The first major addition of the Giants’ offseason was not really an addition, per se. However, it was a major sum of money given to a player, but a player that was already under team control. On November 17, the Giants agreed to terms on a six-year, $75 million dollar contract extension with shortstop Brandon Crawford, buying out his remaining two years of salary arbitration and extending team control through 2021, which will be Crawford’s age-34 season.
Crawford has always been a defensive standout, but broke through on offense in 2015, mashing a career-high 21 home runs and posting another career mark with 117 wRC+. Crawford will make $6 million in 2016, $8.2 million in 2017, and then $15.2 million a year from 2018-2021, what would have been his first four free-agency eligible years.
Shortly after the free-agent pitching market opened with the signing of David Price on December 1, the Giants made a splash of their own, inking former Cubs/A’s/White Sox hurler Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million dollar deal on December 4. Samardzija is coming off a rocky 2015 campaign in which he racked up a whopping 4.96 ERA while managing to still toss 214.0 innings for the White Sox, following a breakout 2014 in which he posted a 2.99 ERA in 219.2 innings for the Cubs and A’s.
The Giants are clearly banking on Samardzija to elevate his game back to that level, as they will be paying him $19.8 million a year through 2020 after he earns $10.2 million in 2016. Samardzija’s H/9 and K/9 numbers were particularly poor in 2015, at 9.6 and 6.9 respectively, whereas his career averages through 2014 were 8.3 and 8.5 in those categories. Hopefully for the Giants, Samardzija’s numbers will improve in 2016 and beyond to make him more valuable than he was in 2015.
Just ten days after the Samardzija agreement was announced, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean dipped further into the organization’s wallet, acquiring former Reds and Royals hurler Johnny Cueto to a six-year, $130 million dollar deal on December 14. Cueto had a successful start to 2015 in Cincinnati, posting a 2.62 ERA in 130.2 innings with the Reds before being shipped to Kansas City at the deadline, where he was a bit less effective, accumulating a 4.76 ERA in 81.1 innings down the stretch. The Giants seem to be betting that Cueto will be as effective for them as he was in his NL career with the Reds, where he put up a 3.21 ERA in 1,339.0 innings over 213 starts in eight seasons with the club.
After being relatively quiet through December’s winter meetings, the Giants made their final big-name sign of the offseason on January 7, agreeing to terms with former Twins and Nationals outfielder Denard Span for three years and $31 million. In an injury-plagued 2015 season, Span still managed to hit .301/.365/.431, and in his last full season with the Nationals in 2014, slashed .302/.355/.416 in 147 games. Unfortunately for the Giants, Span’s defensive prowess seems to be declining, posting defensive runs saved marks of 3, -3, and -10 in center field from 2013-2015.
With Span fully healthy in 2016, hopefully he can regain some of his range in center, which is what has been the issue the past few years. Regardless, Span will provide good speed and on-base ability at the top of the lineup for the Giants in 2016 and hopefully beyond.
In terms of depth additions, the player who figures to see the most MLB time in 2016 is new outfielder/first baseman Kyle Blanks, signed from the Rangers in November 2015. Blanks has seen limited playing time in his time in the majors, topping 200 plate appearances only once, in 2013. However, over the last two seasons, slashing .311/.379/.481 over 137 plate appearances for the Padres, Athletics, and Rangers. Blanks has tons of raw power, and if he can maintain an average somewhere between his career mark of .241 and the .311 he put up the last two seasons off the bench for the Giants, he could be a valuable depth asset in 2016.
Additionally, the Giants added a slew of probable minor leaguers, including catcher George Kottaras, utility man Grant Green, infielders Ramiro Pena and Hak-Ju Lee, outfielders Junior Arias and Carlos Moncrief, and pitchers Albert Suarez, Vin Mazzaro, and Mike Kickham. Kottaras has seven years of MLB experience with seven different teams, but in 2015 appeared strictly in Triple-A, hitting .238/.372/.429 in 181 PAs. Kottaras would be passable as an MLB backup, but the Giants should hope he isn’t needed in any kind of serious role. Green played poorly in his limited MLB time with Los Angeles in 2015, but slashed .306/.337/.449 in over 400 PAs with Triple-A Salt Lake. Green is similar to Kottaras, serviceable in a limited role but not to be relied upon. Pena appeared in 81 games for Atlanta in 2014, batting .245/.304/.347 in 165 PAs, but didn’t crack the majors in 2015. Lee, Arias, and Moncrief have yet to MLB time in their careers, and haven’t been great performers in recent years, at levels ranging from A-Advanced to Triple-A. Suarez has also never made the majors, or even advanced past Double-A, but he performed well in 2015, posting a 2.98 ERA in 163.0 innings with Arkansas in the Double-A Texas League. Mazzaro has a real chance to see the MLB in 2016 if healthy, as his last full MLB campaign featured a 2.81 ERA in 73.2 innings for Pittsburgh in 2013. In partial 2014 and 2015 seasons, Mazzaro posted ERAs in the mid-3s over 22.1 total innings. Kickham is a former Giants farmhand, reclaimed from Texas in January, but his outlook for 2016 is poor after posting an ERA of 7.00 in just 27.0 Triple-A innings in 2015.