The Giants need rotation help behind Madison Bumgarner.
The San Francisco Giants need to improve in every facet of the game in 2014. As the club heads into free agency, they have needs all over the diamond.
The offense finished 21st in runs scored last season. The defense finished 20th in defensive efficiency and 25th in fielding percentage. The pitching staff finished 22nd in ERA. Thus, it was no surprise that the Giants finished with a record of 76-86.
The Giants won't be able to re-make the entire roster in one winter. They'll need improved performances from several returning players including Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Vogelsong (if the club exercises his option), Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Crawford and others. A healthy season from Angel Pagan would go a long way toward improving an offense that ranked just 19th in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
The Giants' biggest needs in free agency are clearly starting pitching and left field. The Giants finished 2013 with a rotation ERA of 4.37, which was seventh-worst in baseball.
Giants left fielders combined to hit just .257/.314/.337. They finished with the game's worst OPS and lowest home run total at the position.
The Giants could also use help in the bullpen and an upgrade at shortstop. Let's take a look at all of the Giants' needs as free agency approaches.
Matt Cain had a rough first half for the Giants in 2013.
If the Giants are going to get back to their winning ways, it will have to start with the rotation.
Madison Bumgarner was outstanding at the top of the rotation in 2013. He went 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA over 31 starts. Behind Bumgarner, the rest of the rotation was inconsistent.
Matt Cain posted a 5.06 ERA over 19 first-half starts before getting back on track with a 2.36 ERA over his final 11 starts. Ryan Vogelsong posted a 5.73 ERA over 19 starts surrounding a hand injury. Barry Zito lost his spot in the rotation after putting up a 5.74 ERA. Tim Lincecum looked brilliant at times—including during a no-hitter against the Padres—but he still finished the year with an ERA of 4.37.
The Giants won two championships in three seasons from 2010-12. The rotation posted a combined 3.52 ERA during those three seasons, which was good for second best in the game. In order to get back into contention in 2014, they'll need to cut down on last year's 4.37 rotation ERA.
Bumgarner and Cain are locked up through 2017, with the club holding options on both players in 2018. Zito and Lincecum are set to become free agents, and the club holds an option on Vogelsong. Thus, they could be looking for as many as three new starters this winter.
The Giants have made it clear that they want to bring Lincecum back. However, even if they bring him back, they'll need to find other ways to upgrade a rotation that suddenly became one of the worst in the game in 2013.
This is the right winter to be in need of starting pitching. The Tampa Bay Rays are likely to make ace lefty David Price available. The Giants are said to be suitors for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka. Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Nolasco head a deep free-agent market behind Tanaka.
The Giants need to upgrade the rotation this winter. Re-signing Lincecum and acquiring another starter would go a long way toward getting the staff back on track.
Gregor Blanco is best suited as a fourth outfielder.
When Angel Pagan went down with a hamstring injury, it weakened the Giants in two spots. Starting left fielder Gregor Blanco moved to center field, which forced Andres Torres into a starting role in left. Both players were badly exposed as everyday players.
The Giants ended up getting only five home runs and a .651 OPS from the left field position in 2013. A healthy season from Pagan in 2014 would help mitigate any problems in left. However, the Giants learned the importance of depth last year, as they could never stop the bleeding caused by the Pagan injury.
Thus, they'll need to find a way to upgrade in left field. The early buzz has the Giants as the favorite to land Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu (h/t Joe Frisaro, MLB.com). In that scenario, incumbent first baseman Brandon Belt would likely fill the void in left field.
If the Giants can't land Abreu, other free-agent outfield bats worth considering include Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, David DeJesus and Carlos Beltran.
The club cannot afford to enter 2014 with Blanco entrenched as the starter in left once again. He's a serviceable fourth outfielder, but he's not good enough to be a regular in an outfield corner. If the Giants enter 2014 with Blanco in a reserve role, they'll be in a much better position.
Jeremy Affeldt had a down year in 2013.
The Giants finished with the eighth-best bullpen ERA in 2013, but that was misleading. They finished with the sixth-worst win probability added, which is an advanced statistic that measures how the bullpen affected the Giants' chances to win. The Giants also finished just 28-28 in one-run games last year.
Jeremy Affeldt battled injuries and ineffectiveness all season. Jose Mijares struggled to strand inherited runners and prevent hitters from reaching base. George Kontos, Sandy Rosario, Guillermo Moscoso and Jean Machi all had their struggles as well. Losing Chad Gaudin to the starting rotation when Vogelsong went down also weakened the bullpen.
Free agent Javier Lopez was the club's best left-handed reliever last season. Re-signing him and adding another right-handed reliever for the middle innings would help solidify the bullpen.
Closer Serigo Romo, setup man Santiago Casilla and the left-handed Affeldt are all under contract for next season. The rest of the bullpen remains something of a mystery as the Giants approach the winter.
Strengthening the bullpen would help the Giants in the run prevention department. Manager Bruce Bochy could have a shorter hook with his starters if he had more faith in the relievers. The Giants would also be much better in close games if the bullpen were stronger in 2014.
Defense was a problem for the Giants in 2013.
One way to improve in the run prevention department is to play better defense.
The Giants were extremely sloppy with the gloves in 2013. They finished 25th in fielding percentage and 20th in defensive efficiency, a Baseball Prospectus statistic that measures the amount of balls in play converted into outs by the defense.
Angel Pagan (-9 defensive runs saved) and Marco Scutaro (-7) struggled with the gloves in 2013. The pitching staff struggled to hold runners at times, as the team allowed 95 stolen bases.
The Giants seemed to lack focus on defense. Part of that was likely due to the pitching staff forcing them to endure longer innings. No matter the cause for the poor showing in 2013, the Giants have to find a way to play better defense in 2014.
Is Brandon Crawford the answer at shortstop?
Brandon Crawford looked like he had turned the corner offensively after he hit .272/.346/.511 in April and .295/.352/.389 in May.
He then hit just .209/.275/.321 after the All-Star Break to finish 2013 with a slash line of .248/.311/.363.
Given that Crawford hit .248/.304/.349 in 2012, it looks like he isn't going to become much of a force with the bat.
Crawford's outstanding work with the glove covers up some of his offensive deficiencies. The Giants could also help Crawford by platooning him more. He hit just .199/.258/.288 in 146 at-bats against lefties compared to .269/.333/.394 against righties in 2013.
The Giants have to determine if Crawford is the long-term answer at shortstop. If they feel his defense is good enough to make his .248 batting average playable, then they'll probably stick with him. However, if they want to drastically improve the offense, upgrading at shortstop would be a reasonable option to consider.
The Giants are rumored to have interest in Cuban shortstop Alex Guerrero (h/t Jon Heyman, CBS Sports). If they don't land Guerrero, free-agent shortstops Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew would be offensive upgrades on Crawford.
The Giants weren't very good in 2013, so they need to consider all available options this winter. That includes upgrading at shortstop, where the Giants appear to have a good defensive player who just can't hit much.