Giants focused on keeping champs together
GM Sabean prefers own free agents to options on market
SAN FRANCISCO -- General manager Brian Sabean sounded intent on retaining the core of the team that brought the Giants their first world championship in 56 years.Delivering his annual season-ending summary Friday with manager Bruce Bochy, Sabean expressed a desire to hold onto first baseman Aubrey Huff and shortstop Juan Uribe, San Francisco's primary free agents. Sabean also said that he'd like to keep all eight Giants who are eligible for salary arbitration: outfielders Andres Torres and Cody Ross, left-handers Jonathan Sanchez and Javier Lopez, right-handers Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez and Chris Ray and infielder Mike Fontenot. Sabean acknowledged that re-signing the arbitration-eligibles alone will force San Francisco's payroll well beyond its 2010 total of approximately $100 million. But that's where additional revenues help.
"We are in an affordable situation because of our latitude with the payroll," Sabean said.The Giants' inclination to stand pat is partly due to the front office's enduring confidence in the crew that won the National League West and finished 11-4 in the postseason while ousting Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas. It also reflects the skepticism with which San Francisco's braintrust regards this year's class of free agents. "It's not a sexy list," Sabean said. "It's not a deep list. Quite frankly, there will be suitors on some of these players we won't be able to compete with. So, we're not necessarily banking on a lot of help from the outside world from the free-agent market other than our own possibilities." Two free-agent outfielders in particular would seem to satisfy the Giants' eternal need for more offense: left fielder Carl Crawford and right fielder Jayson Werth. But Sabean didn't sound optimistic about becoming a serious bidder for either player. Each ultimately could command a multiyear deal worth nine figures or close to it. Discussing the prospects for plunging into the Crawford sweepstakes without mentioning his name, Sabean said, "We're going to see. I think that's the best answer I can give you." All Crawford did this year for Tampa Bay was hit .307 with 19 home runs, 90 RBIs, 47 stolen bases and an .851 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
"Obviously he's a well-rounded player that may be the best guy out there for any team," Sabean said.But, citing the Giants' involvement in the CC Sabathia talks two years ago, when the club perceived that the left-hander's agents used San Francisco to drive up the New York Yankees' successful offer, Sabean added, "We don't want to be somebody's fallback or stalking horse or add another team in the mix to use that as leverage against somebody else." At least the 29-year-old Crawford would satisfy the Giants' goal of improving their left-handed-batting presence. For that reason, Sabean, again addressing the subject namelessly, downplayed the Giants' chances of pursuing the right-handed-batting Werth, who batted .296 with 27 homers, 85 RBIs and a .921 OPS with Philadelphia this year. Sabean named prospect Brandon Belt, 22, as a reason for the Giants' relative lack of urgency in pursuing a big-name, high-salaried free agent. Should the Giants need an offensive stimulus after next season begins, they hope they can summon the first baseman-outfielder, who entered Friday batting .364 in 14 games for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. During the regular season, Belt hit a combined .352 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs at three Minor League classifications. Sabean's dissatisfaction with the free-agent crop extends to shortstop, where the most accomplished performers on the market are closer to ending their careers than reaching their primes (Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera, Cristian Guzman). Amid that peer group, the 31-year-old Uribe, who amassed career highs with 24 homers and 85 RBIs while batting .248 for the Giants this year, looks especially attractive. Echoing his comments about Belt, Sabean indicated that the organization is excited about Minor League shortstop Brandon Crawford, though he still needs continued development as a hitter. With the exception of Adam Dunn and possibly Carlos Pena, the group of free-agent first basemen also features a large number of players who might have seemed attractive anywhere from two to five years ago (Garrett Atkins, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee). Ironically, the list includes Nick Johnson and Adam LaRoche, whom the Giants tried to sign last season before they secured Huff. Everything worked out for the Giants, as Huff, 33, hit .290 with a team-high 26 homers, 86 RBIs and an .891 OPS. Sabean indicated that the Giants have begun talking with representatives for Uribe and Huff. But it's highly doubtful that the Giants will forge an agreement with either player before 9:01 p.m. PT Sunday, when open bidding on free agents will begin. Until then, the Giants own exclusive negotiating rights to Uribe and Huff. "It doesn't appear that they're in too much of a hurry, which is understandable," Sabean said. "They want to soak this in. ... You don't know what the outside world is going to present. Our biggest challenge will be to decide how many years and for how much money. It will be definitive, but I can't predict what the action will be from the outside world on both of those players." Sabean addressed other issues, including: The wisdom of keeping the bullpen essentially intact. He explained that San Francisco conceivably would start the 2011 season with Lopez, Ramirez and Ray, who were midseason acquisitions. "So we hope that it's stronger from day one," Sabean said. Barry Zito, the $18.5 million-per-year left-hander who didn't make the postseason rotation. "I think Zito is to be commended for how he's handled this and he has a very specific desire or game plan for the offseason to get himself back in the mix," Sabean said. "If we have him from the beginning of the year throughout the season and to the end, we'll be that much better throughout our rotation." Aaron Rowand, the $12 million-per-year center fielder who was relegated to 11 at-bats in seven postseason games after Torres supplanted him as a regular during the season. "Someone like Aaron wouldn't be easy to [trade] with the type of contract he has," Sabean said. "... One of the greatest strengths of this past club and I think next year's club that will be similar is the depth. A lot of people will be in the mix." Mark DeRosa, the infielder/outfielder who missed most of 2010 with an injured left wrist. "At worst, he's a super-utility guy," Sabean said. Whether the Giants want to re-sign left fielder Pat Burrell, who bolstered the offense with a .266 average, 18 homers and 51 RBIs in 96 regular-season games but went 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts in the World Series. "It's an open-ended question and it's one we're discussing now. I can't give you a straight answer on that right now," Sabean said. Whether the Giants will entertain re-signing shortstop Edgar Renteria, the World Series Most Valuable Player whose contract option the Giants declined to pick up Thursday. "That would be a back-burner issue for us," Sabean said, adding that he believes Renteria wants to continue playing. Whether the Giants' status as World Series winners will attract free agents more easily. "I'll start by saying what the nation saw from our crowds, our fans and how it worked both ways between the people in the clubhouse and the fans and the fact that we take great pride in saying San Francisco's a baseball town, it can only be bigger and better and help. It's not only keeping our own players that we want to re-sign, but it's got to be a destination for a lot of people."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.