1) Who’s your 2011 Giants MVP?
BASG: With their offense as bad as it was, I have a hard time labeling any of the hitters as an MVP. But can you really call Matt Cain more valuable than Tim Lincecum, just because Cain walked fewer guys and allowed fewer homers? Lincecum could’ve been more efficient in 2011, but the guy faced Clayton Kershaw at least 24 times. That just isn’t fair. And what about Madison Bumgarner, who was the best pitcher on the team according to all the modern stats? Doesn’t he deserve consideration?
Then there’s Sergio Romo, who had as precise a season a relief pitcher could hope for. As amazing as he was, how different would the 2011 season look without him?
There isn’t a perfect MVP candidate on this team, which makes sense since the season was far from perfect. But even though the offense was the reason why the Giants missed the playoffs a year after winning the World Series, this team’s MVP was Pablo Sandoval. If Sandoval didn’t miss 42 consecutive games after introducing Giants fans to the term “hamate bone” by fracturing the one in his hand, this decision would have been easy. But even with that missed time, one can’t ignore three things:
— .315/.357/.552 and 23 homers on a team starved for power.
— Sandoval’s defense– a liability as 2010 progressed — was fantastic in 2011.
Without Sandoval, the Giants might have had the worst offense since World War I. For that reason, along with his surprising range and throwing accuracy at a difficult position, he is the Giants’ 2011 MVP.
Julian: Pablo Sandoval, no doubt. Even though he only played in 117 games, he was excellent, hitting .315/.357/.552 in what turned out to be a very nice bounce-back season. Not only was he the best offensive third baseman in the majors this season – his wRC+ (142) leading all third baseman by a considerable amount, but he was also fantastic on the defensive side of things. He played Gold Glove-worthy third base all season long. Overall, he was tied with Madison Bumgarner (5.5) for the highest fWAR on the team, and also led the Giants in rWAR (6.1).
Zack: There’s probably a compelling argument for to be made for Lincecum, Cain, or Bumgarner, but ultimately, I think you’ve got to go with Pablo Sandoval. On the offensive side of things, there’s not much more you can ask from him — he led all 3rd basemen with a 142 wRC+, and carried the team with his hot streaks. Defensively, his 12.3 UZR is a bit unrealistic, but it’s apparent that Pablo was above-average at the hot corner this year thanks to improved range. All in all, it’s quite impressive that he managed to tie Bumgarner for the team lead in fWAR, even after missing a large chuck of games with a broken hamate bone. Add in the intangibles — hitting with such a bad lineup around him, coming back a disappointing 2010, battling numerous injuries down the stretch — and I think you have a clear MVP in Pablo.
2) Should the Giants tender Jeff Keppinger a contract this offseason?
BASG: Based on what he provides and how much he’ll probably cost in arbitration relative to the Giants’ “budget” Brian Sabean talked about so much after the season ended, the team shouldn’t bring him back. Jeff “Luxury Item” Keppinger is good at something the Giants seem to value as much as any team — making contact. He put together some multi-hit games in late August, and with the rest of the Giants’ offense looking so terrible Kepp was almost considered a savior in late August.
Julian: No. I realize they need a backup plan for Freddy Sanchez, but Keppinger just does not suffice. He’s incredibly slow, plays very mediocre defense at second base, and could cost as much as $4MM through arbitration; not to mention his offense, which isn’t great either: he’s the proverbial empty-batting-average hitter. I’d rather the Giants tender Mike Fontenot a contract, and find some other (better) backup 2B at a cheap price.
Zack: Unless Freddy Sanchez encounters a significant setback in his rehab, I don’t see why they should. The Giants don’t exactly have tons of money to throw around, so there’s no reason to pay Keppinger to be an expensive role player next year. He’s a decent hitter, but he’s also limited to playing what seems like a below-average second base. In comparison, Mike Fontenot is cheaper, more versatile, and left-handed.
3) One of the less important questions this offseason: what should the Giants do for a backup catcher next season — Whiteside? Stewart? Someone else?
