Finding the Giants a Left Fielder

Ask Giants General Manager Brian Sabean what needs his team has remaining, and he’s up front about it: “A left fielder. Good health. Depth.” Ask him how he’s going to fix those needs, though, and it gets a little more complicated. Maybe we can help identify some possible solutions.

A few problems have conspired to make this a difficult search for the Giants. For one, prices are rising — in dollars and years — for even the lower-end free agents. Rajai Davis, a wrong-side platoon corner outfielder without power or patience, got two years and $10 million from the Tigers. Discussion of those sort of market results prompted Sabean to blame the supply: “There aren’t enough players to go around.”

But Sabean insists the team isn’t done looking. The other difficulty in the search is the lack of trade assets. Or, rather, the lack of polished trade assets. “We don’t have that kind of upper-level top talent to trade… and that does take you out of the running of some opportunities,” Sabean admitted. The team is excited about Edwin Escobar — a “strike-thrower” who can throw 180+ innings this year and is fairly polished — and teams have been asking about him. But other than Yusmeiro Petit and perhaps Mike Kickham, the cupboard behind the five veteran starters at the big-league level is bare.

The in-house option is Gregor Blanco, and the GM admitted that he may have to mix and match around the lefty outfielder that has salvaged his career in the last two years. “He’ll face mostly right-handed pitching,” Sabean said. Against right-handed pitching last year, Blanco was above league average offensively if a little light on power (.269/.341/.355). Add in his defense, and you have ‘good enough’ from the big side of the plate.

With the payroll already over $130 million without adding in the arbitration-eligible players, Sabean also doesn’t have much money left to play with. The payroll hasn’t cracked $137 million over the last three years. That last difficulty helps set the market. The Giants are looking for a cheap right-handed left-fielder, maybe with a little pop.

There aren’t a ton of names that fulfill these requirements. Right-handed power — especially on the bench — is not the easiest thing to find. The Mets spent all of last spring searching for it, before getting lucky with Marlon Byrd.

Probably the cheapest option is also the most flawed. That’s just how the market works. So if the team really is done spending, maybe you’ll see 28-year-old Delmon Young paired with Gregor Blanco in the outfield in AT&T park this year. If only you could take the best parts of both players and smush them together, you’d have a guy with power, patience and defense and a tiny little salary. But put Young in only against lefties, and his offense jumps to 15% above league average, based mostly on above-average power that’s translated decently in different parks. Even his terrible defense could be mitigated by having Juan Perez and Blanco available as defensive replacements.

Perhaps a bit more expensive might be 32-year-old Jeff Baker, the lefty-masher formerly employed by the Texas Rangers. Problem is that he has a hernia, his defense might be as bad as Delmon Young‘s in the outfield, and though he was amazing against lefties in 2013, and has been 28% better than league average against southpaws over his career, that was at least in some part aided by his home park. His slugging numbers away from home last season matched his career norms, which had been around league average going into 2013.

Michael Morse is the expensive option, as he’s looking for a one-year deal around seven-to-eight million dollars. The Giants are rumored to be in on him. The arthroscopic surgery on his wrist is probably less worrisome than his poor defense, waning power and poor contact skills. At 32, he’s decidedly post-peak, and he’s only been worth more than a half win once in his career.

Maybe a smaller trade is the way to go? 31-year-old Justin Ruggiano is a veteran outfielder on a team full of outfielders. His team is fielding offers for the right-handed outfielder. He would have the best outfield defense in his crew, has been 27% better than league average against lefties in his career, has power and patience, and is projected to make only $1.8 million in arbitration this year. Limit him to only lefties, and his strikeout rate drops to near league average and his power surges. The only question is what sort of price the Marlins will require.

Ruggiano would cost less than other available cost-controlled talent. Rick Hahn admitted that he will continue to take calls on Dayan Viciedo, but the White Sox could keep the 25-year-old slugger and may want a better return. Jesus Guzman is on a team full of outfielders, but the 30-year-old doesn’t add much on defense and may have burned bridges against the team that developed him after some on-field posturing while with the Padres.

