated hitters. J.D. Martinez and Jorge Soler would definitely bolster the Giants' lineup, but they should not be playing in the field. And, committing a roster spot to a DH is a tough task for many teams.
So, the Giants need to put together a roster that has an identity in terms of how it wins games. They do not have a lineup that is going to compete with some of the best teams in baseball. Many of their position players are already under contract, so there are just not a lot of opportunities to make sweeping changes. The Giants can, however, find ways to tweak the infield and outfield to support what needs to be their strength - starting pitching.
Can they do it? It starts with landing a frontline starter and another quality arm. The ballpark has been one factor in free-agent hitters veering away from San Francisco, but on the other hand, it should help in recruiting pitchers. They have to play to their strengths and start realizing that this iteration of the Giants will not beat teams on offense.