We have reached a point deep enough in the hot stove season that we are close enough to spring training to close the book on the offseason. Our National League West offseason review begins with the Dodgers' biggest rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
2015 record: 84-78, second place NL West
2016 Giants games in LA: April 15-17, August 23-25, September 19-21
2016 Dodgers games in SF: April 7-10, June 10-12, Sept. 30-Oct. 2
More info: McCovey Chronicles
The two starting pitchers signed big deals. Johnny Cueto got $130 million over six years, or he can opt out after two years and $46 million. Jeff Samardzija got five years and $90 million.
Denard Span got $31 million over three years, plus a club option for 2019.
The club also locked up shortstop Brandon Crawford, the defensive stalwart who keeps getting better every season on offense. Crawford, now 29, signed a six-year, $75 million contract extension that paid for his final two years of salary arbitration and bought out four years of free agency.
Relief pitcher Cody Hall was traded to the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later.
Pitcher Joe Biagini was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays.
Not a busy swapping offseason for San Francisco.
Kyle Blanks is back in the National League West, with his career .253/.342/.455, 122 wRC+ mark against left-handed pitchers.
Ricky Romero, now 31, last pitched in the majors in 2013, and has been limited by injuries to just 13 minor league starts combined in 2014-2015.
Jumping the Shark?
San Francisco committed $90 million over five years hoping they got the good version of Jeff Samardzija. In 2015 he was anything but, putting up a 4.96 ERA and 4.23 FIP, leading the majors in hits allowed (228) and earned runs (129), and leading the American League in home runs allowed (29). He saw his strikeout rate plummet to 17.9 percent in 2015 after rates from 23.0 to 24.9 percent in three previous years as a starter.
Very roughly, Samardzija's four years as a starting pitcher can be broken down to two decent to good years (2012-2013), one very good to great year (2014) and one stinker (2015). Maybe it is just sticker shock or my own inability to adjust to the market, but is that performance worth five years and $18 million per season? In many ways this reminds me of Charlie Weis, Samardzija's football coach in college, whose biggest win at Notre Dame was a loss to No. 1 USC in 2005.
But I'm probably selling Samardzija short here. Switching to the National League, and to the pitcher's paradise of AT&T Park, the Giants probably do in fact have a decided schematic advantage with their new pitcher. Also, Samardzija has proven to be a workhorse the last three years, sixth in the majors in innings from 2013-2015 (647⅓), with no fewer than 213⅔ innings in any of the three seasons.
There is value in that stability, especially for a Giants' starting rotation that ranked ninth in the National League in innings pitched in 2015.
With both Cueto and Samardzija joining the staff, Chris Heston — who threw a no-hitter and had a 3.95 ERA in 31 starts last year — might find himself on the outside looking in.
The Giants return nearly everyone from one of the best and most underrated offenses in the National League. The Giants were second in the NL in OPS+ (102) and first in wRC+ (107) in 2015. The Dodgers were the only other team at or above 100 in both categories, with a 105 OPS+ and 106 wRC+, but San Francisco was better able to translate that into runs, scoring 29 more runs than the Dodgers.
San Francisco was fourth in the majors and second in the National League with 4.51 runs per game on the road, scoring just four fewer runs than the Mets.
The biggest addition on offense was center fielder Denard Span, but the club should also get more than 53 games out of Hunter Pence in 2016. The infield and catcher Buster Posey are all on the right side of 30, and all above average on offense, giving San Francisco potentially a lineup without any real holes.
Don't forget about Madison Bumgarner, who has been the best hitting pitcher in baseball with nine home runs the last two years, hitting .252/.280/.469 with a 112 wRC+ during that span that dwarfs every other pitcher in baseball.
Keeping Posey fresh
Buster Posey is one of the most valuable players in baseball, and the Giants' best hitter. The team has tried to balance keeping him at catcher, where he is most valuable as the best hitting catcher in the game, and also getting him regular pseudo-rest by playing first base.
Posey caught 1,031 innings in 2013, then 929⅓ innings in 2014, followed by 901⅔ innings in 2015. In those years, his defensive frames at first base have increased, from 138⅔ to 261 to 323⅔. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
San Francisco has a capable second catcher in Andrew Susac, and though first baseman Brandon Belt has been productive he has also seen time in left field so the club is flexible if Posey should need more rest.
In his career, Posey has hit .303/.369/.472 as a catcher, but .346/.400/.540 in 598 plate appearances as a first baseman.
Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus had a funny tweet about the Giants' recent trend of winning the World Series every other year (2010, 2012, 2014).
Going to be funny when we all figure out this year that the even year bullshit isn't a product of the Giants but rather of Pablo Sandoval.— Mike Gianella (@MikeGianella) January 20, 2016
The Giants are the Dodgers' biggest threat in the NL West in 2016, and even if San Francisco doesn't win the division will be in the mix for a playoff spot at the very least.