What Actions Do the San Francisco Giants Need to Take to Contend in 2014?
The San Francisco Giants have struggled mightily in the 2013 season. Injuries have hit the team hard, and poor performances from some key players has led to a record of 51-63. The Giants are 13 games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
One issue that does not get enough mention is San Francisco's participation in the World Baseball Classic. Of the nine Giants who played, six have been hurt during the season. It could be a mere coincidence, but there could also be a causal relationship here.
In addition, the Giants have played more baseball than any other team in the past three seasons. The two world championships meant they played a month or more longer than most other teams. The wear and tear on the pitching staff finally caught up with the team this year.
The Giants are last in the NL West, and although they are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they have shown nothing that gives any indication that they can make a significant run. For all intents and purposes, this season is over and the strategy must be to begin planning for 2014.
As the 2013 season drifts into oblivion, the Giants will have some tough decisions to make in order to put the best possible team on the field for next year. Let's take a closer look at 10 key things that they can do to put themselves in a better position to contend in 2014.
No. 10: Exercise the Option of Ryan Vogelsong
Ryan Vogelsong was one of the Giants' most reliable pitchers in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Over those two years, he had a record of 27-16 and an ERA of 3.05. Including the postseason last year, he pitched a career high of 214.1 innings.
Vogelsong also had to get ready to pitch earlier than the other San Francisco starting pitchers, as he opted to play in the World Baseball Classic.
I interviewed the 36-year-old just prior to the WBC, and he was thrilled to be participating. He insisted that his early preparation was not an issue, but his results say otherwise.
As the 2013 season got underway, Vogelsong got off to a very poor start. He had trouble with his mechanics and struggled. In 46.1 innings of work, Vogelsong had an ERA of 7.19 and WHIP of 1.727.
He was having his best outing of the year when he broke his finger while batting.
The Giants will watch their starter carefully over these last two months. If it looks like he has any gas left in the tank, they would be wise to retain him. The Giants have an option for 2014 in the amount of $6.5 million. If they choose to let him go, they will pay a $300,000 buyout.
With only two starters—Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner—signed for next year, the team should keep Vogelsong. A $6.5 million price tag is not that much for a quality starting pitcher.
Vogelsong just turned 36 years of age, but he has always kept himself in good condition.
In addition, this roughly 10-week stint on the DL may actually be a blessing in disguise. The hiatus has given his arm plenty of time to rest. After pitching so much in the past two seasons, the added rest may help him in 2014.
Barring a total collapse in the next two months, keeping Vogelsong should be a no-brainer.
No. 9: Monitor the Conditioning of Pablo Sandoval and Hector Sanchez
Pablo Sandoval and Hector Sanchez reported to spring training overweight and out of shape. This has adversely affected both of their seasons.
Sandoval has battled nagging leg and foot injuries, which can partially be attributed to his weight. His defense also suffers when he is overweight. He is currently hitting just .261 with nine home runs and 52 RBI. His OBP is a very low .310, and his OPS is just .693.
To Sandoval's credit, he has worked very hard over the past month and lost a lot of weight. However, he has also been slumping. All of the exercise Sandoval has put in recently has seemed to tire him and slow his bat speed.
Sanchez also battled leg and shoulder injuries earlier this year. And the severity of his leg issues could be attributed to his excess weight as well.
Sanchez had a fine rookie season in 2012, hitting a solid .280 and driving in 34 runs in 218 at-bats. But to this point, 2013 has been a lost year for him. He only has 43 at-bats with the Giants and is hitting just .209.
Like Sandoval, Sanchez has finally gotten into better condition. But the middle of the season is not the time to try to get into shape.
It would be wise for the Giants to closely monitor the weight and conditioning of both Sandoval and Sanchez. Failure to do so cost them dearly this season and they can ill-afford a repeat of 2013.
No. 8: Acquire a Solid Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
The injuries to Ryan Vogelsong, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt really hurt the Giants' pitching staff. Chad Gaudin was forced into the starting rotation, and although he has done well, it has left a huge void in the relief corps.
