NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Arizona Diamondbacks are the talk of the winter meetings after following a record contract for Zack Greinke with a blockbuster trade for Shelby Miller. The Los Angeles Dodgers have come under fire for being outbid on Greinke and for, so far, adopting a conservative spending approach after clearing the $300 million payroll mark last season.
Superstition and numerical randomness aside, the Giants own one of the most balanced lineups in baseball, a bona fide ace in Madison Bumgarner signed to a supernaturally great contract and enough complementary pieces to make them contenders. And that’s not including the potential acquisition of a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover who could supercharge San Francisco’s starting eight.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Giants are now considered the favorites to land former Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon. As with the Chicago Cubs’ signing of Ben Zobrist, nabbing Gordon would help the Giants in ways that go far beyond traditional Triple Crown stats. In 2015, for the first time in five seasons, Gordon played in fewer than 150 games, appearing in just 104 contests due to injuries. But while those ailments and a broader lack of light-tower power held him to just 13 homers, Gordon still posted a solid line of .271/.377/.432. On a park-adjusted basis, that was the 28th-best batting line among 105 American League hitters with 400 or more plate appearances.
Those strong but subtle offensive contributions tell only part of the story. Even after missing all those games, Gordon still ranked seventh among major league left fielders with his glove, saving seven more runs than the league average for his position, per Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved. Over the past five seasons, Gordon has saved 94 more runs than the average left fielder, making him the best in baseball defensively at that position. AT&T Park is one of the more spacious outfields in the league, making Gordon’s superior fly-chasing abilities even more valuable.
Those spacious confines also make AT&T the toughest park for hitters in all of baseball, and by far the toughest for home-run hitters. When you glance at Giants hitters’ raw stats, none necessarily dazzle you. But combine the Giants’ stellar on-base skills (they led the National League in on-base percentage last season) with a team-wide ability to slash balls into the gap, and San Francisco graded as the best offensive team in the National League in 2015 on a park-adjusted basis. In other words, the Giants have a ballpark perfectly suited for Gordon, and a lineup that already features a passel of Gordon-like players.
Bottom line: The fit here could be perfect. And if the Giants do snag Gordon, they could trot out a lineup that plausibly features seven above-average players ... or eight if Angel Pagan can stay healthy and rediscover some of his 2012-2014 magic. Combine the offensive and defensive contributions of that lineup, and this would be the best starting eight in the National League.
The question would then become whether the Giants' pitching staff can carry its end of the bargain. In signing Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million deal, San Francisco is betting on something closer to the Shark of 2014, not the one who got torched in 2015. Things don’t get any more certain after Samardzija’s spot in the rotation either. Matt Cain was once an All-Star, but he has made just 26 starts over the past two seasons and last season posted a 5.79 ERA. Jake Peavy’s numbers were considerably better last season, but he made just 19 starts in 2015, turns 35 in May and is no sure thing to carry a steady starter’s workload throughout 2016. Chris Heston already has a no-hitter under his belt and might be the best bet of the rotation’s bottom three. But he also posted an ERA that was 9 percent worse than average on a park-adjusted basis in his rookie season.
Those factors make the Giants’ reported interest in one more starter a logical move. The good news is that even with Scott Boras saying loopy things about Wei-Yin Chen, veterans such as Mike Leake, Ian Kennedy and Yovani Gallardo offer potentially effective, reasonably priced options on the open market.
A skeptic might say that even adding one of those mid-tier arms would still leave the Giants behind the Diamondbacks and Dodgers when it comes to starting pitching talent. Then again, if Gordon lands in San Francisco, the Giants could have enough offensive firepower and defensive wizardry to overcome a few pitching defects. If that happens, those #EvenYear aspirations might start to look a lot more attainable.