So that’s it for the bargain bin for right-handed outfield power. Depending on how frugal the team would like to be, the solution might range from Delmon Young to Michael Morse to Justin Ruggiano. There’s an answer in there, as long as you remember that their incumbent left-fielder has managed to put up five wins in the last two years and will be a big part of any solution at the position.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


67 Responses to “Finding the Giants a Left Fielder”

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  1. Kevin says:

    Drew Stubbs?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Not a bad name. Fits the list. Maybe more speedy than powerful, but should be one of the cheaper acquisitions.

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    • Shankbone says:

      Great American ballpark product; strikes out too much; don’t know the cost but not worth pursuing beyond a B- reliever as the cost because of his team control profile as well as his pretty dismal track record. The Giants have a guy who actually gets close to him in profile: Gary Brown.

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      • AK7007 says:

        Park adjustments are a thing, he’s not suddenly worthless because “Great American Ballpark.” He has been 17% above average by weighted runs created over his career versus left handed pitching. That isn’t terrible for the small half of a platoon, especially when combined with non-apalling defense. Real problem is the dollar cost/yrs of control: ~4million for the small half of a platoon is probably still below market rate, but not awesome, and only two years of control to boot. Surplus value to be had means that he shouldn’t cost that much in talent terms when you are talking trade.

        Sabean seems to value players that have a perceived lower variance performance distribution (I could see Stubbs being a 1 WAR player with a stdev of .5WAR, mostly dependent on BABIP) – maybe Gary Brown has a higher stdev for expected performance? A trade for Stubbs could make sense then.

        But I’d still prefer Ruggiano as a 4th OF/Blanco platoon partner.

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        • Shankbone says:

          I guess the big question is this – what is a reasonable amount of money for the RHH part of the platoon you don’t want getting more than 300 PAs? Last year the Gints used Torres and paid him 2MM (and a 500K buyout that nobody, including Cots or nerds like me knew about). So that is at least some part of the baseline. Blanco is estimated at 2.2MM, up from 1.35MM for further consideration.

          Stubbs is estimated at 3.8MM, plus the prospect cost to get him. That’s not exactly cheap. Chris Young, a popular choice among many teams fans, got 7.25MM. Apparently Morse is looking at at least a 1/8MM right now, that sounds lite because of the lack of power on the market.

          While park adjustments might be overrated, Stubbs has hit 50 of his 69 HRs in extreme hitters parks. That was my easiest short hand, sorry if sounded snarky. His slash against lefties of 274/349/448 is definitely worth looking at. His away stats of 224/297/344 less so. PacBell has a rep which sometimes gets overplayed, and he is right handed… But his SLG has been dismal for 3 years straight. He may just be who he is, a very contact challenged hitter who runs into a few a year.

          Ruggiano has extremely low BABIP last year. He’s been a popular discussion on Gints blogs because of his RH pull power and results (18 HRs in 472 PAs versus 10 for Stubbs in 481). With a 1.8MM salary, I have to think he’s a easy hold for the Marlins even with their cheapness.

          Giants like to play moneyball with LF these days.

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  2. Duplicato says:

    I still believe the Rox will deal Cuddy. They seem to really want to move Rosario to the OF and find a C.

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    • AK7007 says:

      Which isn’t really relevant to this situation. Sabean doesn’t do many deals with division rivals. Hard to see that changing for a overpriced, lethargic outfielder.

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      • Duplicato says:

        thanks for your input.

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      • Brett says:

        Sabean and O’Dowd did the deal for Scutaro in 2012, so they’re willing to do business with each other in at least some situations.

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        • AK7007 says:

          Okay, if that was unhelpful input, then I see it like this: Cuddyer is making $10.5 million for 2014. For his career, he has been worth around .04 offensive runs above average per plate appearance versus lefties (Career wRAA lefties/total PA vs lefties) – as the small half of a platoon (The difference between him and Blanco vs righties is 10 points of +wRC, nowhere near enough to offset the defensive differences). That’s excellent. That’s nearly two and a half wins of offensive value above average over 600 PA.

          Problem is, the small half of a platoon doesn’t see 600PA against opposite handed pitchers. Let’s pretend that he is used 100% optimally and sees 250 PA vs lefties (unlikely, the PA vs lefties leader in 2013 only got 261 last year). Suddenly, that’s down to ten runs above average. Before defense.

