What the San Francisco Giants Must Do This Winter to Get Back into Title Chase

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What the San Francisco Giants Must Do This Winter to Get Back into Title Chase
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

With the conclusion of the World Series, the San Francisco Giants can no longer claim two titles in three years. Still, two out of four isn't bad.

Manager Bruce Bochy's bunch underperformed all season long in 2013, following up their 2012 World Series-winning campaign with a 76-86 record, tied for third place in the National League West. Done in by an offense that could go cold for extended periods of time and an inconsistent pitching staff, San Francisco never really threatened the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division crown.

So what do the Giants have to do to get back on top? Let's take a look at some of their top priorities heading into this offseason.

 

Find a Left Fielder

Mark Hirsch/Getty Images

Two-thirds of the outfield is set for next season, with the team signing Hunter Pence to a reported five-year $90 million extension at the end of the year and Angel Pagan under contract for the next three seasons. But after the team declined to bring back Andres Torres this offseason, it's evident there is a glaring hole waiting to be filled in left field.

It's not like the Giants haven't already been trying. According to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com, San Francisco had a competitive offer on the table for Cuban slugger Jose Abreu this offseason. Baggarly reported the team offered similar numbers to the six-year, $68 million deal that the White Sox used to lure Abreu to the South Side of Chicago, where he's expected to settle into a designated hitter role.

Even though the Giants didn't sign Abreu, that type of offer shows just how serious they are about filling the void in left. Baggarly also speculated the Giants will specifically be looking to add a right-handed batter to the lineup, with the team going 24-31 against southpaws in 2013.

Nelson Cruz would be a great fit for the Giants, but it would cost San Francisco the No. 14 pick in the 2014 MLB draft after the Texas Rangers extended a qualifying offer to the right-handed slugger. Per Baggarly, the Giants aren't willing to part with their first-round draft pick to sign a free agent, so they will likely explore other options in left field.

Looking at the rest of this year's free-agent class, Corey Hart might make the most sense. Even though he missed all of 2013 due to injury, Hart posted an average of .277, 24 homers and 78 RBI from 2006-12 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Hart will turn 32 next spring training and would fit right in with the veteran-laden Giants clubhouse. Another possible target that could work is switch-hitter Carlos Beltran.

 

Secure a Southpaw for the Bullpen

The team's most productive free agent remaining from the 2013 roster is undoubtedly Javier Lopez, who is on the open market following three-plus seasons as one of baseball's most durable and reliable lefty setup men. From 2011-13, Lopez made 209 appearances, posting a 2.38 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, including a 1.83 ERA last year.

The Giants didn't get anything done with Lopez before the season ended, but both parties have expressed mutual interest about working together going forward, per Baggarly. Lopez may be 36, but his status as a shutdown, late-inning situation southpaw will make him a hot commodity on the market this winter.

Ideally, San Francisco will be able to lock up Lopez to another two-year deal like it did following the 2011 season, although the pay might be better than the $8.5 million San Francisco paid him from 2012-13. If the Giants and Lopez can't come to an agreement, there are a few other left-handed relievers who San Francisco could pursue.

Perhaps J.P. Howell could be San Francisco's answer to Brian Wilson and jump ship from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the other side of their heated rivalry with the Giants. Howell, 30, posted a 2.03 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 67 appearances last year, making him the second-best lefty on the market besides Lopez. Former Red Sox lefty Matt Thornton, who had a 3.74 ERA in 60 appearances this past season, would be another option but appears to be a downgrade over Lopez and Howell.

From the dearth of lefty specialists on the market to Lopez's desire to come back to the place where he's won two titles, it makes most sense for the Giants to increase the southpaw's pay and bring him back in 2014.

 

Fill out the Starting Rotation

Throughout the past several years, few teams enjoyed more consistent starting pitching than the San Francisco Giants. But the trend came to a halt in 2013, and so did the team's playoff hopes, as the Giants' team ERA of 4.00 put them at No. 22 out of 30 teams this past season.

The Giants are largely unsettled in the rotation behind the trio of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum after declining Ryan Vogelsong's $6.5 million this offseason. Baggarly reported the Giants and Vogelsong will try to explore other ways to bring him back, but nothing sounded concrete.

So for now the Giants have two rotation spots up for grabs. The team already raised some eyebrows earlier this offseason by inking the mercurial Lincecum to a two-year $35 million extension, a sizable commitment to someone with a 20-29 record and 4.76 ERA over the past two seasons. Cain and Bumgarner, meanwhile, give the Giants a pair of steady arms at the top of the rotation.

There are plenty of veteran free agents on the market this winter, and Baggarly speculated the Giants could be looking for an innings-eater with a track record. Pitchers like Bronson Arroyo, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson and, to a lesser degree, Ricky Nolasco fit the bill. Expect the Giants to try and ink one or two of these pitchers to short-term deals this offseason as they try to recapture their form as world champs.

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