Going into the offseason, the assumption might be that the team that won the World Series has the fewest holes to fill.
Of course, it's not always that simple. Keeping together a championship team can be a difficult undertaking.
Some players may look to cash in from their team's success. Complementary pieces could have an eye on being a star player elsewhere. Decisions have to be made as to whether anyone had a career year that perhaps can't be repeated.
Will Angel Pagan continue to produce as he did in 2012? Would a team seeking middle infield help make an attractive offer to Marco Scutaro? Might Jeremy Affeldt have ambitions to be a featured reliever or closer in another bullpen?
Yet Sabean has done an excellent job of keeping his World Series championship team intact for another run next season.
Pagan was re-signed to a four-year, $40 million contract, despite interest from competitors such as the Philadelphia Phillies. Scutaro agreed to a three-year, $20 million deal, staving off pursuit from the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. Affeldt inked a three-year, $21 million contract—as lucrative a deal as the left-hander could have found elsewhere.
With those moves, Sabean has kept the band together. If the Giants don't win the World Series next season, it won't be because they lost a key piece to free agency and had to spend the offseason—and perhaps most of the regular season—trying to replace such a player.
Has Sabean actually made the Giants better for next season, though? Has the team upgraded in any particular area?
Left field is one position where San Francisco arguably could have upgraded. The Giants had Melky Cabrera putting up career numbers there until mid-August, when he was suspended 50 games for a positive PED test.
Gregor Blanco filled in nicely, especially from a defensive standpoint, but he hit .244 with a .676 OPS.
That deficiency is why many baseball analysts and observers thought Josh Hamilton might be a good fit for the Giants, providing a massive upgrade in production in left field. Nick Swisher was another top free-agent hitter who could have been a good fit in San Francisco.
But unless the Giants were to significantly exceed their $130 million payroll for this year, signing an expensive free agent while also bringing back key pieces like Pagan, Scutaro and Affeldt wasn't a realistic option.
The San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea reported that the team was essentially "maxed out" on payroll. According to CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly, that probably cost the Giants a shot at signing Ryan Ludwick to be their left fielder.
With resources now limited, the Giants are left to make smaller moves, like bringing back Andres Torres to pair with Blanco in left field next season. Sabean might look for an upgrade by the trade deadline if that combination doesn't work. But depending on who was acquired, that could affect the team's ability to re-sign Pence.
Another area Sabean likely wants to address is the bullpen, which could use another right-handed arm. Sergio Romo established himself as the closer by the end of the season and through the postseason. Santiago Casilla was signed to a three-year, $15 million extension. But after Brian Wilson wasn't tendered a contract for 2013, San Francisco is missing one right-handed reliever.
Wilson could eventually re-sign with the Giants after shopping himself around MLB to look for a better deal. However, he probably won't find a team willing to make him its closer.
Wilson is reportedly miffed that the Giants wouldn't offer him a contract, believing that his years of service with the team warranted a deal near what he earned this last season. Yet San Francisco had no interest in paying Wilson $7 million coming off the second Tommy John surgery of his career. And he likely won't find that money elsewhere.
If or when Wilson swallows his pride and gets past his hard feelings, however, the Giants will surely be interested in bringing him back.
But until then, Sabean can find several right-handed relievers on the free-agent market. Francisco Rodriguez, Juan Cruz, Brandon Lyon and Jason Frasor are just a handful of names that are still available and should come rather cheaply at this point of the offseason.
Regardless of what other additions Sabean might make to his roster, the Giants should benefit from having Scutaro and Hunter Pence for a full season next year.
Though Pence did hit 24 home runs with 104 RBI with the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants, he batted .253 with a .743 OPS overall. With the Giants, however, he .219 with a .671 OPS, seven home runs and 45 RBI. San Francisco will need more production than that from him. Regardless, he should give the Giants more than Nate Schierholtz did before he was traded.
Putting up better numbers would be in Pence's best interests as well, since he'll be a free agent after next season.
Middle infield was a major weakness for the Giants until Scutaro was acquired from the Colorado Rockies. Ryan Theriot compiled a .637 OPS. Emmanuel Burriss hit .213.
Once Scutaro joined the team, however, second base became a strength in the lineup. He batted .362 with an .859 OPS in 61 games for the Giants. He truly shined in the postseason, where he was named MVP of the NLCS after batting .500 with a 1.140 OPS.
Having a second baseman who should provide a .275 average, .750 OPS, 30 doubles, seven to 10 home runs and 60 RBI will be a major asset throughout next season.
Scutaro's age is a concern. He'll be 40 years old by the time he finishes out his contract. But he seems to be the type of player who's gotten better as he's become older.
Besides, even with diminished skills, Scutaro should be more productive than any alternative Sabean could find for second base.
Ultimately, we're talking about a team that won the World Series. How much does San Francisco have to improve or upgrade? All the other clubs in MLB are trying to get to where the Giants are right now.
Some GMs would make the mistake of trying to tinker too much, essentially outsmarting themselves in an attempt to stay ahead. Sabean knows he had a group of players that worked well together and should be successful again. Not messing with that formula might be the best move he can make.
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