MLB Hot Stove: Giants still have work to do even after adding Longoria, McCutchen
San Francisco could use more help in the outfield and at the back of the rotation
With Spring Training only four weeks away, no team has done more to improve their roster this offseason than the San Francisco Giants. They went 64-98 last season, tied for the worst record in baseball, and they've responded by adding Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen this winter. If nothing else, the Giants have added big names.
Neither Longoria nor McCutchen are still the players they were in their primes, back when they were perennial MVP candidates, but they still represent massive upgrades for the Giants. Consider their third base and outfield production last year:
- Third base: .216/.268/.300 (49 OPS+ ranked 30th in MLB)
- Outfield: .253/.311/.374 (79 OPS+ ranked 30th in MLB)
Good gravy. Even at this point of their careers, Longoria and McCutchen represent huge upgrades for the Giants. They are such big upgrades that, according to the number-crunchers at FanGraphs, the Giants are the projected second NL wild-card team at the moment. Here is the up-to-date projected NL postseason field.
Dodgers (NL West winner)
Cubs (NL Central winner)
Nationals (NL East winner)
Cardinals (Wild Card 1)
Giants (Wild Card 2)
Projections don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things, and the Diamondbacks (83-79, +24) are right behind the Giants, but at least this is something. San Francisco was oh so terrible last year and now at least one completely objective computer system believes it is better than all but four other teams in the NL. Progress!
The question now is what do the Giants do next? Longoria and McCutchen are big upgrades, but they only pushed the team to the postseason bubble, and there are still other roster weaknesses to address. I would be surprised if the Giants stopped here. Once you add Longoria and McCutchen, you might as well keep going and get everything you need.
Here are the possible next steps for these new-look Giants.
Forget about the luxury tax
Like the Dodgers and Yankees, the Giants would like to stay under the $197 million luxury tax threshold this coming season, though it'll be tough. Cot's Baseball Contracts puts the team's luxury tax payroll at $192.5 million after the McCutchen trade, leaving them with less than $5 million for midseason call-ups and additions.
We know the Giants were willing to blow up the luxury tax plan to get Giancarlo Stanton. His massive contract would've taken them over the luxury tax threshold, and hey, when you have a chance to get the reigning NL MVP in the prime of his career, you don't worry about the luxury tax. Get the talent and figure it out later. That was the plan.
And that should be the plan now. The Giants have added Longoria and McCutchen, but they still need help elsewhere, so go get it. No half-measures. Go all the way because, let's face it, the 2018 Giants look kind of like the 2014 Tigers and 2012 Phillies. They're talented and possibly good enough to contend now, but there is trouble on the horizon. Large payroll obligations point to a painful future.
Given the current roster and payroll obligations, there's probably not much the Giants can do to avoid a few down seasons in the future. That's baseball. These things are cyclical. The Giants won their titles and now the ugly downside comes. Because of that, the club should forget about the luxury tax threshold and do all they can to win in 2018 before the bottom drops out.
Get another outfielder
Prior to the McCutchen trade the Giants had the worst projected outfield in baseball. Now it is merely projected to be eighth worst. McCutchen will join Hunter Pence in the starting outfield, and as things stand, some combination of Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson, Gorkys Hernandez, and Steven Duggar will hold down the other spot. Not great.
Furthermore, reports indicate the Giants may play McCutchen in a corner outfield spot rather than center field. They want a standout gloveman in center in spacious AT&T Park.
If the Giants are willing to blow up the luxury tax plan, signing Cain is the way to go. No doubt about it. Cain would add more wins to the ledger and move the Giants further up the projected 2018 standings. Given where they are -- or at least where they appear to be -- on the win curve, every win the Giants add at this point is massive. Going from, say, 74 wins to 78 wins does nothing. But going from 84 wins to 88 wins? That's a big difference. Now we're talking about a postseason spot.
