The San Francisco Giants and GM Brian Sabean have moved aggressively to retain two of their free-agent centerpieces.
First, Sabean and outfielder Hunter Pence agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract. Then the Giants came to terms with pitcher Tim Lincecum on a two-year, $35 million deal.
The reality is that the Giants may have overpaid slightly for both players, especially Lincecum, given his downward trend in the past two seasons. However, both Pence and Lincecum are part of the fabric that makes the Giants who they are.
The Giants' team chemistry over the past few seasons has been second to none, with Pence and Lincecum integral components. In addition, both are fan favorites, and the Giants have a way of rewarding those players who have helped them reach the pinnacle of success.
So, in the grand scheme of things, Giants fans can rejoice because two of their favorites will be back. In addition, as the old saying goes, "It's not my money."
Most importantly, the signing of Pence and Lincecum should not preclude the Giants from doing what they need to do to bolster their team for the coming year.
Let's take a closer look at five critical moves the Giants need to make in preparation for the 2014 season.
All stats are courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
All contract data is courtesy of baseballprospectus.com.
The San Francisco Giants hold a team option on Ryan Vogelsong for the 2014 season. If they choose to exercise that option, Vogelsong will make $6.5 million next season.
Sabean and the Giants absolutely should not exercise the option. Vogelsong is coming off a miserable season and he is 36 years of age.
In 2013, Vogelsong was plagued by ineffectiveness, and then a broken finger sidelined him for several weeks.
Vogelsong threw 103.2 innings, allowed 124 hits, 38 walks, while striking out 67. His ERA was 5.73, and he had a WHIP of 1.563.
The market for 36-year-old pitchers with those numbers should not approach $6.5 million. If any team is willing to pay that or more, the Giants must be willing to move on to other options.
However, Sabean and the Giants should try to sign Vogelsong as a free agent for something in the $3.5-4 million range. That is much more realistic, especially considering Vogelsong will be competing for the fifth starter job.
If you count the postseason, Vogelsong worked a career-high 214.1 innings in 2012. That was roughly 35 more innings than his previous high of 179.2 innings, which he attained in 2011.
Coupled with the late ending to Vogelsong's 2012 season was his participation in the 2013 World Baseball Classic (WBC). The WBC required Vogelsong to be ready to pitch in game competition by the end of February, leaving him little time to rest and recuperate from his workload in 2012.
Vogelsong's arm looked tired early in the season, and his mechanics were off. A major reason for his poor performance in the 2013 season was very likely the extra exertion placed on him by the WBC.
Vogelsong will receive a full offseason this time around, giving his arm the necessary time to rest in preparation for the upcoming season.
At the age of 36, there is always the risk that any pitcher will fade, but for a salary level at $4 million or below, Vogelsong is a worthwhile investment for the Giants to make.
Chad Gaudin was virtually an afterthought when the Giants brought him in prior to spring training last season. GM Brian Sabean felt Gaudin could compete for the long relief job opened up by the departure of Guillermo Mota.
Gaudin did that and a lot more. He pitched well and manager Bruce Bochy felt comfortable using Gaudin in more critical situations.
Then, an injury to Ryan Vogelsong necessitated the need for another starting pitcher. Gaudin stepped into that role and also did well.
Gaudin made only $750,000 last season and is now a free agent. He would be an excellent fit for the Giants at a salary of $1 million or so.
A carpal tunnel injury ended Gaudin's season in August, but he should be fine long before the 2014 season.
Gaudin worked a total of 97 innings, allowed 81 hits and 40 walks, while striking out 88. He finished the year with a solid ERA of 3.06 and WHIP of 1.247.
As the Giants look for a fifth starter, Gaudin could compete with Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit for the spot, if the Giants are able to retain Vogelsong. If Gaudin does not win the job, he would be a good addition to the bullpen, as the Giants found out in 2013.
The San Francisco Giants need to fill one starting outfield spot, preferably a left fielder, although if the Giants acquire a center fielder, they could move Angel Pagan to left.
It will be a very expensive free-agent market for available outfielders and with the Giants also needing to add a number-three starting pitcher, the trade market must be considered for an outfielder.
Current free-agent outfielders who will be on the market include Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson. These players will likely command too much money or ask for too many years for the Giants' tastes.
A few of the other free-agent outfielders available who might be a fit in terms of budget and ability include Michael Morse, Nate McLouth and Marlon Byrd. Morse is not a strong defensive player, which reduces his chances of becoming a Giant.
The Giants need to find a quality outfielder who can hit but is also not a defensive liability. As a team built around pitching and playing half of their games at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, defense is an important consideration for the Giants.
GM Brian Sabean will also look into the trade market. The Giants have some quality young arms in their lower minor league system. They could part with one of their young pitchers and still have others who are developing.
