San Francisco: When Can We Realistically Expect the Giants to Contend Again?
2013 has been a year of supreme disappointment for the San Francisco Giants.
The pitching underperformed, injuries plagued key players and the cards just didn't fall in the G-Men's favor this year.
And yet, it is still too early to press the panic button—as long as general manager Brian Sabean makes the necessary changes, this team is only a few elements away from contending once again.
First, the pitching—most notably the bullpen—must improve. As far as starting pitching goes, right-hander Matt Cain and left-hander Madison Bumgarner need to step up as the formidable one-two punch they were in 2012. Bumgarner is the only starting pitcher this season to perform with extended consistency, posting an impressive 2.77 ERA and a 13-9 record.
Cain, meanwhile, struggled over the course of the first half of the season. His ERA was a bloated 5.06 and he allowed 16 home runs in only 112 innings pitched. However, Cain rebounded after the All-Star break, and his ERA has transformed into a more characteristic 2.36 in his past 11 starts.
The perpetual question in the starting rotation remains Tim Lincecum. With Cain and Bumgarner locked into multi-year contracts and Ryan Vogelsong expected to return (according to Andrew Baggarly), Lincecum's free agency this offseason becomes a central focus for the Giants going into 2014.
The Seattle Mariners are serious contenders to sign Lincecum to a contract next season. However, Baggarly writes:
"Here’s why the Mariners’ record down the stretch will matter: Giants GM Brian Sabean has said the club will make a qualifying offer to Lincecum after the season, which the right-hander probably would turn down. (It’s a one-year guarantee worth roughly $14 million.) But it’s a strategic decision to extend the offer, even if the Giants know Lincecum would turn it down. It means that if another team signs Lincecum, that club would forfeit its first-round draft pick.
Here’s the catch: The top 10 picks in the draft are protected. And right now, the Mariners are 65-79 – tied with the Giants for the eighth worst record in the major leagues. The Rockies are just a game better in the win column. The Padres and Phillies are just two games better in the loss column.
So in the span of a couple days, the Mariners could “improve” their standing – and end up picking 11th or later, which would make their pick unprotected."
As far as the bullpen is concerned, the Giants, previously known for their lights-out bullpen, need reinforcements. Luckily, the Giants possess good, young arms that could do just that. According to Chris Haft at MLB.com, Manager Bruce Bochy reportedly mentioned Heath Hembree and Jake Dunning as being contenders to join the Opening Day roster in 2014.
The bottom line: the Giants won two World Series championships behind stellar pitching. While some of the pieces remain, the current formula is missing a plus sign.
Still, a team can't win a championship without scoring runs. The Giants are lacking in key offensive areas, most notably left field and off the bench. This is assuming the Giants are able to work out a deal to re-sign right fielder Hunter Pence, an absolutely essential step Sabean must take this offseason.
All is not gloom and doom in the Giants lineup. Center fielder and lead-off hitter Angel Pagan is back from a hamstring injury, which sidelined him for a large chunk of the year. Buster Posey continues to impress both behind and at the plate, and first baseman Brandon Belt finally broke out after the All-Star break, posting a scorching line of .324/.388/.505.
A possible solution to the left field debacle? Move Belt to left field, and go after a power-hitting first baseman. The market is bigger, giving the Giants more options. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports the Giants have interest in Cuban defector Jose Abreu, and that Kendrys Morales could also be an intriguing option.
With improved pitching and bullpen reinforcements coupled with adding a true power hitter to the lineup, the Giants begin to look extremely dangerous going into 2014. Despite a dismal 2013, only a few more pieces are necessary for the Giants to once again become World Series champion-caliber team.
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