The playoff hopeful San Francisco Giants are in the midst of a pennant race, although the club’s front office may already have its sights on the upcoming offseason, which features one of general manager Brian Sabean‘s most difficult personnel decisions since the Matt Williams–Jeff Kent trade in 1997.
2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval has been a pivotal component of the Giants’ resurgence as a perennial contender in the post-Bonds era. The two-time All-Star indirectly made headlines prior to the 2014 MLB season, supposedly pushing his representation to net him a multi-year contract exceeding $90 million.
The Giants already owe $127 million to 13 players for the 2015 season. They face the inevitable reality that several ascending contracts, including those belonging to Buster Posey and Matt Cain, could cripple their financial flexibility in bolstering a noticeably depth-stricken roster this offseason.
San Francisco has developed a reputation for taking care of its own free agents throughout Sabean’s tenure as GM. Last offseason, the Giants re-signed Hunter Pence to a deal similar to the one of which Sandoval seeks. A five-year contract worth $90 million. The club also re-upped Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal.
The Giants’ financial flexibility is handicapped by the fact that they’re baseball’s second franchise to privately fund their own ballpark. According to FanGraphs, the Giants’ $20 million annual mortgage on AT&T Park will end in 2017, when the waterfront ballpark will become paid off.
Sabean’s brain trust has undoubtedly used 2017 as a benchmark for long-term contracts. It partially explains why the Giants prefer to sign free agents to ascending deals, although short-term financial flexibility appears to be the overriding factor. Sandoval’s second-half surge will prompt the Giants to rekindle an aggressive mindset in trying to re-sign the slugging third baseman before free agency this winter.
The structure of a mutually beneficial four-year contract worth approximately $70 million for Sandoval and the Giants would be as follows:
2015: $15.0 million
2016-17: $17.5 million
2018: $20.0 million
If the Giants are able to successfully negotiate a four-year extension with Sandoval, the “Kung Fu Panda” would be just 31 years old by the time the deal expires, which would allow Sandoval to potentially seek another gigantic contract while still in his prime. The deal would also guarantee the Giants stability at third base for the foreseeable future. The projected total of San Francisco’s 2015 payroll would thus become $142 million for 14 players.
Sandoval isn’t the only difficult personnel decision the Giants face this winter. The club must also decide whether to hand down a long-term contract to Brandon Belt, who owns Super Two rights. The Giants’ decision concerning Belt is much less black and white in comparison to Sandoval.
San Francisco doesn’t have a viable option at third base in its minor league system, which makes re-signing Sandoval a no-brainer. The free agent market at third base is bleak this offseason, which could ultimately drive up the price of Sandoval’s services.
The Belt situation is more complex because of uncertainty surrounding the future positional status of Posey, who owns significantly better offensive numbers when playing first base as opposed to catcher in 2014.
If the Giants decide to buy out the final three years of Belt’s arbitration eligibility, it’s entirely possible for the former fifth round draft pick to eventually make a permanent transition to left field, unless the club’s brain trust believes Posey is capable of maintaining a high level of offensive production from behind the plate for three more seasons.
Left field has been a wasteland for the Giants ever since the departure of Bonds in 2007. Michael Morse provided an early season spark, but has been a casualty on defense while under-performing since the first week of June. Morse is an impending free agent and may not be back with the orange and black in 2015.
The Giants must also officially decide what to do at closer, although Santiago Casilla seems to have nailed down that spot, making Sergio Romo expendable. Romo will become free agent eligible after the conclusion of this season, as will Ryan Vogelsong. The 37-year-old journeyman has proven himself to be reliable at the back end of the Giants’ rotation and could return on another one-year deal.
The Giants face several high-profile decisions this offseason that could ultimately reshape the team’s immediate future, but Sandoval’s free agency weighs larger than anything else.