San Francisco Giants: 5 Biggest Questions Looking Ahead to the Offseason

Zack Ruskin@@frozentoothContributor IISeptember 20, 2012

San Francisco Giants: 5 Biggest Questions Looking Ahead to the Offseason

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    Most teams with a nine-game lead in their division in late September aren’t preoccupied with the offseason quite yet. The San Francisco Giants are one such team, and while there is certainly good reason to be worried more about the game tonight than their roster eight months from now, baseball is a sport that demands planning for the future.

    The Giants will enter the offseason with star pitchers Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner secured in long-term deals, the contracts of Aubrey Huff, Aaron Rowand and Freddy Sanchez off the books and a slew of popular players heading into the frenzy of free agency. Many of the choices facing the Giants will revolve around their decision to either pursue top-grade free agent talent or instead work to extend the players already on the field.

    The need for free agents will be intensified or weakened by what happens in the coming weeks for San Francisco, but regardless of any potential playoff run, many tough calls await Brian Sabean and the Giants when the season ends.

    Here are the five biggest questions looking ahead to the San Francisco Giants’ offseason.

5. The Outfield: Pt. I

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    While Hunter Pence is eligible for arbitration following this season, Angel Pagan will be a free agent. Both players have made significant contributions to the club this season, with Pagan in particular providing consistency as the Giants’ long-desired leadoff hitter. Hunter Pence came to San Francisco right before Melky Cabrera’s suspension, and his presence became vital in offsetting the loss in production when Cabrera left the team.

    Angel Pagan’s 2012 contract was a one year deal worth $4.85 million. If Pagan is interested in returning at those numbers, or even something slightly more significant (two years, $12 million), it seems like a no-brainer for the Giants to sign him.

    Hunter Pence has stated his interest in a long-term extension with San Francisco. Such an extension is within the budget, but if the Giants want to make a push for someone like Josh Hamilton, it may be better to offer Pence arbitration and wait a season. That way the team will be free of the expiring contract of Barry Zito, plus they should know what kind of money will be tied-up in Tim Lincecum’s new deal.

4. Tim Lincecum

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    Now that Lincecum is pitching better, the conundrum on how to approach his future with the Giants has only grown more complex. On the one hand, fans love Timmy, and his role as one of the team’s most public, recognizable figures is not something to be easily dismissed.

    On the other hand, searching the terms “contract” and “Lincecum” brings up his record-breaking arbitration deals from 2010 and 2012. Both of those deals were offered to a version of The Freak that had yet to go 3-8 with a 5.60 ERA heading into July.

    Still, should the Giants progress in the postseason in part due to Lincecum’s starts, the San Francisco fanbase is sure to forget his earlier ugly performances. And even if they don’t, there are more than a few teams who will happily give the troubled Lincecum another shot and a not-so-small fortune to try his luck somewhere else.

    If Brian Sabean intends to retain his one-time ace, inking Lincecum to the type of extension he offered Matt Cain last season may be priority No. 1 ahead of Opening Day 2013, as it will be his last year under contract.

3. Closing Time

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    Brian Wilson has never been one to go with the establishment.  Evidence of this can be found in the spandex tuxedo he wore to the ESPYs in 2011 and his relationship with an individual known as The Machine

    But both of those quirks would pale in comparison to Wilson’s successful return to the San Francisco Giants. For a pitcher to undergo two separate Tommy John surgeries and maintain a successful career is nearly unprecedented. Wilson assuredly has no doubt that he’ll bounce back, but is that a risk the Giants are willing to take?

    The closer-by-committee routine has worked for Bruce Bochy, but most would argue against the system’s sustainability. Surely the Giants will look to bring in someone to act as the de facto closer for next season, be it Brian Wilson or perhaps someone new like Huston Street.

    Like Lincecum, Brian Wilson’s relationship to the fans (read: merchandise potential) makes him a huge asset to the club beyond his value as a player. The Giants have the option of giving him a pay cut through arbitration or letting him walk via free agency.

    If Wilson is willing to sign something short and cheap to allow both sides a chance to evaluate him, San Francisco will definitely go for it. Alternatively, he may seek something bigger to ensure he has a job even if his arm can no longer deliver. 

2. Fresh Blood

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    If you could turn Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez and Aaron Rowand into Josh Hamilton, would you do it?

    Feel free not to answer that question, as anyone with a pulse knows the answer is a resounding yes. While Huff, Sanchez and Rowand have not discovered how to combine their forms and transform into the Texas Ranger slugger, they all have contracts coming off the books at season’s end. This equates to roughly $30 million in potential payroll.

    Now before the free agent shopping spree commences, bear in mind that should the Giants extend both Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, coupled with Buster Posey’s first arbitration year and potential deals to Brian Wilson, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, they’ll be down a hearty chunk of change.

    However, if the money to make a splash is available, who should the Giants be gunning for? Aside from the aforementioned Josh Hamilton, other plausible candidates include Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Youkilis. In establishing the need for an infielder like Youkilis, the Giants will first need to decide whether Buster Posey is going to be a full-time catcher in 2013, thus clarifying Brandon Belt’s position with the team.

    In all honesty, the Giants aren’t really in need of anyone short of a marquee star like Hamilton. Should he re-up with the Rangers, Brian Sabean’s chances of landing a notable new face are going to be better via trade than free agency. Making the push to get Hamilton would be a major coup for Sabean, a general manager infamous for his anemic approach to top-tier free agents.

1. The Outfield: Pt. II (Melky’s Revenge)

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    The milkman outfits lie crumpled in closets, the dairy pun signs obsolete in car trunks. The Melky Cabrera era ended with a whimper mere months after it began. For a brief, glorious moment, the Giants were the team with the player, the guy everyone wished they had, until, quite suddenly, they weren’t. While Melky currently serves his 50-game suspension for a positive PED test, his team must weigh the pros and cons of revisiting a relationship that has, for lack of a better word, soured.

    One thing in Melky’s favor is that his dominance as a hitter this year wasn’t marked by home runs, the typical output of steroid abusers. Melky’s swing and approach are things he’ll still have if he comes back to AT&T Park, even if the power behind them is diminished.

    However, the bitter taste of Cabrera’s betrayal to a fanbase known for being rabidly loyal still lingers. Recent news that Cabera was involved in the creation of a fake website used to attempt to dupe MLB officials investigating his positive test will not help his standing with the Giants' faithful.

    So if the team doesn’t acquire a left fielder through free agency and Cabrera offers his services at a one year, $1 million level, do they accept? If Melky is in a repenting mood, having someone of his caliber for that cheap a price seems like a no-brainer.

    The only thing that may stand in the way of a deal is a desire by the Giants’ front office to distance itself from steroid scandals at all costs. Still, if cough syrup swiller Guillermo Mota gets a second chance, why not Melky? What I’m saying is, don’t toss out the milkman outfit just yet.