Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the San Francisco Giants.
2008 record: 72-90
Finish: Fourth place in National League West
2008 opening-day payroll: $76.6 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $89 million (or $114 million)
Thank you, Manny Ramirez, for forcing the assignment of an incomplete grade on the San Francisco Giants' winter. There's been some good and some bad, yes, but without knowing whether the Giants are simply bluffing to raise the price on Ramirez or if their interest in him is genuine, summing up their moves thus far is like eating a slice of pizza without the cheese.
Already the Giants have maneuvered with economic impunity. Recession schmecession. The $37.25 million spent by the Giants this offseason ranks seventh among major league teams, and only the Yankees, Red Sox, Reds and Dodgers have signed more players than San Francisco's four.
Ramirez would make five and, at an assumed $25 million, push the Giants into the Cubs-Braves stratosphere (though nowhere near the Yankees, whose $441 million committed is as much as the next 10 highest-spending teams). It would also surge San Francisco well past the $100 million payroll threshold, a number they didn't even break when He Who Must Be Injected was trolling the clubhouse.
Signing Ramirez would mesh with the rest of the Giants' offseason, which targeted a bunch of old guys, or at least guys who play like they're old. Shortstop Edgar Renteria was the biggest-money signing, getting $18.5 million over two years despite Electric Sliding from place to place in the field. The Giants presume increased mobility will follow a better offseason training regimen, and they're assigning a similar hope to 45-year-old Randy Johnson, who sits five wins from his 300th. Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry were brought in to shore up a bullpen whose 4.45 ERA ranked 24th in the majors.
With Bill Neukom taking over from Peter Magowan as the Giants' managing partner, the success of general manager Brian Sabean this year likely will dictate whether he returns for another. The Giants haven't been to the playoffs since 2003 and have finished under .500 four consecutive years. Their identity – build from within … or spend money on a bunch of old guys – seems jumbled.
Manny or not, incomplete sounds about right.
Let's consult old friends yin and yang for the true assessment of the Giants, because it best illustrates that while the present isn't necessarily blooming, the future looks plentiful.
Yang: Tim Lincecum. Coming off a Cy Young, he's under club control for four more years. Scary to think how good he can be, especially in a rotation that includes Matt Cain, Johnson and Jonathan Sanchez.
Yang: Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson, Angel Villalona and Nick Noonan. For years, the Giants were habitual draft dodgers. They treated the amateur draft with the regard given a mosquito hovering around the dinner table. Accordingly, their farm system devolved into a player-development disaster.
So starting with the signing of Villalona in 2006 for $2.1 million, continuing a year later with the drafting of Bumgarner, Alderson and Noonan and ending with the selection of Posey last June, the Giants have overhauled their minor league pipeline with amazing results. Bumgarner led the minor leagues in ERA last season, Alderson led the impossible-to-pitch-in California League in ERA as a teenager, Noonan is a poor man's Chase Utley, Villalona has monster power potential and Posey is baseball's best catching prospect not named Matt Wieters.
Life, then, looks good for the Giants. In the future, at least. Which leaves the present … a wash. The best teams don't scheme to save jobs with short-term quick fixes, dam holes plugged with thumbs. And yet this is the NL West, wild as ever, where even a patchwork team can look like a winner if you squint hard enough.
Next: Cleveland Indians.