At this point of his career McCutchen is best suited for a corner outfield spot. Remember, the Pirates moved him to right field last year before Starling Marte's suspension forced them to move McCutchen back to center. McCutchen and Pence on the corners with a speedster like Cain (or Dyson) in center would be the ideal outfield alignment in 2018.
Add a starting pitcher (or two)
As part of their plan to get under the luxury tax threshold, the Giants shipped Matt Moore and his $9 million salary to the Rangers for two prospects last month. That move could also be considered addition by subtraction, because Moore had a 5.52 ERA (76 ERA+) in 174 1/3 innings last season, and led the league with 107 earned runs allowed.
With Moore gone and Matt Cain retired, San Francisco's rotation depth chart looks something like this:
The top three guys aren't going anywhere, nor should they. Any plan for contention this season involves Bumgarner and Cueto staying healthy and pitching like their normal selves, unlike 2017.
Everyone beyond the top three is a bit of a question, hence the need for depth. Blach had a 4.78 ERA (87 ERA+) last season and posted the lowest strikeout rate (4.01 K/9) by a qualified starter in five years. Stratton impressed last year in limited time (3.68 ERA and 114 ERA+) and posted the highest curveball spin rate in baseball, so maybe we shouldn't sleep on him. Neither Beede nor Gregorio has pitched in MLB yet.
There is no such thing as too much pitching, and even if the Giants want to stick with Stratton, there is still room for another starter at the back of the rotation. The Giants don't need an ace. They'd take an ace, sure, but one isn't necessary. What they need more than anything is stability. Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn would be ideal, though even someone like Jason Vargas or Jaime Garcia would help.
Dump Sandoval and get another bench bat
The return of Pablo Sandoval did not go well last season. The Red Sox released him, the Giants picked up him for the pro-rated minimum, and he hit .225/.263/.375 (68 OPS+) in 47 games. , the longest hitless streak since the franchise moves to San Francisco. Ouch. To make matters worse, . Double ouch.
And yet, despite all that, the Giants exercised their league minimum option for Sandoval earlier in the offseason, and brought him back for 2018. That was before the Longoria trade, so as things stand, Kung Fu Panda is a bench player. The club's bench looks like this at the moment:
- Backup catcher: Nick Hundley
- Backup infielders: Sandoval and Kelby Tomlinson
- Backup outfielders: Two of Hernandez, Parker, Williamson, and Duggar
With the supremely durable Longoria now entrenched at third base -- Longoria has played 798 of 810 possible games the last five years -- the Giants can more easily move on from the wholly unproductive Sandoval and better use that bench spot. And since he'll only make the league minimum in 2018 -- the Red Sox are paying the rest of his $18 million salary -- cutting Sandoval won't hurt financially.
Who could the Giants pick up for that bench spot? How about Adam Lind? He thrived in a reserve role with the Nationals last season and even played some outfield. Lind would give the Giants protection in case Brandon Belt gets hurts again as well. Lucas Duda would do the same thing, though he hasn't played the outfield in years. Stephen Drew, Rajai Davis, or Yunel Escobar could make sense too.
These days it takes way more than your starting position players and rotation to contend. Teams need depth -- quality depth -- to survive the 162-game grind, and having a strong bench is part of that, especially in the NL. Sandoval has not been productive in three years now and the Giants can better use that roster spot on another player.
The Giants went 64-98 last season through poor design (no left fielder), poor luck (Bumgarner fell off a dirt bike), and baseball being a jerk (Cueto got hurt). I don't believe they had a true talent 64-98 roster, they're better than that, but they had some obvious holes, and this offseason they've taken steps to address those holes. I'll say it again: Longoria and McCutchen are huge upgrades.
Even after the Longoria and McCutchen moves, the Giants still have some roster weaknesses, particularly in the outfield and at the back of the rotation. Those are weaknesses that need to be addressed for San Francisco to have its best chance to win this coming season, before all those big and scary contracts catch up for them in future years. Longoria and McCutchen are part of the solution. They aren't the entire solution.
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