San Francisco Giants have a huge opportunity this winter

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After a year and a half of playing .400 baseball, the outlook surrounding the San Francisco Giants as we near 2018 is either one of two extremes. The glass half-full is that injuries derailed their 2017 season (plus, it was an odd year and those don’t count anyway) and the second half of 2016 was that club regressing to the mean. The core is still intact and a new season will see them return to former glory.

The more pessimistic extreme is that the Giants have an aging roster and could be another bad half away from selling some big pieces at next year’s trade deadline in the hopes of getting a prospect haul that will help them in the future.

No matter which camp you fall in, fans of the orange and black can all agree that adding Giancarlo Stanton would be a huge boon for the club and increase their chances of being competitive next year. After a 59 home run season that saw him take home the NL MVP award, Stanton’s availability on the trade block is the talk of the baseball world, and for the time being only the Cardinals, Red Sox and Giants have been heavily linked to the mighty slugger. Last week CBS Sports reported that Stanton would not waive his no-trade clause in a deal with either Boston or St. Louis, which seemingly leaves the door open for Giants GM Bobby Evans to swoop in and save the franchise in one transaction.

On Monday, some names surfaced as the framework for a potential deal between the Marlins and Giants, with San Francisco getting Stanton and second baseman Dee Gordon and the fish getting Joe Panik and two prospects, Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede. According to Eno Sarris of The Athletic, this framework “passes the smell test” in terms of projected value if the Giants were to take on most, if not all of the remaining $295 million left on Stanton’s contract.

While the offseason is still young and there are plenty of other teams that could enter the sweepstakes, the Giants appear to be the early frontrunner. While I believe that he could find himself in a better situation in terms of a team on the rise, some other recent news could work in the Giants’ favor as well.

This week, Major League Baseball handed down a severe penalty to the Atlanta Braves for some backroom dealing on the international market, leading to a lifetime ban from baseball for their GM, the loss of a third-round pick in June’s draft and 12 of their prospects suddenly becoming free agents.

The top prize among them is Kevin Maitan, a 17-year-old shortstop who was deemed “Venezuela’s next great prospect” by Baseball America in 2016. Prior to the 2017 season, Maitan was a consensus top 100 prospect with MLB Pipeline ranking him as high as #32. In his first season of pro ball, split between the Appalachian League (33 games) and the Gulf Coast League (nine games), the 6-foot-2 switch-hitter batted .241 with a .290 on-base percentage and a .340 slugging percentage, leading to questions about how teams will value him (by the short stint in pro ball or as the heralded next great prospect) now that he’s back on the market.

There were eleven other prospects granted free agency, which leaves plenty of talent to choose from. Teams will be allowed to use either their remaining International bonus pool money or they can dip into next year’s allotment, but they cannot combine the two. The Giants have $300k in bonus pool money at the moment, but should have a few million to spend for next year’s pool. This opens the door to adding some much-needed talent to their minor league system, which could get them back on track to building a sustained winner. It should also be noted that teams that sign one of these new free agents only get a hit against the cap if their signee’s bonus exceeds $200k.

The prospects in question are either 17 or 18 years of age now, and all reside in the lower levels of the minor leagues, being that they were international signees in the last year or so. This means that they’ll need some time to develop, but if the Giants are really willing to go all-in with their current group of major leaguers, that fits their timetable perfectly.

San Francisco isn’t going to be able to make a big free agent splash with their payroll pushed up against the luxury tax, and while adding Giancarlo Stanton certainly wouldn’t help matters in that field, he’s the caliber of player you make an exception for – penalties be damned! One way they could infuse their subpar farm system with some talent would be to scoop up one or two of these newly available players.

With a large portion of their big-league roster at least hovering around 30, the core that we have come to know has a bout coming up with Father Time, at least in terms of their usual production levels. Due to their current payroll constraints, building up the farm system seems like the best way to keep the champagne flowing and adding outfielder Juan Carlos Negret (18) would give them another athletic prospect to the mix. Having a surplus of outfielders (adding him to the list of Steven Duggar, Heliot Ramos, Bryan Reynolds, Austin Slater, Sandro Fabian and Heath Quinn) gives them some leeway if a few of these guys don’t pan out, and also means they could trade away one or two of these guys in order to address a weaker position in the future.

2017 may have been a glimpse into the not-too-distant future for the Giants if they keep trodding the same path, so this winter the goal of the front office has to be course-correcting and getting ahead of the problems that presented themselves this year. This winter the groundwork will be laid for the future of the franchise, because if they wait too much longer it may be too late to turn things around.

With the Oakland Athletics bringing optimism of a bright future and the promise of a new ballpark across the Bay, landing Stanton and increasing the talent levels down on the farm would go a long way to making sure the orange and black continues to showcase their territorial dominance for years to come.

Featured image: 2017 Topps Now MLB 118