Giants FA WAR Experiment (Hitters)
In this fun little experiment of mine I went through every remaining MLB free agent left on the market and took their 2018 WAR, 2019 projected WAR by the Fangraphs Steamer, and I took the difference of the two. The purpose of this is to then look at the WAR numbers of the free agent class and look at the current Giants WAR numbers and see where picking up a free agent replacement would make the most sense and which free agents those would be. What I found may actually surprise most of you. It certainly surprised me.
So, lets begin with the player that ended the season with the highest WAR on the Giants, Brandon Belt. Belt led the Giants with a WAR of 2.1 in 2018. In 2019, Belt's WAR is expected to jump .8 to 2.9. He is the third highest 2019 WAR projection on the Giants. The free agent class is fairly weak at first base this season. Both Wilmer Flores and Justin Bour are tied for the highest projected 2019 WAR at one. They both also tie for the biggest upswing in differential increasing .5 from 2018. The biggest downswing goes to Matt Adams who loses .5 from his 2018 .8 WAR to his 2019 .3 projection. Obviously none of these guys can touch Belt in talent or WAR numbers so adding a first baseman via free agency is unlikely for the Giants.
The second highest WAR among Giants position players, even in a shortened season, belongs to Buster Posey with two. Posey was hobbled with injuries and was never truly himself in 2018. This off-season, Posey went under the knife to repair his hip. The Steamer believes that Posey will rebound in a big way going from a WAR of 2 to a 2019 projected WAR of 4.4, a massive 2.4 increase. No catcher on the free agent market breaks into the fours in WAR though Posey was never being replaced, at least not through free agency. The backup catcher spot, on the other hand, is a position the Giants may be interested in filling.
The back up catcher spot is currently filled by Aramis Garcia who ended the 2018 season with a .3 WAR and is currently projected for a .2 WAR in 2019. There are several catchers on the free agent market that top Aramis Garcia's current 2019 WAR projection. Yasmani Grandal is all but guaranteed to take a starting position elsewhere so I am going to omit him from this list. However, Matt Wieters (1.2), Martin Maldonado (1), Devin Mesoraco (.3), Rene Rivera (.3), and A.J. Ellis (.3) are all projected for a higher WAR than Aramis Garcia (.2). We can likely remove Devin Mesoraco (31 years old), Rene Rivera (35 years old), and A.J. Ellis (38 years old) from this list because the WAR is not enough of a difference from Aramis Garcia (25 years old) to warrant signing them. That being said, Martin Maldonado and Matt Wieters would be substantial enough upgrades in WAR over Garcia that signing either of them would make a lot of sense for the Giants if they are planning on trying to contend in 2019. If punting in 2019 allowing Aramis Garcia to continue to develop would likely be the smartest move.
The third highest WAR among Giants position players was from Brandon Crawford. Crawford exited 2018 with a WAR of 1.9. However, Crawford is projected for a WAR of 2.8 for the 2019 season. The only free agent shortstop that is projected to eclipse Crawford's 2019 WAR projection, Manny Machado at 5.2. So, unless the Giants are seriously looking into acquiring Manny Machado, Crawford isn't going anywhere. At least not via free agent acquisition.
With Crawford fully established at shortstop there is no room for a starting level addition to the middle infield. However, there is room for a utility infielder addition. Last season, Alen Hanson played that role for the Giants to the tune of a .5 WAR. However, Hanson is projected to lose .4 points on his WAR which would drop it to .1. Fortunately, there is an abundance of viable free agent middle infielders that could easily fill that role. The most notable being Jose Iglesias (1.7) and the recently linked Josh Harrison (1.2) both of which would provide at least one full WAR as backups which is extremely valuable. Not to mention both can play either middle infield spot while Josh Harrison can also play the corner outfield spots and third base.
The next highest in Giants position player WAR should both be exciting and disappointing to Giants fans. Steven Duggar finished fourth in Giants position player WAR with a measly .7. Fortunately, Duggar is projected to take a step up with a .9 2019 projection. There are three free agents that project for a higher WAR in 2019 than Duggar while being designated as center fielders. Those players are Bryce Harper (4.9), A.J. Pollock (3.1), and Adam Jones (1.2). All of Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, and Adam Jones fit well for the Giants needs. Signing any of them would mean either a move to a corner outfield spot for Duggar which could increase his value, a trade of Duggar for different talent, or moving Pollock/Harper/Jones to a corner which could increase their value. If the Giants were to sign Adam Jones it would likely be to a one or two year deal considering his age (33) and declining production. If the Giants were to sign A.J. Pollock it would likely be to a 2-4 year deal due to his age (31) and injury history. If the Giants were to sign Bryce Harper it would likely be to a deal that would vastly overpay for a WAR that is only .5 above Buster Posey's 2019 projection. The most likely scenario is for the Giants to sign Pollock or Jones. But the likeliest scenario seems pretty unlikely with a promising young center fielder already.
Next up among Giants position players is the vastly overpaid Evan Longoria. Longoria struggled in his first year with the Giants to a WAR of just .4. However, the Steamer projects a minor bounce back in 2019 to the tune of a WAR of 2.2. Mike Moustakas is the only free agent third baseman that is projected for a higher WAR than that at 2.8. The Giants are pretty much stuck with Longoria unless they can find a way to unload his contract in which case bringing in Moustakas on a short term deal would be a viable option.
The next highest in WAR among Giants position players was Mac Williamson with .3. His WAR is projected to fall to -.1 in 2019. This further outlines the necessity for the Giants to acquire help in the outfield. Carlos Gonzalez (1.2), Nick Markakis (1.1) and Avisail Garcia (1.1) are all still on the market and all would likely come at fairly low price. Nick Markakis is 35 while Carlos Gonzalez is 33 which likely rules them out if the Giants are looking to get younger. However, Avisail Garcia is just 28 years old and in 2017 he had a WAR of 4.2. Look for the Giants to heavily pursue Avisail Garcia as a cheap starting right fielder.
Continuing down the list Joe Panik is next with a WAR of .1. Panik has been riddled with injuries, and when he does play, has been a liability at the plate. However, the Steamer projects a large comeback for Panik with a 2019 WAR projection of 2.3. A full 2.2 points higher than 2018. That being said there are two free agents that are projected higher than Panik, Brian Dozier (2.6) and D.J. LeMahieu (2.5). However, both would likely come at a hefty cost while Panik will be making a minimal salary. Replacing Joe Panik would not be viable through free agency.
Finally, the last projected starter for the Giants is Austin Slater with a WAR of 0. Slater currently projects as the starter in left field for the Giants and is projected for a .5 WAR in 2019. This boost in WAR leaves only two free agents with higher WAR projections, Marwin Gonzalez (1.6) and Denard Span (.6). Span seems like an unlikely candidate to return to his former team due to age (35) and only a .1 difference in WAR for almost a decade in age difference would not be a wise decision by the Giants. However, Marwin Gonzalez is only 30 years old and likely could be signed for a short term deal to either allow Slater to develop or allow Heliot Ramos to come up through the Giants system. Another boon for the value of Marwin Gonzalez is that he can play every position on the field and he is a switch hitter. Gonzalez seems like the perfect fit for the Giants, especially on a 2-4 year deal for a player that would be extremely valuable.
That wraps up the hitters for this segment. The pitchers will be following soon. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.