After the San Francisco Giants finished their 2012 World Series title defense with a record of 76-86 in 2013, general manager Brian Sabean declared that it was time to turn the page on the current group.
At the state of the franchise press conference last weekend, Sabean said, "It's safe to say the window, with the group at hand, is closed. Now we've got to create a new window immediately. And that's the task at hand."
The key to creating a new window of success will be to get the club's starting rotation back on track. The Giants finished the season with the third-worst rotation ERA in the National League at 4.37. When they won the World Series in 2012, their rotation ERA was 3.73, good for fifth in the NL. In 2010, they were second with a 3.54 ERA.
Thus, the organization's shopping list in free agency will center on improving the rotation as well upgrading in left field. San Francisco left fielders combined to hit a league-worst .257/.314/.337 with five home runs this year.
Sabean said that bolstering the rotation will be a priority this winter.
"We need to add depth. I don't know how the market will play out. But we have another starter on our wish list...with or without Timmy [Lincecum]."
The best option on the starting pitching market might be 24-year-old Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area reported that top San Francisco scout Pat Burrell made a trip to Japan to scout Tanaka, who went 20-0 with a 1.24 ERA this year.
The Giants haven't yet been linked to any other free-agent pitchers. However, some other free-agent starting pitchers worth considering include Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Jorge De La Rosa, Phil Hughes, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Hiroki Kuroda, Josh Johnson, Paul Maholm, Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana.
Sabean already achieved one offseason goal by re-signing right fielder Hunter Pence. That leaves left field as the only pressing need on the offensive side of things.
On that front, Sabean is reportedly scouting Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu (h/t Andrew Baggarly, CSN Bay Area). If the Giants sign Abreu, they could use incumbent first baseman Brandon Belt to fill the void in left field. Signing Abreu and shifting Belt to left field would drastically improve an offense that finished just 21st in runs scored and 29th in home runs.
If the Giants fail to land a big bat like Abreu to boost the offense, they could have to find a stopgap solution in left field. Marquee outfield bats like Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury could prove to be out of the Giants' price range.
The Giants have increased payroll every season since 2009. Thus, they'll likely increase it again from $136.9 million in 2013. However, they've already allocated around $100 million for next year's team.
Angel Pagan ($9 million), Marco Scutaro ($6), Buster Posey ($10.5), Hunter Pence ($16), Pablo Sandoval ($8.25), Matt Cain ($20 million), Madison Bumgarner ($3.75), Sergio Romo ($5.5), Jeremy Affeldt ($5) and Santiago Casilla ($4.5) are all under contract for 2014.
Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias, Tony Abreu, Jose Mijares and Yusmeiro Petit are all eligible for salary arbitration.
The club also has a $6.5 million option on Ryan Vogelsong. The Giants will need to think hard about exercising the option after Vogelsong posted a 5.73 ERA over 19 starts in 2013.
Thus, while the Giants should have at least $40 million to spend even if payroll only increases marginally, that won't allow them to go crazy on the free-agent market. The Giants will have to use a chunk of their payroll space to re-sign Tim Lincecum, which Baggarly reports they are already working to do.
The Giants also need to re-sign left-handed specialist Javier Lopez, who posted a 1.83 ERA while holding lefties to a .156 batting average.
Sabean said the window had closed on this group, but the organization has since sent a different message by re-signing Pence to a massive contract, and then working to bring back Lincecum. If the Giants re-sign Pence, Lincecum and Lopez, and exercise Vogelsong's option, Sabean will be bringing back virtually the same team that he said the window has closed on.
Perhaps the Giants will have the funds to bring everyone back while also upgrading in the rotation and left field via the free-agent market. They certainly need to do whatever it takes to add two starting pitchers and a new left fielder.
Can the Giants retain Lincecum while also making a big splash for an outside free agent like Tanaka or Abreu? Or will Sabean have to get creative like he did two winters ago when he eschewed the free-agent market and landed two outstanding outfielders via trade in Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera?
Pagan and Cabrera combined to produce 8.9 wins above replacement for the 2012 champions. Thus, even if Sabean strikes out on the free-agent market, he has a track record of finding creative ways to right the ship.
The Giants fell flat on their faces in 2013 after winning two out of the last three championships. Sabean will have a busy winter trying to get the Giants back to their winning ways. No matter which route he takes, he's going to have to find ways to upgrade a roster that is suddenly filled with holes.
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