The top young arms in the Giants' system include Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Kendry Flores, Josh Osich, Martin Agosta and Chris Stratton. Outside of Crick, any could be moved, along with a young position player, such as catcher Andrew Susac or infielder Joe Panik.
The Giants' window of opportunity is still open with their pitching staff and Buster Posey, so if they can make a deal to bring in a solid left fielder, Sabean needs to make it happen.
Some of the potential players that could be available in a modest trade package might include Alejandro De Aza, Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones, Cameron Maybin and Adam Eaton.
Coco Crisp and David DeJesus also could become available if their respective teams do not exercise their contract options on them. If either player becomes a free-agent. they would be a good fit for the Giants.
No matter who the Giants add to play left field, it must be a significant upgrade over Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres.
The Giants entered the 2013 season with three left-handed relievers. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares made up the left side of the Giants' bullpen.
Unfortunately for the Giants, only Lopez pitched well. Affeldt battled injuries all season and is under contract through the 2015 season. Mijares was extremely inconsistent and most likely pitched himself out of a job.
Lopez, along with closer Sergio Romo, were the only two reliable relievers in the Giants' bullpen.
Lopez is a true left-handed relief specialist, as he is typically called upon to get one or two of the best left-handed hitters out in a critical situation. Opposing left-handed batters hit only .156 against Lopez, and he allowed only six of 57 inherited runners to score.
To underscore the specialist nature of Lopez' value is the fact that he appeared in 69 games but threw just 39.1 innings. Lopez allowed 30 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 37. His ERA was an outstanding 1.83, to go along with a WHIP of 1.068.
With Affeldt having signed a three-year, $18 million contract prior to the 2013 season, look for Lopez to be right in the same ballpark.
Lopez is 36 years of age, which might limit the number of years he can expect on a new deal. However, expect Lopez to stay in San Francisco if the Giants offer him a two-year deal in the $12-13 million range.
If the Giants hope to contend in 2014, signing Lopez is a major step in the right direction.
The Giants and GM Brian Sabean are actively pursuing a number-three starting pitcher. There are several potential candidates available, including Ricky Nolasco, Bronson Arroyo, Dan Haren, Scott Feldman and Hiroki Kuroda.
The top four candidates that would be excellent fits for the Giants include Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana.
Tanaka had an incredible season this past year in japan, where he went 20-0, with an ERA of 1.24 and WHIP of 0.934. In 181 innings of work, Tanaka allowed only 142 hits and 27 walks, while striking out 155.
Granted, Japanese baseball is not the Major Leagues, but it is a step above the Triple-A level. In light of the recent success of Japanese pitchers Yu Darvish, Koji Uehara and Kuroda, we cannot discount the talent of Tanaka.
The two biggest obstacles to signing Tanaka are the posting system that is currently being renegotiated between Japanese baseball and the US. In addition, several teams are interested in Tanaka, so the price tag will be very high.
After a miserable 2012 season which saw Jimenez lose a league-high 17 games and finish the year with a 5.40 ERA, he turned things around in 2013.
Jimenez finished the 2013 season with a record of 13-9, a 3.30 ERA and 1.330 WHIP. In 182.2 innings, he allowed 163 hits and 80 walks while striking out 194. The walk total is too high and must be reduced, as that pushes Jimenez' pitch-count up too quickly.
Jimenez earned $5.75 million in 2013 and that could double. Jimenez, who will be 30 years of age when the 2014 season begins, can expect a four-year deal in the range of $40 million.
Garza was acquired by the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline this past season. He split the year between the Cubs and Rangers, throwing a total of 155.1 innings. Garza allowed 150 hits and 42 walks while striking out 136.
Garza had a cumulative ERA of 3.82 and WHIP of 1.236. He fared better in the National League and may be inclined to return. A place like AT&T Park would seem to be an excellent fit for Garza.
Garza, who will be 30 years of age in November, made $10.25 million in 2013. Look for him to command a four-year deal in the range of $60 million.
Perhaps the best candidate for the Giants is Santana. He had an outstanding year with the Kansas City Royals, throwing 211 innings, allowing 190 hits and 51 walks while striking out 161. Santana's 3.24 ERA was excellent, and his WHIP was 1.142.
Santana, who will be 31 years of age when the 2014 season begins, made $13 million this past season. Look for him to command a four-year deal in the $75-80 million range.
The bottom line for the Giants is to compete in the NL West against the Dodgers, who feature Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. To do so, the Giants must strengthen their starting rotation. In addition, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a good young stable of pitchers that will make up their rotation.
If the contract the Giants gave Tim Lincecum precludes them from acquiring Javier Lopez or a top starting pitcher, then it was a bad deal. However, if the Giants are to compete in 2014, the increased financial commitment is necessary.