The injuries to Casilla and Affeldt have forced manager Bruce Bochy to use journeyman Sandy Rosario, Jean Machi, George Kontos, Jake Dunning and Jose Mijares far more than he would have liked to.
The Giants need to fortify their bullpen. Adding one more steady relief pitcher would do wonders for the team.
At one point a year ago, Heath Hembree was on the fast track to San Francisco. However, injuries and a less-than-stellar season tempered the Giants' enthusiasm. The righty is sporting an ERA of 4.24 and WHIP of 1.307 in Fresno, the Giants' Triple-A affiliate. He has regressed and needs more seasoning.
The Giants' bullpen would benefit tremendously if it could acquire another quality reliever.
No. 7: It's Time for Barry Zito to Move On.
Earlier this season, it looked like the Giants might try to sign Barry Zito to a contract extension. A realistic option could have been something like a two-year deal for $18 million. The Giants owe him $7 million no matter what, so the delta would only be another $11 million.
However, in his last few outings, Zito has pitched very poorly. Any hopes of the Giants trying to sign him have evaporated.
In 112.1 innings, Zito has allowed 144 hits and 47 walks. His record is 4-8 with an ERA of 5.21 and WHIP of 1.700. Zito's road outings are abysmal. He has an ERA over 9.00 on the road.
Zito is also prone to very short outings, which puts a tremendous burden on the Giants' bullpen.
He is at the end of his seven-year, $126 million contract. The Giants will pay him the $7 million as a buyout. The alternative would be to pay him close to $20 million in 2014, which the team will not do.
Zito was an asset in 2012, and his efforts helped the Giants win the World Series. Unfortunately, he was unable to follow that up with a decent season, and it's simply time for both Zito and the Giants to move on.
No. 6: Sign Chad Gaudin
Chad Gaudin has been one of the few bright spots of the 2013 season. He made the team out of spring training as a long reliever and was pitching well when Ryan Vogelsong was injured.
The Giants inserted Gaudin into the starting rotation, and he has pitched remarkably well. He has an ERA of 2.56 and WHIP of 1.148 in 88 innings of work.
Gaudin made $750,000 this season and will be a free agent at the end of the season. The Giants would be wise sign him so long as it's for a reasonable price. It would likely take something in the neighborhood of $3 million, but it would be a wise investment.
No. 5: Play the Youngsters
At this point in the season, it is important for the Giants to see what they have in their young talent. The best way to do that is to get them into the lineup on a regular basis and see what they can do.
The team has several players that it needs to make a decision on. It will be critical for GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy to get a good look at these younger players and to see if any of them have the talent to make a serious impact at the big league level.
Roger Kieschnick, Brett Pill and Hector Sanchez are three players the Giants management needs to see play. In September, when rosters expand, it will also be a good time to call up outfielder Gary Brown to give him a taste of the majors.
Relief pitcher Jake Dunning deserves a call-up as well, as he threw the ball well during his time in San Francisco, earlier in the year.
Additionally, it would make sense to acclimate Heath Hembree to the majors. He's had a mediocre season, but has the talent to turn it around in 2014.
There are no position players in the Giants' minor league system who are ready to make an impact in the majors. Their top pitching prospects, such as pitchers Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Chris Stratton and Martin Agosta, are all at least two years away.
Now is the time to do a proper evaluation of the talent level in the minors and determine if there are any players who could make the Giants' 2014 Opening Day roster.
No. 4: Add One Additional Quality Starter or Long Reliever
If the Giants are able to retain Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Chad Gaudin, there is still room for one additional starter or long-man, depending on how they want to use Gaudin.
The team virtually has no depth behind its starting rotation, as none of the minor league starters are ready to make the jump to San Francisco. It would be wise for the Giants to sign a reasonably priced free-agent pitcher who could start or, alternatively, a long reliever if they opt to use Gaudin as a starter.
A few potential options include Jeff Karstens, Jason Marquis, Joba Chamberlain and Matt Belisle. Any of these pitchers would be an upgrade over Mike Kickham, Eric Surkamp, George Kontos, Jean Machi or Yusmeiro Petit, all of whom toiled with mixed results with the 2013 Giants.
