The San Francisco Left-Field Question, or Something

The Giants aren’t a bad team. They just made the playoffs, and they signed a closer in Mark Melancon who (hopefully) won’t make the citizens of San Francisco tear their hair out. Hunter Pence should be healthy! That makes things fun. Fun baseball is good baseball, and the Giants are locked in to a pretty fun team at this point. Every position is accounted for, for the most part. Only left field offers a little room for finding something to write about pondering, so let’s ponder, shall we?

Currently, it looks like the Giants are going to deploy a platoon of Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson there. Surprisingly enough, no, Parker and Williamson are not tertiary characters from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but actual baseball players. They’ve both seen some playing time since 2015 in fits and starts as depth players.

The Parker/Williamson combo package could, in theory, be fine. The Giants likely aren’t expecting more than league-average production here, after all, and they don’t necessarily need more than that. Parker also has some serious pop in his bat, and frankly, there’s always room for some highlight-reel bombs.

That’ll do! That kind of power works in San Francisco, and if he can meet his ZiPS WAR projection of 1.4 as the big side of the platoon, maybe they don’t need to go get Saunders after all. Parker is also out of options, and may have a hard time making it through waivers to Triple-A.

Even if Parker and Williams aren’t particularly inspiring, the Giants are also going to be running out a lineup that includes Pence, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Brandon Crawford. They’ll live. Theoretically, Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean know what they’re doing.

Theoretically, there’s also room for improvement, because we here at FanGraphs have to write something during these doldrums, right? The content machine always hungers. It’s relentless.

So who’s available?

Michael Saunders is probably the best remaining left fielder on the free-agent market. He was an All-Star for the first time in 2016, and had a gangbusters first half before falling off the table and posting a not-so-nice 69 wRC+ following the break. Saunders isn’t the top-flight offensive force he was in the first half, but given his prior lack of a full healthy season, he may have a 2.5-win season kicking around in him. ZiPS pegs him for 1.7 wins next year, while Steamer only sees 0.8 wins. It should also be noted that Saunders would be moving from tiny Rogers Centre to the billion-acre AT&T Park. So, who knows? We’re just spitballing right now.

The Giants could also, theoretically, get involved with the Mets on Jay Bruce. One would have to imagine that they’d want New York to eat up some of the $13 million that Bruce is owed, though, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how much the Mets are in the business of eating money right now (or ever). The other interesting left fielder on the market is… Brandon Moss? Colby Rasmus? Yikes.

The point of all of this is that, given the number of options available, the Giants can pick their poison here. Saunders might be able to squeeze out a two-year deal, but he’ll likely come cheap. If the Giants decide that they like him better than the Parker-Williamson duo, they should have the financial flexibility to get it done. If not, then the platoon probably won’t be the end of the world.

Maybe they’ll get Bruce or Moss. Or Desmond Jennings. Or a decided on big happy reunion with Angel Pagan. Left field hasn’t been overwhelmingly exciting for the Giants since the Melky Cabrera incident, so why change now? It’s tradition at this point.

The Giants don’t need to go nuts at this position. Saunders would be, at best, one of those incremental upgrades that we all know and love. It’s hard to see him being more than a one- or two-win bump at best, barring a total cratering from both Parker and Williamson. This would be more about solidification and gaining just that much more of an edge on the growing threat in Colorado.

However, it would require something to actually happen this offseason, which seems like a cruel joke at this point. Theoretically, baseball will return at some point, and we can stop bothering ourselves with what the Giants may or may not do to address a left-field problem that, really, may not be a problem at all.

This has been a dry period for hot stove fun. We’ve gone what feels like eons without anything to chew over. But the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to reveal itself. These sluggers can’t stay unsigned forever, can they? Maybe this Yovani GallardoSeth Smith trade that just went down will be the spark that lights whatever kindling is left here in the dead of winter. Also, of course, we’ll have more for you on that move in just a bit.

Please do more, baseball people. We’re dying out here.

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Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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giantsprospects
Member
giantsprospects

Williamson has a big reverse split, albeit SSS, 99wRC+ vs. RHP, 79wRC+ vs. LHP. A slight one in AAA in 2016, and a big one in AAA in 2015. May not be all that meaningful, but something to consider. I think Williamson should be the everyday player since he’s also the superior defender and I like his bat too. Parker has a lot of power, but he strikes out too much, and his outfield defense is mediocre.

Looking in the minors, Giants have Austin Slater, who is coming off a great 2016 season. They might also give top prospect Arroyo a look at 3B and move Nunez to LF. And there is also Steven Duggar, who profiles better as a CF.

Lots of options and none of the FA or trade candidates enthuse me all that much, so stick to in-house for now.

–@giantsprospects

channelclemente
Member

I agree with your take on Williamson/Parker, but as I’m sure you know, nothing about AAA play in the Giants system predicts what happens when a guy moves up to MLB. That seems overly true with the Giants. A while ago, Giants hitters moving from AAA had an almost 60 point discount in their hitting on the ML club. I’ve never seen a club where the minor league play in AAA seemed so completely dissociated from ML performance after promotion.