The Definitive Blueprint for a Successful Offseason by the San Francisco Giants
The work to rebuild the roster has already begun for the Giants and GM Brian Sabean.
First, the Giants signed outfielder Hunter Pence to a five-year, $90 million contract. Pence played in every game for the Giants and was their top overall offensive weapon this past season.
Pence led the Giants with 27 home runs, 99 RBI and 22 steals. He also hit .283, with an OBP of .339 and OPS of .822. Pence's all-out hustle made him a fan favorite, and he made no secret about his desire to remain a Giant.
Following the Pence signing, Sabean locked in starting pitcher Tim Lincecum with a two-year deal for $35 million. Although the Giants may have overpaid Lincecum somewhat, the value he brings to the team is more than just on the field.
Lincecum finished his second consecutive down year, although 2013 was definitely an improvement over 2012, when he finished with an ERA of 5.18 and WHIP of 1.468.
This past season, Lincecum tossed 197.2 innings, allowing 184 hits and 76 walks, while striking out 193. He is learning how to get outs without the same velocity he had earlier in his career.
At the age of 29, Sabean and the Giants are counting on Lincecum having at least two more solid years in a Giants uniform.
With Pence and Lincecum in the fold, there are five critical areas that remain for the Giants. How the Giants address these needs will be a major factor in their success in 2014.
Let's take a definitive look at the five remaining moves the Giants need to make to give them the best chance of recapturing the glory they found in their world championship seasons of 2010 and 2012.
All stats are courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
All contract information is courtesy of baseballprospectus.com.
No. 5: Sign Free Agent Pitcher Manny Parra
San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy is a master at manipulating his bullpen to get favorable match ups and putting his pitchers in the best position to succeed.
One of the key roster strategies that has proven very valuable for Bochy is having three lefties in his bullpen.
On the Giants' 2012 world championship team, for example, Bochy deftly utilized Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares from the left side. This past season, the strategy was not as effective, as Affeldt battled injuries and Mijares struggled with his command and confidence.
Looking ahead to the 2014 campaign, the Giants have Affeldt under contract and will make a concerted effort to sign Lopez. We will have more details on Lopez later in this report. This leaves one remaining spot for a solid, but reasonably priced left-handed reliever.
The pitcher that best fills these requirements is Manny Parra. He had a decent year with the Reds and his contractual demands will be reasonable.
In 2013, Parra pitched 46 innings, allowed 40 hits and 15 walks, while striking out 56. His ERA was 3.33, to go along with a WHIP of 1.196. Parra had the best year of his career and at the age of 31 is just now coming into his own.
Parra earned only $1 million this past season, and even if the Giants doubled that to $2 million he would be a very cost-effective addition. Signing Parra would not be considered a major move by any means, but he would be a very valuable pitcher in the Giants bullpen.
No. 4: Sign Ryan Vogelsong and Chad Gaudin
The San Francisco Giants have been a team built on pitching and defense during their recent run of success. However, in 2013, it was their pitching that betrayed them.
The Giants had the 13th ranked pitching staff in the National League, as only two teams had higher ERAs.
Looking ahead to 2014, the Giants have two open spots in their rotation. They are looking for a number-three and number-five starter to complement Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum.
Ideally, the Giants will pass on exercising the $6.5 million option on Ryan Vogelsong and sign him to a lesser deal.
After two strong seasons with the Giants, Vogelsong struggled in 2013. He battled command issues early in the season, and just as it looked like he was turning things around, he broke a bone in his finger while batting, when he was hit by a pitch.
Vogelsong threw only 103.2 innings this past season, allowing 124 hits and 38 walks, while striking out 67. His ERA of 5.73 and WHIP of 1.563 were both way too high.
A partial explanation for Vogelsong's troubles can be attributed to his participation in the World Baseball Classic (WBC). After throwing a career-high in innings of 214.1 last year, Vogelsong had little time to rest his arm, mind and body.
The Giants played the final World Series game of the 2012 season in late October, but with Vogelsong's commitment to the WBC, he had to be ready to pitch at full speed by the end of February. The abbreviated winter definitely affected Vogelsong, and at age 36, proper rest for his arm is essential to his success.
If the Giants can sign Vogelsong to a deal in the $3.5 - $4 million range, plus incentives, they should do it. If Vogelsong achieves the incentives, then he can make back the rest of the $6.5 million he would be missing.
Sabean also needs to sign Chad Gaudin. Gaudin started the 2013 season as the Giants' long reliever but pitched so well that he was gradually used in tighter, late-game situations.