          Lets be generous and say that he’s only -10 runs/150 games played. If he only had to field in games that he faced lefties (using the optimistic 250PA) – that would be about 60 games, or ~550 innings in the field, or minus 4 runs.

          So far, we are at about +6 runs total over a replacement level player (.6WAR), for S10.5 million. Even if you are valuing wins at $7mil each on the open market, Cuddyer is below that for the Giants. Maybe you think that he will somehow accrue another .4WAR during his time as a Hunter Pence backup and as a DH in interleague games. I doubt it, but about the best case scenario for the Giants would be to get 1WAR out of Cuddyer. (Hey, ~1 WAR is the Steamer WAR projection for him too!)

          For $10.5 million.

          How much money are the Rockies willing to eat? I’m betting it’s not going to be enough to get back an interesting player. Because even if they eat half the money, Cuddyer isn’t going to provide much surplus value. Maybe around Stubbs’ value. But not much.

          So, in conclusion, Cuddyer seems only likely to be traded to one of those “Right-Handed Power!” obsessed teams. But not the Giants. Not with the payroll restrictions where they are. Or at least I hope they are smart enough to stay away. He’s just not worth any talent back on the contract he has, even if “there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal.”

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    • RC says:

      I could be wrong, but don’t the Rox already have a hole in LF? At least the way the Rox have stated things, CarGo will play CF next year, Cuddy in RF, which leaves LF to Rosario if they are able to find a C. Whether or not I believe that CarGo will actually do ok in CF is kind of beside the point….the Rox do, and their opinion is the one that matters.

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      • DP says:

        Hmmm, the Giants don’t care that much about having a decent backup cathcer, so maybe they trade Sanchez and a minor league pitcher to CO for Cuddy. Could Cuddy’s defense be bad enough the Giants don’t like him? Money is not an issue, they just don’t want to spend lots on less than marginal players.

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        • Shankbone says:

          Yes, Cuddyer’s defense is bad enough for the Giants to not like him. Also, he can only play RF due to his blindness, and they have that spot filled.

          Hector Sanchez is more than a backup catcher. His trade value is actually pretty significant.

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        • AC of DC says:

          I think you meant to put “deafness.” Cuddyer has said that he is deaf in his left ear, which limits his positional availability. I say this mostly for the benefit of those who were unaware. Wouldn’t want to inadvertently start a weird Internet rumor about blind OFs.

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        • Shankbone says:

          AC/DC is right! That was a miserable typing mistake on my part. I blame Dave Cameron. J/K. Yes, Cuddyer is deaf in the ear that limits him to the RF side of the OF. Mistake all mine, hope that rumor doesn’t start flying.

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  3. abreutime says:

    They are rumored to be considering trading for de Aza, who, while LH, is a better OF than most players mentioned.

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  4. Drew C says:

    John Mayberry Jr.?

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  5. ajsweeps says:

    I think Blanco/Perez platoon isn’t the worst possibility, considering they play great defense. SF’s offensive struggles are overblown, IMO. Depth, however is a key issue.

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  6. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Brian Sabean has done a lot of doubletalking about LF. It was never higher than 6’th on his list of offseason priorities after Pence, Lincecum, Huddy,Lopez and Vogelsong. He has said that when you consider the total contributions of the players, an upgrade is much more difficult than it seems on the surface. He is clearly referring to Blanco there. He has also said that if he makes a trade at all, it will be for a fulltime LF, not a platoon guy.

    He spent all day yesterday bragging about how bad other GM’s want his prized minor league pitchers and talking up Juan Perez. “He was a different player the second time up.” He also mentioned how well Perez is doing in minor league ball.

    All that may be posturing to try to keep other GM’s from asking for the moon, but Sabean historically is not deceptive in his comments. He often does not say anything at all, but when he does speak, he usually signals pretty clearly what his intentions are.

    I believe that there is at least an 80% chance that the Giants will enter the season with a platoon of Blanco and Perez in LF or else in CF with Pagan moving to LF. That may well be the best option too!

