Finding the Giants a Bat

Bobby Evans, the San Francisco Giants general manager, has said on numerous occasions that he’s comfortable with Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker as the starting left fielder in 2017. That’s hard to believe.

In all likelihood, Evans said that so other teams and representatives of free agents don’t think they need to make a move for a left fielder. It’s a matter of leverage.

The Giants have, however, publicly stated that they’re targeting top relief pitchers. That need is so obvious they’d be foolish to deny it.

Despite what the Giants say publicly, they’re probably in the market for a left fielder and/or a third baseman in addition to an ace reliever.

Evans has stated that Eduardo Nuñez will be the starting third baseman, and that he’s comfortable with that reality. However, he’s lied about third base — or at least gone back on his word — before.

It happened just four months ago. Nuñez was acquired on July 28 in a move that surprised fans and analysts alike. Matt Duffy was just two days away from beginning a rehab assignment on his way back from an Achilles injury. Evans said he spoke with Duffy and assured him he wasn’t being replaced, and insisted that Nuñez was added as depth. Four days later, Duffy was traded to Tampa Bay.

So teams lie. They “change their minds.”

There’s no doubt the Giants could use some help in the lineup. While they weren’t a bad offensive team by any stretch, their lack of power in 2016 was severe, and the departure of Angel Pagan leaves a vacancy in left field. While Parker or Williamson may be capable of filling that void, it’s hard to imagine an otherwise complete team (once the bullpen is addressed) relying on two unproven players at a premium offensive position. Especially if they’re going to stand pat with Nuñez — an average hitter at best — as the starting third baseman, another premium offensive position. The Giants have a great starting rotation and several quality, cornerstone position players. Including the bullpen, they’re just two or three pieces away from looking like one of the best teams in the league. For all those reasons, it would be shocking if they didn’t acquire a left fielder.

One name that’s been mentioned is Ian Desmond. He’s capable of playing center field and shortstop (and therefore pretty much any other outfield or infield position) and he provides solid value on the base paths and at the plate. However, Desmond’s offense is a bit overrated. He’s put up just a 101 wRC+ in his career, and his bat has been known to disappear for long stretches.

Another problem with Desmond is that he’s a free-agent hitter. Free-agent hitters don’t like to sign with the Giants. It makes sense, when you think about it. What hitter in their right mind would want to play in San Francisco, given otherwise comparable alternatives, when it’s cold, windy, and the ballpark is enormous? Sure, the fans are great, the park is picturesque, and of course there’s the whole winning thing. But let’s be real: free-agent hitters would much rather go to Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, or just about anywhere other than AT&T if given the choice.

That’s why the Giants like to make the choice for them. Most of San Francisco’s impact hitters came to the team via the draft or a trade. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, and Brandon Crawford are homegrown. Nuñez, Pagan, and Hunter Pence were acquired in trades. They traded for Melky Cabrera, Pagan, and Casey McGehee in recent off-seasons. They got Freddy Sanchez, Carlos Beltran, Pence, Marco Scutaro, and Nuñez in mid-season trades.

That was a really long way of saying that I expect the Giants to trade for a hitter, and I expect that hitter to be a left fielder. Just the other day, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned Jay Bruce and J.D. Martinez as possible trade targets:

The problem with Bruce is that he’s bad. A lot of Giants fans probably love with Jay Bruce. They shouldn’t. Defense actually matters, and a player’s home ballpark can have a massive impact on his offensive output. Bruce’s defense is terrible, and the offense we’re used to seeing from him is a mirage, because for essentially his entire career he’s played half his games at the Great American Smallpark (eye roll) in Cincinnati.

Forget about Jay Bruce. J.D. Martinez is much more intriguing. Over the last three seasons, Martinez has posted wRC+s of 154, 137, and 142. To put it bluntly, the man can flat out hit. He put up +4.0 fWAR in 2014, +5.0 in 2015, and just +1.8 in 2016. The reason for the big drop in 2016 is that he allegedly “forgot how to play defense.” He put up decent enough defensive numbers in 2014 and ’15 that betting on a rebound is probably worth the risk. His stock might never be lower, which means that now is the time to buy, especially because the Tigers are selling.

Martinez is an impact bat. He’s under team control for one more season and costs just $11.8M. He’s 29 years old. He would immediately become the Giants’ biggest power threat. His righty bat would fit in nicely among a lineup of mostly left-handed hitters. Manager Bruce Bochy could use Parker and Williamson to give Pence, Span, and Martinez days off, meanwhile evaluating if they’re capable of having a bigger role in 2018. Or, the Giants could fall in love with Martinez and do their best to re-sign him after 2017, as they’ve had success doing with players they’ve acquired in trades.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Martinez would be a big splash and a massive upgrade (assuming, which we probably shouldn’t, that he remembers how to defense), but there are other intriguing trade targets to discuss.

Jorge Soler is one of them. He has big upside. He’s entering his age-25 season. He still flashes the tremendous raw power and athleticism that had people so hyped on him after his spectacular, albeit brief, 2014 debut in which he slashed .292/.330/.573 in 97 plate appearances.

Despite the hot start, Soler has managed a pedestrian .258/.328/.434 line in 765 career PA. He’s no longer a starter for the loaded Chicago Cubs. Kyle Schwarber’s return from a knee injury makes playing time even more unfathomable for Soler. He’s likely expendable if the price is right.

He’s signed for the next four years for a total of just $15M, but he can opt into arbitration eligibility if he feels that will earn him more money. It’s worth noting that Soler’s defense does not rate particularly well, although it’s also worth noting that he’s not as bad as Jay Bruce.

Another intriguing name is Marcell Ozuna, who would probably be a better ‘get’ than Soler. He’s put up a solid 103 wRC+ in his young career. He’s only 26 and is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. He’s capable of scintillating hot streaks at the plate and plays very good outfield defense. He would be an excellent addition to the Giants, and, like Desmond, he can play center field. The Marlins are reportedly interested in acquiring starting pitchers after the tragic death of Jose Fernandez. The Giants could theoretically offer a package centered around their young, promising minor-league pitcher Tyler Beede.

So there you have it. Everybody knows that the Giants need serious help in the bullpen. It’s so obvious, the team is willing to shout it from the rooftops. What’s less obvious is their need for for an upgrade in either the outfield or at third base. (Of course, it’s entirely possible they’ll upgrade at both positions.) Since Nuñez is an established veteran, and Parker and Williamson are not, it seems more likely that the Giants will target a left fielder than a third baseman if they decide to only address one of those positions.

Baseball’s winter meetings are right around the corner (editor’s note: now underway! Mark Melancon!). Look for the Giants to be right in the thick of things. They’ve been heavily involved at the meetings these last few years, as constructing a roster that wins championships has become a realistic annual goal. Despite the front office saying that they’re comfortable with their current group of position players, the acquisition of a left fielder in addition to an ace bullpen arm seems imminently likely in the coming days or weeks. It’s just a matter of when, and whom.

Ben Kaspick is the host Locked On Giants, a daily podcast focused on the San Francisco Giants. He began writing for FanGraphs' RotoGraphs in 2016, and also contributes for SB Nation's Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter @BenKaspick.

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