San Francisco Giants: Offseason Moves the Team Should Have Made Going into 2013
However, there are noticeable holes that have only become more noticeable as the season has worn on.
To be fair, hindsight is 20/20. Still, there are moves the Giants' front office could have made in the offseason. Going further, there were signs during spring training that should have clued general manager Brian Sabean into potential problems.
San Francisco is currently in need of a solid backup catcher and another starter in the rotation, with the latter arising before right-hander Ryan Vogelsong fractured his pitching hand on May 20.
The backup catcher issue at first appears to be a minor one. Buster Posey is the reigning NL MVP, after all. Upon further investigation, however, the problem magnifies. Posey is not only the reigning NL MVP, but he is arguably the single most valuable commodity on the Giants. Historically, manager Bruce Bochy favors giving his catchers much-needed rest—and with good reason. Bochy himself played the position and knows full well the physical demands playing behind the plate incurs.
In 2012, the Giants had a solid option in backup catcher Hector Sanchez. Although his defense was still in the development phase, Sanchez added a bat to the lineup. In 2012, Sanchez batted .280 in 227 plate appearances. Sanchez took over catching for an erratic Tim Lincecum, thus lessening Posey's workload as well as his possibility for injury.
Fast-forward to spring training 2013. Sanchez arrived to Arizona out of shape:
Bochy said Hector Sanchez is a bit out of shape, too. #sfgiants.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) February 17, 2013
Be it his weight issues or other factors, Sanchez fizzled in spring training. His injury-plagued spring opened up the competition for the backup catcher spot. Unfortunately, the competition was not exactly stiff.
Carl Seward of the San Jose Mercury News wrote on March 14:
"The Giants don't have the safety net at catcher they once did. Other than National League MVP Buster Posey and Sanchez, the departed Eli Whiteside was the only other Giants player who saw time behind the plate last season, and that was for a mere three starts and 37 innings."
Currently, the Giants have employed Guillermo Quiroz as their go-to backup catcher. As of May 22, the 31-year-old Quiroz is batting a paltry .214—still higher than his career average of .207. His defense behind the plate leaves much to be desired, and he just does not appear to be a viable option long-term.
Hector Sanchez's absence revealed a gaping hole on the Giants bench. Going one step further, San Francisco's previously impenetrable starting rotation has largely struggled throughout 2013. The last thing a struggling pitcher needs is uncertainty with his partner behind the plate.
Fifth starter Ryan Vogelsong is reportedly out six to eight weeks after undergoing surgery on his pitching hand, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). While the tough-as-nails right-hander has undergone a dismal start to 2013 (7.19 ERA in nine starts), his absence still leaves a huge void in the starting rotation.
Speaking on who will replace Vogelsong in the very near future, Bochy was vague: "Brian's [Sabean] always looking at things. Right now, we're looking at it internally. That's all we're talking about it."
For the short term, there appear to be two likely options moving forward. MLB.com's Chris Haft writes:
The simplest move would be to move Chad Gaudin from the bullpen to the rotation. The right-hander has made 75 Major League starts and possesses more durability than the average reliever, having pitched three innings or more twice and working between two and three innings seven times. He entered Tuesday with an 0-1 record and a 2.10 ERA in 14 appearances.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
The second option resides in Triple-A Fresno: left-hander Mike Kickham. The 24-year-old has the hot hand in the minors and could be given the nod to start in the big leagues.
More important are the long-term effects of Vogelsong's departure. The starting five of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Vogelsong have been lights out as a unit over the past couple of years. They led the charge (minus Vogelsong) in the Giants' 2010 World Series campaign, and then again in 2012.
And yet, the cracks began to show not in the opening months of 2013, but toward the end of 2012. Vogelsong lost his mojo after the All-Star break, posting a 6.32 ERA in August and a 5.34 ERA in September/October, according to Baseball-Reference. Lincecum had the worst year of his career and one of the worst years of any starting pitcher in all MLB. Bumgarner had a rough patch that extended into the playoffs until fixing his mechanics. Zito excelled in the playoffs, but on the whole, his numbers (except for wins and losses) did not improve much.
Cain and Bumgarner are solid as the rotation's leaders. Lincecum is improving, especially as he regains his control and hits his locations, but his status is still that of a "wild card." Zito is a fine option to anchor a rotation, but is in no way a No. 3-caliber starter. Hopefully, Vogelsong can return to his 2011-12 form after this two-month DL stint, but, if not, the Giants are without a consistent starter for the 3-hole in the rotation.
To reiterate, hindsight is 20/20. The fact remains: There were signs of cracks in the starting rotation. If the Giants want to go deep into the postseason, or even make the postseason, they need another consistent arm in the rotation.
For now, the Giants will work with what they've got. The offense has picked up the slack, and the team has experienced moderate success so far. While the Giants chose to undergo a quiet offseason, some louder moves will need to be made down the stretch.
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