In the slowest offseason in memory, the Giants have decided to twist whilst nearly all around them have opted to stick. In addressing their deficiencies, in the outfield and at third base, they’ve seemingly increased their chances of bouncing back after the annus horribilis that was 2017. Below I briefly outline the key roster changes ahead of spring training.
Ins: Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Evan Longoria (Rays), Austin Jackson (FA, Indians), Gregor Blanco (FA, Diamondbacks), Derek Holland (FA, White Sox)
Averaging 154 games per season for the last eight years, and hitting 20+ homers for each of the last seven, McCutchen is a five time all-star and former NL MVP who was the face of the Pirates franchise. Charming, charismatic and warm, he is exactly the kind of the player the Giants organisation love to have in the clubhouse. To prise him away from Pittsburgh was tough on the Pirates fans but the ownership there seem to have designs on cutting the purse strings and rebuilding, and their loss is very much San Francisco’s gain. Playing in right field will suit him, as he’ll need to cover a bit less ground and should enable him to put up better defensive numbers. His offensive stats could well suffer a little but the fresh start and new environment might prove to be positive. If he can get close to his peak from 2013-15 then the Giants are in for a real treat. He hit .308/.405/.513 in that time, with 69 HR, 263 RBI and 56 SB across those three seasons combined. He doesn’t steal as many bases as he did earlier in his career, but he’ll get on base and drive in runs, and will probably hit more home runs than any other Giant in 2018. What’s not to like?
Evan Longoria was every bit the face of his franchise as was Andrew McCutchen, and if his name carries slightly less star appeal, his signing is just as important. The Giants have bagged themselves a three-time Gold Glove third baseman who has averaged 5 WAR in his ten seasons in the majors. The park factors won’t hurt his right hand bat too much, and he is a good bet to hit 20+ home runs, as he did in all but one of his ten seasons in Florida. A slight down year last season in which he posted a 100 OPS+ could either point to the early onset of decline, or simply be a down year. Even if it is a sign that his production is slowing down, coming off the season the Giants have just had they would probably bite your hand off for a few seasons of solid, if unspectacular, offense and reliable defensive solidity at third base.
If you don’t know much about Austin Jackson then you’re probably not alone. Stunning over-the-wall defensive plays aside, Jackson has slipped under the radar since finishing the 2010 season as runner up to Neftali Feliz in AL Rookie of the Year voting. He’s a marginal defensive upgrade on Denard Span at centre field, but offers little to write home about with the bat. He’s put up a league average 102 OPS+ in his eight seasons in the majors, but there were grounds for optimism last time out, with a .318/.387/.482 slash in half a season’s worth of work with the Indians. Fangraphs have his playing time at centre field projected for 50%, the thinking being that Steven Duggar will get called up and to be platooned together with Jackson. He is unlikely to improve on last season, but even with a slight regression to the mean I can see the Giants being happy with his output.
Giants fans know all about Gregor Blanco, and most will be welcoming him back. He provides solid, occasionally spectacular cover across the three outfield positions but cannot be relied upon heavily with the bat. He is popular inside the clubhouse, having been involved in World Series wins and Perfect Game heroics, and is not an expensive player to have around having signed on a minor league contract, but if everything goes well for the Giants this year I can’t see him getting too much playing time.
A minor league pick up similar to Gregor Blanco, in that the only way he gets much action is if things have not gone according to plan in terms of injuries and form. Holland started 26 games for the White Sox last time out and went for 6.20 ERA, and his FIP was slightly worse than that still. He is not someone the Giants will want to count on in 2018.
Outs: Matt Moore (Rangers), Christian Arroyo, Denard Span (Rays), Kyle Crick (Pirates)
A player I thought would do well at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park never got it together as a Giant, and the second highest WHIP amongst qualified pitchers is an unwanted takeaway from a disappointing year. Moore’s fastball lost a bit of zip and he used his cutter considerably more than he ever had before, but it failed to beat bats too frequently, and his 34.7% hard contact rate, coupled with a 42% fly ball rate led to a career-high 1.39 HR/9.
Span put up two seasons of decent service in San Francisco and was a popular presence in the clubhouse but his loss will not be overly felt on the field. Given the unforgiving park factors for left-handed hitters it was somewhat surprising that he enjoyed an uplift in his power output after moving from Washington. It was on the basepaths that he disappointed somewhat, though, caught stealing in 14 of his 38 attempts despite having above average speed, as this inside the park home run last year corroborates.
At 22 years old there’s plenty of time for Christian Arroyo to work things out and become a solid every day major leaguer, and he’ll get plenty of playing time for the Rays this year, but to say things didn’t work out for him last year with the bat would be a considerable understatement. He wasn’t helped by the initial comparisons to Cody Bellinger, as the pair made their debuts just a day apart in the same series last April. In hindsight he was probably promoted too early, and then simply couldn’t adapt to elite pitching, striking out 24% of the time. He couldn’t get the ball off the ground either – only three players had a greater ground ball rate than his 60.6%. He’ll be missed in San Francisco, but more for his former top prospect potential than for his actual performances once he made it up.
Crick’s conversion to closer didn’t go too well, but he could be valued by the Pirates as they adjust their pitching corp with the additions of Musgrove and Feliz and the loss of Gerrit Cole to the Astros. It will be interesting to see how many opportunities he’ll get to finish games in Pittsburgh. It might have been nice to keep Krick, but he is good makeweight in the deal for McCutchen and I can’t see him being missed too much.