It's a lean time of the year for Giants news, but I have to ask a couple of questions. What are your thoughts on the Giants going after Prince Fielder? I think he is a better fit than Albert Pujols because Fielder is younger and will enjoy trying to hit balls into McCovey Cove. Not to mention that he will balance the infield between him and Pablo Sandoval. Will the Giants make a real attempt to re-sign Carlos Beltran? If they do, where does that leave Brandon Belt? I think Belt is best suited to be in the outfield, not at first base. Finally, Jonathan Sanchez is rumored to be traded. What could we expect in return, value-wise?
-- Jason P., El Paso, Texas
I wholeheartedly support the idea of pursuing Fielder. He's the difference-maker that the Giants need. But the reality is that payroll constraints will prevent them from bidding seriously for any of the free agents likely to receive nine-figure contracts -- Fielder, Pujols and perhaps shortstop Jose Reyes. Add CC Sabathia to that list, assuming he opts out of his Yankees contract. He already has been linked to the Giants in at least one published rumor, though it's delusional to think that they'll even make him an offer when they must concern themselves with their eight potential free agents and 13 salary arbitration-eligible players, including Tim Lincecum.
I believe that the Giants will make a genuine effort to re-sign Beltran. But, given his extensive injury history, I wouldn't offer very much for very long. If Beltran were to return, that would force Belt to earn a spot in the lineup during Spring Training by outplaying either Nate Schierholtz in the outfield or Aubrey Huff (and possibly Brett Pill) at first base. That's unless the Giants do something unusual and try Schierholtz in center field, which would create a corner-outfield opening. Right now, the best answer is the convenient fallback: "These things have a way of working themselves out."
As for Sanchez, he'll remain a Giant, if you'll recall general manager Brian Sabean's remarks the day after the season ended. Sabean could change his mind if he receives an overwhelming offer for Sanchez, but I doubt that will happen.
If Grady Sizemore is cut loose by the Indians, if he is sound after surgery and if he would take a one-year contract in the area of $6 million, would he in your estimation be a good risk for the Giants and a good fit in the clubhouse?
-- Mike C., Kelseyville, Calif.
Definitely. As rough as 2011 was for Sizemore, his .706 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) eclipsed Andres Torres' .643. Moreover, under a one-year deal, Sizemore essentially would be playing for another contract, so he'd be driven to match the standards he maintained before encountering knee problems. His average output from 2005-08 was .281 with 27 home runs, 81 RBIs, 29 stolen bases and a .868 OPS. Heck, the Giants probably would settle for his 2009 performance (.248, 18 homers, 64 RBIs, .788 OPS).
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Hensley Meulens was re-hired as hitting coach? I don't get it. I don't necessarily agree that it's always the manager's fault if the team doesn't win, but usually it will result in the manager being replaced. Why, after the Giants' miserable hitting performance all year, wouldn't the hitting coach be replaced? Is the whole team not listening? Who's talking about hitting approaches for a given pitcher? When they get into the sixth or seventh inning, who's reminding the hitters to take a strike to wear down a good starter and get him out of the game? As a team, the Giants don't show situational awareness at the plate. If that's not the hitting coach, who is it?
-- Greg C., Belton, Texas
I don't have much of an answer for you, other than to relate what I saw this season. Meulens and the hitters worked as diligently as they possibly could. "Relentless" was the term that manager Bruce Bochy used to describe Meulens' approach. If anything, the Giants might have worked too hard. Bochy noted that the Giants improved overall toward the end of the season when they scrapped the hitters' meetings they held before each series. There's something to be said for keeping things simple. Also, remember that Meulens is the same guy who supervised the hitters when they shared the National League-lead with 80 homers after last year's All-Star break, which helped the Giants win the division and, ultimately, everything else. That, combined with the plethora of injuries, earned Meulens the benefit of the doubt. Next year will be different, one way or another.
What about trading Brian Wilson and Sanchez for an everyday position player, maybe a Jacoby Ellsbury? This will strengthen the Giants' offense and help free $8 million-$10 million to devote to the rest of the pitching staff. I love Wilson, but the bullpen is rock-solid and one of the Giants' best prospects (Heath Hembree) is a closer. As for the fifth starter, you can try Barry Zito and sign a Jon Garland-like veteran to fill the role for a year, hoping Eric Surkamp grows enough at Triple-A. Any thoughts?
-- Joe V., Burbank, Calif.
In theory, this plan might work. However, most teams probably would be wary of Wilson for several reasons: the barking elbow that limited him to two appearances after Aug. 15; his rising walk and declining strikeout ratios, which is a highly ominous combination; and the same $8.5 million salary for 2012 that the Giants would be trying to shed. Wilson will be arbitration-eligible again after next season, which is bound to make him even more pricey if he remains effective.
Moreover, with Javier Lopez and Guillermo Mota eligible for free agency, Santiago Casilla and Ramon Ramirez eligible for arbitration (making them vulnerable to being non-tendered) and a decision looming regarding Jeremy Affeldt's $5 million contract option for 2012, the quality of the Giants' bullpen is no longer a given.
On the other hand, as Wilson's television advertisements indicate, whichever team he plays for will have a budding actor on its pitching staff!
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.