COMMENTARY | The San Francisco Giants will have a number of needs this coming offseason. Might they look to the international market to address them?
A recent report from CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly suggests the Giants will look into at least two international ballplayers this winter: Japanese starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and Cuban first baseman Jose Daniel Abreu. Both players would fill needs for the Giants -- the team will have to find at least one starter, and the lineup will need a major upgrade.
Both players are intriguing prospects. Tanaka, 24, is putting together a fantastic season in Japan, currently sporting a 19-0 record with a 1.20 ERA and a 0.930 WHIP in 22 starts. He's dominated Japanese baseball, setting a league record by winning 21 consecutive decisions dating back to last year and posting a sub-2.00 ERA in each of the last two seasons.
Scouts have projected Tanaka as a potential No. 2 starter who should be able to step into a major league rotation right away. The Giants could conceivably slot him behind Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain in their rotation next year. Abreu, 26, is a big, powerful hitter who looks like he could anchor the middle of a lineup for years. In a 90-game schedule in 2011, Abreu put up a ridiculous slash line of .453/.597/.986 with 33 home runs and 93 runs batted in. He's arguably the best hitter in the world who isn't currently in MLB, some going as far as to describe him as Cuba's Barry Bonds. He'd give the Giants something their lineup has lacked for years now -- power, and lots of it.
Of the two options, Tanaka seems to make the most sense for the Giants. Barry Zito won't be back next year, Tim Lincecum will test the market, and the team's best pitching prospects are still a few years away from contributing to the big league club. Plus, the free-agent market for starting pitchers won't exactly be overflowing with talent this winter.
Tanaka could be the best pitcher available and provide immediate help to the Giants' rotation. He'd be expensive, though, considering the cost of both his posting fee and eventual contract. Abreu would likely make the lineup better, but he's limited to playing first base. If the Giants signed him, they'd have to move Brandon Belt to a corner outfield spot and risk negating the huge strides Belt has made at the plate this year if he had to adjust to a new position. Still, the potential of Abreu's bat may be enough for the Giants to take that risk.
Even if the Giants end up missing out on both players, it's a good sign that they're stepping up their efforts on the international front. They've been lapped by the Dodgers in that regard, who've gotten huge contributions from imports like Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu while running away with the NL West.
They've even been passed up in their own backyard, as Yoenis Cespedes has been a big part of the A's resurgence over the past two years. For the Giants to keep up with their rivals, they'll need to expand their horizons. They can't have another offseason where their biggest free-agent signing is a fringe fifth outfielder, nor can they hope to troll the bargain bin again for hidden gems. The Giants will have to spend money to get back into contention next year, and the overseas market may provide the best opportunity for them to do so.
It's going to be an important winter for the Giants this year. If they stand pat, they run the risk of being left in the dust by the Dodgers -- not only in 2014 but for years to come. The fact that they're showing interest in premier free agents, especially premier international free agents, is a good sign the Giants don't want that to happen. Signing an unknown commodity is always a risk -- you could easily end up with a Hideki Irabu instead of a Yu Darvish -- but the potential rewards are high.
If the Giants want to make a splash this winter, they might as well go for a big one.
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer whose work on the Giants has appeared on sites such as Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Sports' Big League Stew. Follow him on Twitter @gggiants.
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