What do the Giants and the lowly, farcical Miami Marlins have in common? Why, they both rank at the bottom of the National League in home runs, a particularly galling statistic for the soon-to-be-not defending World Champions considering the Marlins basically threw the season away last winter. The Giants have hit 9 home runs on the year, good for fourteenth out of fifteen National League teams. It’s a continuation of a three-year trend that has seen the team finish near the bottom in home run hitting since their wallop-packing 2010 offense led the way to a championship. Even in their championship 2012 season, they finished dead last in total home runs, and were particularly feeble at home. Simply put, the ability to hit the ball over the wall has been in short supply at AT&T Park in recent years.
It’s no surprise then, that the team is making the acquisition of a power hitter one of their top priorities this offseason. The team is eighth in the NL in total runs scored and twelve in slugging percentage. If you think the Giants’ home run meagerness is solely the result of their stingy home ballpark, think again. The Giants currently rank twelfth out of fifteen NL teams in total home runs on the road. Hunter Pence leads the team in home runs this year with 25, but after him, the Giant with the next-highest total is Brandon Belt, with sixteen. Only four Giants regulars have cracked double digits in home runs this year, though Brandon Crawford is knocking on the door with nine.
So that’s how we get to the team’s almost certain search for a power bat in the offseason. There has been some talk of moving Belt, who has had a breakout year, to left field and then acquiring a power-hitting first baseman, but I have serious doubts as to whether Belt has the range to be an adequate everyday outfielder. Plus, he looks to be coming into his own as the Giants’ starting first baseman and he’s got a good glove there, so why mess with success?
The most obvious place to plug power into the lineup would be at that left field spot, where Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres have combined for four home runs in 2013, but what exactly are the Giants options? Assuming the Giants bring Hunter Pence back (a safe assumption considering the year he’s having), I’d guess that the Giants are most likely to target a power-hitting left-fielder in free agency. Perusing the list of potential 2014 free agents, the clear there won’t be a booming market for left fielders, but here’s a quick and dirty rundown of some of the best left field candidates for the Giants to go after, or at least who they’re most likely to go after.
If this scenario plays out, of these four players, I think Morse has the best shot of landing on the Giants. He’ll have the cheapest price tag of all of them and the Giants tend to be drawn to his kind of low-walk, free-swinging player. Morse has been horrendous since his trade to Baltimore, but he’s put up good power numbers since 2010 and is recent struggles should bring his price tag down. Hart is a similar-type player, but I think his price will be too high and he hasn’t played left field regularly in years.
Internally, there are no good power options whatsoever, which means the only other option would be to acquire a left fielder via trade. Here, I would make a strong bet that the Giants will make a play for Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista, who was having his typically strong power year until he was shut down for the season due to a hip injury. Bautista has battled injuries the past two years, but that might bring the Blue Jays’ asking price down a bit. It’s almost certain that the Giants would have to surrender one of their top pitching prospects to the Jays in return, but in exchange for two more years of an elite slugger who draws a lot of walks and who would be a major impact bat, it’d likely be worth the risk.
Bautista was tied to the Giants this summer in trade talks and he would be exactly the kind of power hitter the team is looking for. The Giants could also subsequently retain Blanco or keep Juan Perez in the majors to act as a defensive replacement. Another trade option would be Josh Willingham, but his poor year and utter lack of defensive value might have dampened many teams’ enthusiasm over him.