With a pair of shrewd acquisitions, one last off-season and the other at last month’s non-waiver trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants significantly upgraded their lineup for the stretch run and the post-season.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean has said that there there is enough financial flexibility in the team’s budget to bring back Melky Cabrera and Hunter Pence next year and beyond. The soon-to-be 28-year-old Cabrera and the 29-year-old Pence are eligible for free agency after this season.
According to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, the Giants and Cabrera will resume talks about an extension when in the off-season arrives. Though an official offer was not initiated, Heyman reports, San Francisco “is believed to have suggested a three-year deal along the lines of Carlos Quentin‘s new $27-million, three-year contract.”
Cabrera, who can proficiently play all three outfield spots, will be part of a free agent center field class that might also include B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino if the Giants do not sign him to an extension.
In four full seasons with the Yankees and one year in Atlanta, the switch-hitting Cabrera established himself as a useful and versatile outfielder. Then, last year, he emerged as a run producer when he hit .305 with 18 home runs, 87 RBI, 20 stolen bases and a .809 OPS in Kansas City.
Cabrera is presently a National League Most Valuable Player candidate with a stat line of .353/.399/.530 to accompany a Major League-leading 152 hits, 78 runs (third in the majors), 11 home runs, 56 RBI and 12 stolen bases. According to Fangraphs.com,he has a 4.8 WAR (wins above replacement player) rating, which is fifth-best among Major League outfielders.
The 29-year-old Sanchez flopped with the Royals, posting a 1-6 record and a 7.76 ERA in 12 starts before he was traded to Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie on July 20.
With Cabrera, Pence and highly regarded prospect Gary Brown (a 23-year-old center fielder who was a first round pick out of Stanford in 2010 and is MLB.com’s 37th best overall prospect on its top 100 list), the Giants have the makings of a talented and productive outfield for the long term as long as they sign Cabrera and Pence.
Cabrera has expressed a desire to remain with the Giants for the long term.
“I’m a free agent next (winter), but the fans and Giants’ organization have treated me very well, so I would welcome staying with the Giants,” Cabrera told the San Francisco Chronicle.
A surprise winner of the 2010 World Series, the Giants are 60-50 and sit atop the National League West with a 1.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team hopes that the addition of Pence – who was brought in late last month from the Phillies for right fielder Nate Schierholtz and minor leaguers Seth Rosin and Tommy Joseph – gives the lineup enough pop to play deep into October.
With Cabrera, Buster Posey and Pence in the heart of the order, manager Bruce Bochy has a lineup that can score runs. Later this month, the Giants expect the return of third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring. He is batting .299 with eight home runs, 33 RBI and a .843 OPS in 234 at-bats.
Sabean, Bochy and Giants fans alike savor the visions of a lineup that features Cabrera, Posey, Pence, Sandoval, promising first baseman Brandon Belt and the top prospect Brown for several years. The club does have some hefty salaries next season – including Matt Cain and Barry Zito for $20 million each, and Tim Lincecum at $22 million.
The Giants will free some salary with Aubrey Huff‘s $2 million buyout instead of picking up his $10 million team option, perhaps parting ways with injured closer Brian Wilson (who is getting $8.5 million this year and can become a free agent) and not resigning players like Freddy Sanchez and Marco Scutaro.
Pitching is crucial, and the Giants are loaded with formidable arms, yet a roster that features legitimate top of the rotation starters and a heart of the order with Cabrera, Posey, Pence and Sandoval is worth keeping.