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    • DP says:

      I’d say it is a 99% chance the Giants start the season with the platoon in LF. They only care about one thing (getting our $) and they can do that with a platoon. They wouldn’t/ couldn’t do anything to avoid being in 4th place last year and they haven’t made any real changes to the team that stunk last year. Don’t tell me it is the same guys who won the WS either, because Scutero is 1 yr older/less rangy, Crawford hasn’t improved his offense, Buster faded down the stretch, 3 of the 5 pitchers are questionable). Without any changes or lots of near career best years from multiple guys this team doesn’t win more than 86 and isn’t very entertaining doing so.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        DP,

        So you are going to accuse an organization that won the World Series 2 out of the past 4 years of not caring about winning? An organization with a projected payroll north of $150 M and the second highest future payroll commitment in all of baseball of just taking the money and running?

        That, honestly, is quite a ridiculous, even outrageous assertion! You may not agree with how the Giants allocate their payroll, but they are most certainly trying to win and spending money to do it.

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    • Shankbone says:

      DP – I have my moments getting on the Rainy Day Fund minority partners of the Giants ownership myself, but I just don’t see something worth spending money on (besides Tanaka-San) right now. The LF options just aren’t good, so its time to Moneyball it up and get 90% of the production at 10% cost. Plus the market has kicked loose OF bats for them in 3 of the past 4 years, it would have last year if they didn’t hold their cards.

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  7. Fred says:

    Starling Marte for Brandon Belt, who says no?

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    • RC says:

      Pirates probably. It’s an interesting offer though.

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      • AK7007 says:

        They are about even in their 5-yr Oliver projections (and same for the 1-yr Steamer projections) in WAR. The difference is service time, with Belt as a super 2 and Marte as a player in his second year of service. So, you lose a year of control and pre-arb year by trading away Belt for Marte. Not super likely to happen straight up, even if the Pirates are hard up for a 1B.

        Dosen’t make a ton of sense for the Giants either. They could stick Blanco with a decent platoon partner and get similar value to Marte, but would lose out on long-term control. If you get Marte, then you are looking at finding a new 1B or moving Posey on a semi-permanent basis a few years before it is necessary. Hell, in that scenario (moving Posey and having Marte as a full-time LF) you are probably slightly worse now in 2014 – Posey loses value moving to 1B, and his replacement at C (Susac?) would put up less WAR than Belt would have at 1B.

        Interesting in the sense that “Giants want a LF, Pirates want a 1B” – but breaks down when you think about it for both teams. I could see both saying no.

        Pirates are better off with a Ike Davis/LoMo type move that will be cheaper and allow them to keep Marte, Giants are better off with a Ruggiano type move that will be cheaper and allow them to keep Belt.

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    • Wil says:

      Pittsburgh if only because there is a glut of 1B on the market for them to pick up, that Brandon Belt becomes less attractive.

      Marte also is cheaper and has more control.

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      • Pitnick says:

        There’s a glut?

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        • AK7007 says:

          There isn’t. LoMo, Ike Davis, Hart, Morales, Loney, Reynolds, below .5WAR chaff. Hart and Morales are going to get too much. So for Pit and TB, it’s more like LoMo, Davis, Loney, Reynolds. And none are world-beaters.

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  8. bkgeneral says:

    Why not move Posey to 1b, Sanchez C and Belt to LF vs LHP?

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    • AK7007 says:

      I could even see carrying a third catcher (just look at the Steamer projections Carson ran for Susac!) for this purpose.

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    • ajsweeps says:

      I think you may lose a lot of D value with Belt in LF over Blanco/Perez, and Sanchez over Posey at C. Is it worth the possible O upgrade?

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    • Shankbone says:

      Sabean has shot all this down. Posey is catching, Belt is the 1B (150 games) and that’s that. Belt is a superior defensive 1B, they don’t want him learning a new position, Posey is a superior catcher, and that’s all the news thats fit to print. The move everybody around game is DOA for the year.

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    • soladoras says:

      Hacktor Sanchez is terrible.

