This is my second Hot Stove League post of the post-2014 season. Like my first one, it focuses on my team, the San Francisco Giants.
When I ended that post, I summarized the situation as follows:
Assume for the moment that the Giants re-sign Panda, replace Romo with Strickland, and lose Peavy. That means we’re still looking for a left fielder and a starting pitcher and probably a southpaw in the pen.
If they don’t re-sign Panda, replace Romo with Strickland, and keep Peavy, they still need a left fielder and a left-hander in the bullpen plus a third baseman.
So let’s look first at left field, then at left-handed relief, both of which will be needed regardless of whether the G-Men keep or lose Sandoval.
Probably the top two free agent prospects for the Giants are Alex Rios of Texas and Baltimore’s Nick Markakis. But you’d also have to include Emllio Bonifacio and Naori Aioki on any short list. Free agency is full of decent-to-potentially-great outfielders this season. The question is going to be what the Giants can afford under the cap.
Alex Rios, Texas free agent outfielder
Rios was a relative standout for the Texas Rangers in 2014 until he bruised his thumb. But the club bought out his option and let him try free agency with a .280 average, which is just about exactly his career number. He was due to be paid $14 million, so the decision wasn’t unexpected, particularly for a club with an embarrassment of outfield riches, though much of it is untried.
Rios’ biggest downside is his age (34) but he was one of the fleetest baserunners in the AL in 2013 and it’s hard to see how a bum thumb can slow that down. On the other hand, the Giants seem to have an allergy to stealing, so maybe that’s not a consideration.
My guess is he’ll get a 2-3 year deal in the $8-10 million range, based principally on longevity concerns. At that price, he might be a good interim pickup.
Markakis is a little more interesting. He has just about the same amount of MLB experience as Rios (eight years) and his BA is almost identical. But he’s three years younger plus he’s a two-time Gold Glover.
The problem us that Markakis is going to be slightly more expensive than Rios. He probably commands something in the $45-50 million range over four seasons.
Bonifacio has a bit of a weak stick (career average .262, 2014 average .259), he’s 30 years old and he’s bounced around a bit. On the other hand, he earned under $1 million in 2014 and if Giants Manager Bruce Bochy sees him as a good chemical fit for the team, a friendly clubhouse and supportive coaching could bring this guy out of the shadows. If he can be had for under $2 million on a short-term deal, he may be worth the risk.
Aoki is a steady .287 career hitter with a reputation for putting the ball in play. He’s not a power hitter but he has great range and a decent arm. He was a defensive key to the Royals’ 2014 World Series run. Reports are that he’s interested in a three-year deal, which makes sense for a 32-year-old. He made $2 million in 2014 and is looking for $8 million per year in his next deal. That’s probably not outrageous but may be a bit steep for the Giants.
I like Gary Brown, a Giants farm system product, as well as any of these guys, frankly. He’s a bit of a light hitter (he hit .265 at Fresno last season) but he’s pretty solid defensively and the age of 26 has a long future. He’s a hot enough prospect that when the Giants were negotiating for Hunter Pence two years ago, the Phillies were keen to make him part of the package. For 2015, he wouldn’t be as much immediate help as either Rios or Markakis, but since the Giants will probably flounder a bit next season anyway before taking it all again in 2016, giving the youngster a year of seasoning might make some sense.
Free agent pickings for southpaw bullpen guys are really slim. Particularly in the Giants’ price range. I’ve scoured the wire and the only possible candidate I can come up with is Andrew Miller. But before I could even get this column online, he had multiple three-year offers that would reportedly make him the highest-paid reliever in the game who is not a closer and doesn’t have closer experience. (That’s not too big a deal; that number currently stands at $6 million.) The Giants would be crazy to spend over $7 million on the guy and with 22 teams expressing interest, the bidding is likely to get silly before anyone acquires him.
Which leaves the farm system which, fortunately, has two good prospects at a minimum. Unfortuantely, one of those just shot himself in the foot with a PED (performance-enhancing drugs) suspension of 50 games.
Adalberto Mejia is the guy with the drug issue. The 21-year-old spent last season in AA ball where he compiled a career-high and disappointing 4.67 ERA. He features a low-90’s fastball and a quality circle change but he can also throw a devastating slider that’s his go-to strikeout pitch. He has excellent control (though apparently not self control) and is viewed as a top-5 Giants prospect. He probably did himself in for 2015 with his suspension, though.
Michael Kickham, Giants left-handed relief prospect
The other minor league prospect for the Giants in the left-handed reliever category is Michael Kickham. At 25, his control needs work (he gave up 75 walks in 150 innings of work last year) but he has great quality stuff and he doesn’t have to be in the strike zone to get guys out. In 2014, he looked like this: 3.05 ERA, 1.29 WHIP with 137 strikeouts across those 150 innings. At one point last season in Fresno, he put up 4 consecutive quality starts in which he struck out 25 and walked only six, so he’s definitely capable. While he might benefit from another year in the minors, he could benefit greatly from some Righetti coaching and some Bochy nurturing.
It might not be the best they could do in a different scenario, but given the relative paucity of relievers this year and the overall team picture, I think the Giants should give Rios a shot if they can get him for two years at under $20 mill and start with the idea of promoting Kickham to the Big Show bullpen for a quick look-see.