Following the injury to Vogelsong, Gaudin became a starter and also pitched very well. Overall for 2013, Gaudin worked 97 innings, allowed 81 hits and 40 walks, while striking out 88. His ERA was an excellent 3.06 to go along with a solid WHIP of 1.247.
Gaudin made only $750,000 last year, and a contract in the $1.5 million range would be appropriate.
Ideally, the Giants will have three pitchers battling for the fifth starter job. Vogelsong, Gaudin and Yusmeiro Petit are all viable candidates, with the second place finisher moving into the long reliever role.
The one pitcher who does not win either job would go to the minor leagues and provide valuable insurance should the Giants need a veteran arm during the season.
As the old saying goes, "you can never have too much pitching," so to have three quality pitchers competing for two open jobs makes a lot of sense.
No. 3: Sign James Loney
At first glance, this idea of signing James Loney seems ludicrous. However, it actually makes sense if we look deeper into the make-up of the Giants' roster and the current free-agent market for outfielders.
There are some excellent outfielders on the market, such as Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz. However, these players will be extremely expensive and not a good fit for the Giants.
Other top hitters, such as Michael Morse, Jason Kubel and Corey Hart would be too much of a defensive liability to warrant significant consideration.
The remaining list of free agent outfielders includes Nate McLouth, Chris Young, David Murphy, Rajai Davis, and Matt Diaz, none of whom are really all that exciting.
Loney is a very strong defensive first baseman and a good gap-to-gap hitter. In the past year, Loney hit .299, with 13 home runs and 75 RBI. He carried an OBP of .348 and OPS of .778.
Loney is not a power hitter, but is someone who could actually benefit from playing the spacious AT&T Park, as there would be more room for his line drives to fall in.
Loney made only $2 million in 2013. Following his successful season, a contract in the $5-$6 million range is quite likely. Loney is 29 years of age, so he should have plenty of good baseball left.
The Giants can then move Brandon Belt to left field. He is a good athlete and would not be a liability in the outfield. In the late innings, Gregor Blanco or Juan Perez can come in as a defensive replacement.
This solves the need for the additional position player and makes good financial sense for the Giants.
No. 2: Sign Javier Lopez
Javier Lopez had an outstanding season in 2013. He and closer Sergio Romo were the Giants' two best relievers.
Lopez is a left-handed specialist who typically comes in to face the oppositions' best left-handed hitters, with the game on the line. Far more often than not, Lopez gets the job done.
Prior to the beginning of the 2013 season, Giants GM Brian Sabean signed left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year, $18 million contract. Affeldt had a very poor season, as did fellow lefty Jose Mijares.
Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy told Affeldt he needed to work harder this offseason, be in better shape and come in ready to pitch next spring. Mijares is likely gone, as his lousy performance and lack of conditioning have annoyed the Giants management.
It is imperative for Sabean to sign Lopez, and he will get a deal somewhat similar to Affeldt. Look for Lopez to get a two-year deal in the $12 million range. Lopez has proven his worth and deserves it.
In 2013, Lopez appeared in 69 games, but threw just 39.1 innings. This underscores the fact that Lopez's job is to get that tough left-handed hitter out in a critical, late-game situation. He allowed 30 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 37.
Lopez fashioned an ERA of 1.83 and WHIP of 1.068. Left-handed batters hit only .156 off Lopez, and he allowed only six of 57 inherited runners to score. Lopez is arguably the best left-handed specialty reliever in the game today, and the Giants need him.
No. 1: Sign Matt Garza
The San Francisco Giants are looking for a number-three starter, and there are several attractive candidates on the market. Perhaps the most intriguing is Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, but he will be prohibitively expensive.
Tanaka finished the season with a record of 24-0 and an ERA of 1.27, with a WHIP of 0.943. The Japanese posting process has yet to be finalized, which also delays any possible deal with Tanaka.
The Giants will also consider Ervin Santana, A. J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Hiroki Kuroda, Bartolo Colon, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Feldman. However, advanced age or inconsistency are concerns with many of these available pitchers.
Originally, the ideal option for the Giants was Ervin Santana. However, the Royals just extended the tender offer to Santana, so he would cost the Giants a round-one draft selection, if they signed him. Santana is no longer an optimal option for the Giants.
Garza will be 30 years of age by the time the 2014 season rolls around, so he is substantially younger than some of the others on the market, including Burnett, Arroyo, Kuroda, Colon and Dan Haren.
Garza pitched 155.1 innings last year, allowing 150 hits and 42 walks, while striking out 136. His ERA was 3.82, to go along with a WHIP of 1.236.
The Giants need a quality number-three starter and Garza should fill that hole quite nicely.
Garza made $10.25 million this past year. It will take something in the four-year, $60 million range to ink Garza, but that's the going rate for a pitcher of his caliber.