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    • bkgeneral says:

      In defense of the move. Belt has played plenty of LF already in his career. Posey would be best served to catch less not more. That bat needs to be protected, and 1b is a nice resting spot. Sanchez, while not great, has been pretty decent vs LHP in his short career.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Brandon Belt played 31 games in LF in 2011, making 3 errors. He played 4 there in 2012 and none in 2013. Not sure what your definition of “plenty” is, but I would not say Belt has played “plenty” of LF. In the little bit of time he played out there, he performed rather poorly.

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  9. AK7007 says:

    Ruggiano is projected by Steamer to be around 1.1 wins in ~300 plate appearances. I can’t see the Marlins needing too much to shed a non-elite player making above the minimum. However, that’s probably wistful thinking, otherwise other teams would have realized they could get him too. So, in my fantasy world – give up somebody like Gary Brown + a low-level arm. We don’t have the roster space or patience to give him a chance, but could turn into something useful if you actually give him a full-season look. Or totally bust forever, either way he makes more sense for the Marlins than Ruggiano as a piece that you could see still being around when they are ready for another run at contention if he works. If he busts, well you were only giving up Ruggiano in a non-contending year.

    Of course, my fantasy world also included calling up Escobar instead of re-signing Vogelsong, so maybe I’m not being entirely realistic.

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  10. Shankbone says:

    First off, saying the cupboard is bare is really skimming the surface here. The Giants have 5 legitimate prospects taking the bump in AA Richmond next year and they will all threaten the show very soon: Crick, Blackburn and 3 lefties who have something not many lefty prospects have: control. Escobar, Mejia and Blach are getting asked for constantly I’m quite sure. Most of these guys are more 2015, but the Giants are extremely aggressive with arms that they like.

    Second, Sabean is taking to the press because teams are trying to peel off this talent with offers of 1-year OFs, such as Brett Gardner or Colby Rasmus. Not going to happen, OFs in their walk year for arms with control and immediacy is a pretty easy hangup.

    Third, despite the stereotype perpetrated here (Dave Cameron’s “Pixie Dust”, bad org rankings, Jeff Sullivan’s “He always signs overrated FAs like Zito and Rowand” on Clubhouse Confidential when Brian Kenny is trying to address the fact that a lot of FO/Scouts guys rank Sabean the #1 GM in the game) the Giants are extremely disciplined about bad contracts, and developing from within. They have trusted their draft and development with less pressing issues (such as the much maligned Hector Sanchez with backup catching in 2012) and they will get by trusting Juan Perez with a platoon in left, cheerfully trading off some offense in the 7 hole for amazing outfield defense.

    Fourth, if you want a guy they might go after, Justin Maxwell is most likely looking like an extra in KC, and Moore is shopping his pen guys because his pen is suddenly too expensive. I can see a trade with KC that nets the Giants Maxwell and a pen arm. Maxwell strikes out too much for the Giants taste, but they do make compromises from time to time. 241/358/431 against lefties would do the work. And yes, they do understand OBP, one of the absolute silliest myths that bounces around the blogospere, even if Sabean wants to quote the back of baseball cards, he doesn’t have some underling writing up a resume for him. Smart savvy organization, you best recognize! Or don’t. Its kind of fun to see fangraphs wallow in rage while the Giants do their thing.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I have no idea what you’re talking about. I completely respect Sabean and just think a cheap LF platoon is the best option, especially after parsing the things he said to me. How did I perpetuate stereotypes about how the Giants run things? I did not have an ounce of rage in me when I wrote this. Have you seen my interview with Bobby Evans?

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      • channelclemente says:

        It’s good to have a joyous heart.

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      • Shankbone says:

        You are the prince Eno, and one of the only reasons I keep checking back to these pages. Sorry to rant on your story. You have been the one writer actually revealing new aspects of the Giants FO, and I really appreciate it. Keep up the good work. I guess my comments were directed more to the Seattle Mariners fans who get airtime on MLB network from time to time.

        And a cheap LF platoon is the best option, because you’re not giving up starting pitching prospects for 1 year rentals.

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    • channelclemente says:

      You know you’re right about the ‘wallow’ aspect of it. The literati here are still trying to figure those 2 WS rings. Sabean’s just smarter than they are, it seems. Besides, it’s always easy to pontificate about someone else’s money.

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      • Pitnick says:

        Fun too!