The old adage that you can never have enough pitching certainly held true with the Giants this year. Bolstering the depth of the pitching staff will be a big plus for the team heading into the 2014 season.
No. 3: Improve Their Bench
The lackluster play of the Giants' reserves was an issue this year. Injuries to Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval and Joaquin Arias exposed the team's lack of depth.
Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres were originally slated to platoon in left field. Blanco is ideally a fourth outfielder and Torres a fifth. They were already playing one notch above where they really should have been when Pagan was injured.
This made Blanco the No. 2 outfielder and Torres No. 3. Both were starting and playing almost every day. They proved they are not everyday players. Neither has power, and neither has hit enough to warrant a starting job.
Blanco is hitting just .250 with one home run, 29 RBI and 10 steals. His OBP is a very weak .317. Torres is even worse with a .246 average, two home runs, 20 RBI and four steals. His OBP is a paltry .300.
Blanco is an excellent defensive outfielder, while Torres is not. If the Giants kept Blanco as a fourth or fifth outfielder and late-inning defensive replacement, that would be okay. The key, however, would be the healthy return of Pagan, retaining Hunter Pence and acquiring a solid starter in left field.
Jeff Francoeur is getting his chance, but the early returns are not great. As a veteran fourth or fifth outfielder, he would be suitable, but it remains to be seen if he can handle a starting role.
Although there is optimism with Roger Kieschnick and Brett Pill, it's likely that neither player is good enough to be an everyday starter and the two are not cut out to be part-time players. They need regular at-bats to stay sharp, so a reserve role is not ideal.
Tony Abreu is an above-average reserve, but his knee issues make him problematical for the long term.
The Giants also tried Francisco Peguero, Nick Noonan, Guillermo Quiroz, Juan Perez and Kensuke Tanaka, but these players appear to be 4-A players, not quite good enough for the majors.
Upgrading the depth of the roster and having better production off the bench is essential for San Francisco to contend in 2014.
No. 2: Acquire a Solid Starting Outfielder
San Francisco needs to sign Hunter Pence, then focus on adding one additional starting outfielder. If the team loses Pence, then it would need two starting outfielders.
In addition, the Giants must also hope that Angel Pagan can make a full recovery from his torn hamstring.
The team has two options. Ideally, it can acquire a starting left fielder via trade or in the free-agent market. The other option is to find a good center fielder and move Pagan to left. Coming off of his injury, Pagan would be better off in left field.
Defensively, if the Giants find a suitable center fielder, they would also be better off with Pagan in left. He is an adequate, though not a plus, defender in center.
No. 1: Sign Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez
San Francisco GM Brian Sabean considered making deals involving three players who will be free agents following the 2013 season. But when the trade deadline passed, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez all remained Giants.
Sabean set the price high and did not receive the types of offers he wanted, so he did not make any deals.
In the case of Lincecum and Pence, the Giants will undoubtedly tender them a contract, which will be in the $13.5 million range. If they opt to sign with another team, San Francisco will get a compensatory first-round draft pick in the next amateur draft.
All three are extremely valuable to the Giants, and losing any of them would hurt. Sabean would be hard-pressed to find replacements for them that would fit in with the team as well as they do.
He likely would have made a deal if he felt he could not sign any one of the players. The fact that he held firm indicates that he does believe he can sign them.
The top priority for Sabean and the Giants is to retain Lincecum, Pence and Lopez. Then they can focus on addressing all the other areas.
In order for the Giants to accomplish the goals outlined, the team's management most likely needs to increase the payroll. The team began the 2013 season with just under $137 million in salaries.
Factoring all of the likely moves the Giants will make with their existing players, they will save roughly $4 million from the $137 million they started with in 2013. They will need to use those savings, as well as an additional $8-10 million, to accomplish all of the items noted on this wish list.
The Giants payroll would increase to roughly $145 million, but it would give them the best chance for success while still retaining reasonable financial control.
In addition to bumping the payroll up, the 2014 Giants must have better luck avoiding the injury bug. If they're successful, they will have a great chance to make a run for another title.