The outfield is one area where the SF Giants can look to upgrade this winter and they have been said to be in the market for a pure center fielder. Though, improving the outfield group will be a tough challenge that might require some creativity.
Upgrading the outfield will be a tough challenge for the SF Giants
Earlier this week, Michael Conforto opted into the final year of his two-year, $36 million deal. It was not too surprising after a disappointing 2023 campaign, but also a sign that his agent, Scott Boras, was not confident that he could earn more in free agency than the $18 million he is guaranteed for next season.
His return adds certainty to an outfield group that has Mitch Haniger, Mike Yastrzemski, and Austin Slater under contract for 2024. Plus, Luis Matos, Heliot Ramos, Tyler Fitzgerald, and Blake Sabol all figure to be in the mix as well.
In this sense, certainty is not necessarily a good thing. Last year, Giants outfielders combined to post +3.5 fWAR, which was the sixth-worst mark in baseball. There are other ways for the Giants to improve the roster, but the outfield is certainly a problem area.
For better or worse, the Giants are stuck with Conforto and Haniger to start next season. Neither player has much trade value, especially when you factor in the financial cost. As mentioned above, Conforto has one year and $18 million remaining, whereas Haniger has one year plus a $15.5 million player option for 2025. If he performs anywhere close to how he did in 2023, he will definitely exercise that player option.
Both players have good track records of success. Haniger is just two years removed from posting an .804 OPS with 39 home runs. On the other hand, Conforto was an All-Star earlier in his career, but he has not been close to that form in recent seasons. He missed the entire 2022 campaign after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery two winters ago.
The Giants hope that if the outfield core improves from its 2023 performance, Conforto and Haniger have a lot to do with a turnaround. Unfortunately, hoping is a tough spot to be in.
Improving the outfield is a tough task without much roster space to do so. Of course, Cody Bellinger fits the description of a pure center fielder, but it is going to cost a prospective team well in excess of $100 million. Kevin Kiermaier and Michael Taylor fit that description as well, but the former has appeared in over 100 games in just three of the last five full seasons. And, both are on the older side for a center fielder, so they are more of a stopgap than anything else.
There are options, but does one player drastically change the outlook of the outfield? In the case of Bellinger, it could. However, with the other options, it is adding a much-needed defensive center fielder who might not be able to help an offense that struggled down the stretch last year.
This leaves us with Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater. Both have really been nice role players for the Giants over the years. The outfield group has not performed well over the past couple of years, but that is not due to Yastrzemski. When healthy, he is generally an above-average glove who hits for occasional power. If they add another reliable outfielder to pair him with, that position group would look in better shape.
With that being said, the Giants almost need to create another spot or two in the outfield. If they keep Conforto, Haniger, Slater, and Yastrzemski, they would be returning a position group that was one of the worst in baseball last year. Plus, if they add to that group without any subtractions, it likely limits any type of playing time for someone like Luis Matos next season.
It may not be a popular move. Or one that even makes sense, but maybe trading one of Yastrzemski or Slater allows them to redesign the outfield. Yastrzemski has more trade upside and a trade with the Miami Marlins still makes sense even a year later.
I know the Giants like Slater, but he does only have one year remaining of team control. He would not fetch much in a trade, but that is one possibility they should consider. After seven seasons, they know what to expect from the right-handed bat. Can they try to raise the floor by trading him and replacing him with someone who has higher upside? That should be on the table.
The Giants are prioritizing outfield help, which makes sense given how that group performed last year. Even if they add someone to the bunch, it will still probably be three or four of the same faces returning next season. The biggest improvement might just have to come from within.