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      • DP says:

        Smarter? maybe than half of the GMs out there. Luckier is more like it. Lucky he doesn’t work for an east coast team with a media and fans who would have run him out of town before 2010 or team with an ownership that cares about anything more than $. Lucky is Huff and Burrell. Lucky winning all those elimination games in 2012. Lucky is having home field advantage in the two WS. If he was smart he would have a better farm system, not the one that hasn’t produced a decent outfielder in years.

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        • Shankbone says:

          Brian Sabean, still lucky after 17 years…

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        • Ruki Motomiya says:

          Why is someone like Huff lucky? The Giants basically banked on him returning to 2008 form, which was not long ago when Huff was acquired, and cost a mere 3 million dollars on a one year contract. Even if Huff played like 2006 and 2007 Aubrey Huff, where he was only worth about 1 WAR, that is STILL a good deal.

          Huff was a great buy low due to the cheap money involved with big upside (2008) and a floor that still created surplus value (2006, 2007). Resigning him past that year was a bit foolhardy, but still arguably worth it (If he had regressed to around a 2 WAR player, he’d be worth his contract), though I would say I didn’t like the second Huff deal.

          The first Huff deal, though, was not any more lucky then when a team like the A’s buys low on a guy who had a bad year and pays low enough his floor still makes surplus.

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        • DP says:

          Ruki – Ok, maybe Huff isn’t a good example and I’m viewing him too much through the lens that is his last 2 yrs. But I’d be hard pressed to believe that the Giants were the best team they could have been in 2010.

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        • Shankbone says:

          Rays sign Loney, he rebounds, they’re proclaimed geniuses. Giants sign Huff, he rebounds, they’re considered lucky.

          Rays sign noodle armed David Dejesus, he delivers his 2 WAR, they’re considered efficiency expert geniuses. Giants dredge up strong armed Gregor Blanco, he delivers his 2 WAR on the cheap, they’re considered…?

          Tons of examples of this actually. Giants have low-cost steal after low-cost steal dismissed as luck. I guess its just time to win another title, gotta get lucky again.

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        • Bobby says:

          Home field advantage in the two World Series that were won on the road (in 5 and 4 games, respectively), you mean? Yeah that home field advantage sure was crucial in those all-or-nothing games 1 and 2.

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    • chuckb says:

      Geez. Passive-aggressive much?

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      • Shankbone says:

        Nope, I’ve moved onto just aggressive. P/A would be Dave Cameron talking about Matt Cain learning to pitch in “that” ballpark (his emphasis not mine) on MLB, apparently ignorant of Matt Cain’s Home/Road splits. Got your xFIP right here…

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  11. Brem says:

    Obviously missing from this article is the answer the Giants will obviously go for….Matt Stairs.

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  12. Brem says:

    Posey for Longoria and Price, who says no?

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    • Wil says:

      The Rays, easily. Longoria is a 6 WAR player anytime he gets at least 600 PA’s and he is signed to an extremely team friendly deal given his production. Couple that with including Price?

      I’m pretty sure TB wouldn’t trade Longoria for Posey straight up.

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    • Ziggy says:

      No one. The Rays would just laugh in the Giants’ faces and continue counting the piles of money that they don’t have to spend on payroll.

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    • crapshoot says:

      Considering Longoria has one of the most favorable contracts of any superstar in the game I’m gonna go ahead and say the Rays.

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  13. chuckb says:

    Rajai Davis would have been an excellent solution had Dombrowski not beaten the Giants to him.

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  14. Coach Fish says:

    Um…… The Rays

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  15. nsacip says:

    Reed Johnson

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  16. Sage says:

    Wait, does what happened to the short-lived Kensuke Tanaka?

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      Kenduke Tanaka was released. He couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield. Opposing OF’s started playing so shallow it looked like 7 infielders! Opposing pitchers just challenged him up in the zone pitch after pitch with no fear that he would hit it over the OF’s heads, so his OBP tanked too. Dude just had no stick!

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  17. Sage says:

    sorry, take out the does on the previous sentence.

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  18. Sea says:

    Though its unexciting, start with the platoon in LF, and then see how the trade market builds up to July. Can always add an impact LF similar to the Pence pickup.

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