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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' short list of hitters they'd consider acquiring has become shorter. The same might go for their patience.
Publicly, the team's front office maintains the sensible belief that free agents will become more affordable and trade negotiations might grow in flexibility as the offseason lengthens.
But first baseman Nick Johnson's tentative agreement with the New York Yankees could signal to the Giants that the time to make their first major player move of the winter has drawn closer. It certainly hasn't receded.
Johnson's ability to get on base made him an ideal complement for the hacker-happy Giants. They might even have ranked him as their top priority, given a FOX Sports report that the Giants increased their offer to Johnson before he settled Thursday with New York on a one-year, $5.5 million deal. Prone to injury, Johnson can serve as a designated hitter with the Yankees, which would improve his chances of staying healthy.
Though neither general manager Brian Sabean nor team president Larry Baer immediately returned phone messages, the Giants are unlikely to acknowledge that Johnson's probable departure from the free-agent pool will rush them into making a deal for urgency's sake. That would give free agents or potential trading partners crucial leverage.
Sabean has kept his promise to sustain a "wait-and-see" approach toward personnel moves. Even with Johnson off the market, the Giants still have multiple free-agent options, as well as the now-familiar trade proposal for Florida second baseman Dan Uggla that won't quite die.
But though the baseball world tends to observe an unofficial hibernation between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day, the Giants have been known to make significant moves during this period. They signed free-agent outfielder Moises Alou on Dec. 27, 2004. On Dec. 21, 2005, they traded third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo to the Angels for outfielder Steve Finley. Left-hander Barry Zito's seven-year, $126 million agreement was announced on Dec. 29, 2006. Future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson signed last Dec. 26.
Moreover, don't interpret the Giants' lack of action as a lack of effort. "We're working hard every day," a well-placed club insider said this week.
The climate might indeed be right for a Giants move, if reports are true that free agent infielder-outfielder Mark DeRosa has dropped his reported salary demand to three years and $18 million from three years, $27 million.
Here's a quick, updated look at the most prominent players the Giants are pursuing or are said to be eyeing:
No club appears inclined to meet Beltre's reported wish for a four-year, $40 million deal. The Giants can take their time with Beltre, the third baseman who owns two Gold Gloves and 250 home runs in 12 seasons, if he piques their interest.
Decision time could be at hand if the aforementioned talk of his discounted price tag is accurate. The market for DeRosa, which reportedly peaked at around 12 teams, has significantly dwindled as most clubs have balked at his request for a three-year deal.
Johnson's signing may have contrasting effects on LaRoche. Teams still looking for a first baseman might court LaRoche more ardently. But they could resist offering him a deal with an average annual value far exceeding Johnson's.
The Giants probably could have completed this trade by now. But though Uggla has averaged 30 home runs and 90 RBIs in four Major League seasons, several factors temper their enthusiasm for him, particularly his reputation as a subpar defender at second base and the likelihood that they'd have to part with left-hander Jonathan Sanchez. But the Marlins plainly would prefer to trade the salary-arbitration-eligible Uggla, despite some talk that they'd be willing to keep him. It has been speculated that Florida could hasten a deal by including another useful player, such as pitcher Renyel Pinto, who's also arbitration-eligible.
The Giants are hoping that Florida will back off its desire for Sanchez as time passes. But they might have to consider Uggla more seriously if they're unable to sign a free agent.
Jason Bay and Matt Holliday:
Don't get too excited. The Giants don't seem to be major players for either of the top sluggers available in free agency. But recall last offseason, before free agent Manny Ramirez made his inevitable return to the Dodgers. The Giants had lukewarm interest in Ramirez and would have pursued him more seriously had his price dropped. Something similar could happen with Holliday or Bay, though Peter Gammons reported that the latter already has rejected the Giants' overtures and has no desire to join San Francisco.