BASG: Eli Whiteside is out of the question. Chris Stewart separated himself from Whiteside defensively after Buster Posey‘s injury in every way (handling the pitchers, throwing out baserunners and catching the ball), and as the year went on proved to be a more dependable hitter. But is Stewart’s minuscule upside at the plate enough to pacify Sabean, who in hindsight probably would have added a veteran catcher before the 2011 season?
In this case, like Chris Rock said about a man’s ability to be faithful years ago, it’s all about options. Sabean will watch the market for catchers very closely, and if prices are reasonable he’ll “kick the tires” on a veteran or two, depending on who’s available. If all the catchers Sabean likes are snatched up early-ish by other teams, or the market proves too costly, Sabean will install Stewart as Posey’s backup with an eye on both the waiver wire and Hector Sanchez‘s progress in Fresno.
Julian: Eli Whiteside’s a definite no, in my opinion, as he becomes arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. He has no redeeming qualities. Chris Stewart, on the other hand, is at least a quality defensive catcher – and catcher defense has a fairly significant impact on a team’s performance.
The catcher free agent market isn’t very sexy, but one name sticks out to me: Jose Molina. I’d love to see the Giants sign him. Based on research by Mike Fast, we see that Molina has been worth +35 runs per 120 games based simply on his superb pitch-framing skills. Molina, who has a career wRC+ of 66, represents a cheap, solid backup catcher.
Zack: The sooner the Giants assess how many games Buster Posey will be able to play next year, the better. If he seems ready to start 120-140 games, this isn’t such a big deal. If somewhere around 100 is more likely, Sabean should probably peruse the free agent market.
The one guy who stands out to me is Toronto’s Jose Molina. While the concept of another old Molina may not be all that appealing to some, Jose put up 109 wRC+ in about a third of a season in 2011, which is essentially what Giants need for next year. He’s also quite talented at getting extra strikes for his pitchers, and shouldn’t cost more than one or two million. If Molina doesn’t work out, I can live with Chris Stewart. He’s obviously a better defender than Whiteside, and since the pitchers seem to like him, it’s not worth signing someone else to be a marginal upgrade offensively.
4) If the Giants sign Coco Crisp, what’s the maximum — in terms of years/money — that you’d want them to sign him for?
BASG: Along with question No. 1, this one’s the toughest. I despise the prevailing idea that the Giants are going to target all these Oakland A’s outfielders (Crisp, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham), even though I see the logic … kind of. Crisp’s going to be expensive because general managers will see 49 STEALS and freak out, even though the chances of Crisp matching that number ever again are extremely slim seeing as he’s 32 and those 49 steals came in 136 games. Crisp played 124 games in 2009 and 2010 combined.
However, the Giants aren’t happy with their current center field options and seem to want a better bridge to Gary Brown than Andres Torres and/or Justin Christian. But even if the Giants are serious about not promoting Brown too soon, I wouldn’t go over two years for Crisp. Money? He’ll probably get at least $8 million per year, and that may be an underestimate since there are so few stereotypical leadoff guys available. If Crisp-to-the-Giants is as much of an inevitability as people seem to think (and with his prodigious afro providing so many tempting marketing opportunities, it’s easy to see why), I hope they won’t go over the 2-year, $16MM range.
Julian: I think two years, $15-20 MM. At age 31, his defense is eroding, and with Gary Brown rising fast through the Giants’ farm system, I’d rather not have him centerfield blocked. Sure, Crisp could move over to a corner outfield position, but his bat isn’t really good enough to justify that – especially a couple years from now. I feel like this contract gives the Giants an acceptable centerfield option for the next 1-2 years at a reasonable price. Any more than that would seem like an overpay though.
Zack: Over the last 4 years, Crisp has played at around a 3.4 WAR/150 pace, but has averaged under 95 games per season. He’s very average as far as hitting goes, but his defense and baserunning make him a valuable asset when healthy. 3 years and $20MM would probably be an overpay based on the market, but I think it’s reasonable to expect he can produce 4 WAR over a period of three seasons, even if he’s hurt half of the time.