With the smell of champagne still lingering as the San Francisco Giants celebrate their second World Series title in three years, it might be too soon to begin thinking about next year. But after such a dominating series victory over the Detroit Tigers, one can't help but look ahead.
So, how about it? Can the Giants repeat as World Series champions in 2013? The pieces are certainly in place for another run at the trophy next year.
World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval is under contract through 2014 and may be in line for a contract extension. Probable National League MVP Buster Posey hasn't even reached arbitration eligibility yet, meaning he's under team control for at least three more seasons, though the Giants will surely want to manage costs by signing their catcher to a long-term contract.
Hunter Pence has one more arbitration-eligible season remaining. After including two top prospects in the trade to get him from the Philadelphia Phillies, general manager Brian Sabean probably wants to keep Pence around with a lengthy deal to get a better return on that investment.
On the pitching side, the starting rotation that helped San Francisco toward a championship is intact through next season.
Matt Cain signed a six-year, $127.5 million extension before the season, setting the market for right-handed starting pitchers. Madison Bumgarner agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal with the Giants a couple of weeks later.
Ryan Vogelsong is under contract for one more season, with a team option for 2014, as is Barry Zito. Tim Lincecum has one year left on the two-year deal he signed with the Giants to avoid arbitration.
In terms of backup options, young lefty Eric Surkamp could contribute, depending on how he recovers from Tommy Join surgery. Journeyman right-hander Yusmeiro Petit might be able to help as well if he's brought back next season.
Elsewhere on the pitching staff, the bullpen that was extremely effective during the playoffs has a couple of question marks for next season.
Will Brian Wilson return next season? The Giants could bring him back at a lesser salary coming off Tommy John surgery. But Sergio Romo looks like this team's closer now, and he probably won't go back to being a setup man. He has two more seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining.
Also arbitration-eligible for one more year is Santiago Casilla, who was initially effective in replacing Wilson as the closer until eventually ceding the job to Romo. Left-hander Javier Lopez is signed through 2013. George Kontos, who had an impressive regular season but disappointing postseason, is also under team control for another four years.
Sabean will surely want to re-sign Jeremy Affeldt, who's shown he can be far more than a situational left-hander during his four seasons in San Francisco. He's an extremely effective middle reliever and can serve as a backup closer when necessary.
That leaves very few holes for the Giants to fill next year. But those openings could allow for further improvement if Sabean and team ownership prefer to attack the offseason aggressively.
Bringing back infielder Marco Scutaro and center fielder Angel Pagan are likely priorities for the Giants. Both were key playoff contributors and should be important pieces in the lineup next season and beyond.
Scutaro, in particular, is crucial, because the market for free-agent second basemen is not good. Does San Francisco want to roll with Ryan Theriot and Emmanuel Burriss at that position through most of next season again? Probably not.
The Giants could go after a higher-priced center fielder who might be an upgrade over Pagan. But the team knows what it's getting in the seven-year veteran, who had the best season of his career after being acquired from the New York Mets.
Besides, if there are free-agent dollars to spend, Sabean and ownership may want to use those resources for a left fielder. Gregor Blanco played well at the position following Melky Cabrera's suspension for PED use. But is he an everyday major league player or more of a very good fourth outfielder?
This could be where the Giants make a big splash, one that could establish a foothold as a NL power for years to come.
What if the team signed free-agent Josh Hamilton to be its left fielder? An outfield of Hamilton, Pagan and Pence could be the best in Major League Baseball. And how about a middle of the order with Hamilton, Posey, Sandoval and Pence? Opposing NL pitching staffs would tremble at this prospect.
San Francisco could go in a less expensive, longer-term direction at that position, however, if top prospect Gary Brown is ready to make the jump from Double-A to the majors next year.
The exciting thing for the Giants and their fans is that the 2012 World Series champions aren't a team that's going to be broken apart after this season. The roster wasn't built for a one-year run at a championship. Sabean had an eye on the future as well as the present when assembling this club.
But even with the rest of the division prepared to make some noise, San Francisco is well-equipped to take on all comers. With the core of its roster sticking around and some salary flexibility to work with, the future could hold even more promise.
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