When one part of a team has struggled for years, it's expected that the general manager would go out and try to upgrade that area.
San Francisco is known for its stellar pitching staff and poor offense. Its pitching staff wasn't the same in 2013, but in years past, it has been outstanding. However, it suffered a season-long slump in 2013, and the 21st-ranked offense, notorious for its struggles, couldn't pick it up.
As you would expect, the Giants were far from making the playoffs. They finished 76-86.
It might seem like the pitching staff, which had a horrid 4.37 ERA, was a major issue as well. However, it's evident that starters Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum will be better in 2014. Once the Giants re-signed Lincecum, it would have made sense to look for starting pitchers but also focus on the offense.
Instead, the Giants have only focused on the pitching staff.
After the season ended, Sabean negotiated with, and signed, Lincecum for two more years. Seeing that the Giants only had two starters (and a potential fifth starter in Yusmeiro Petit) set in their 2014 rotation, that deal made sense.
The agreement with Tim Hudson, a durable, reliable former ace who will stabilize San Francisco’s rotation, also made sense. Hudson came for $23 million over two years, which is good value in this day and age.
Now, the Giants have a solid rotation. Most teams would feel confident with Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson and Lincecum, all of whom have been the undisputed ace of a pitching staff at some point in their careers, as the top four hurlers in the pitching staff. And most teams would then go fill another need before filling out the rotation.
Should the Giants pursue starters or hitters?
Not the Giants.
The Giants apparently didn’t learn from 2013, when offensive starters Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco, among others, turned in horrendous offensive performances. The Giants were expected to pursue left fielders on the free-agent market or on the trade block, but they haven’t and likely won't.
Instead, according to Tim Kawakami of The San Jose Mercury, the Giants are still looking to sign pitchers.
According to Mark Sheldon, the Giants are interested in Bronson Arroyo, an older pitcher who wants a short-term deal. That fits the Giants’ criteria, so they are interested.
However, in pursuing a fifth starter to fill out the rotation, the Giants are neglecting to improve the offense, the aspect they desperately need to improve. And, if they do sign a solid pitcher, they wouldn't have the cash to sign a bat.
In this year's NL, that won't cut it. No non-Giants team has won with a below-average offense since 2003, when the Florida Marlins finished barely below the average. Recently, World Series winners have been offensive juggernauts, and you can't win the World Series with an offense in the bottom 10.
Can teams with below-average offenses still win titles?
Sure, the Giants won the World Series with some great pitchers. But having a solid rotation just won’t cut it anymore. In fact, the Giants needed the 12th-best offense, one that averaged more than 4.3 runs per game in the playoffs, to win the 2012 World Series.
But the current offense just isn't that good. It needs significant improvement, but Sabean is clinging to the past and refusing to fix its glaring holes.
If the pitchers hit a skid, the team will suffer a severe slump. With the rival Los Angeles Dodgers likely to reach the 90-win plateau annually, the Giants can't go through those swoons anymore.
In 2010, the Giants were dismal in August, and in 2012, they hit a swoon in late July. Luckily for them, the second-place San Diego Padres weren’t dominant in 2010, and in 2012, the star-laden Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t have enough time to mesh. Consequently, the Giants escaped with NL West titles both years.
But now, Los Angeles is a bona fide juggernaut. It has meshed and has seen a playoff run, and it will continue to compete every year. The Giants simply can’t compete by trusting a good pitching staff; they need to score.
The Giants don't have the money to sign a top target like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin Soo-Choo, but they can sign a high-reward, cheap option. Corey Hart could fill that role and provide much-needed pop. He has an injury history and might not be graceful in left field, but he is competent defensively and offers a lot on offense.
If the Giants want a cheap, high-reward option, Hart would be a good fit. If they want to dish out more cash, they could sign Nelson Cruz, whose contract could be reasonable because of his PED suspension. Cruz, who has posted a slugging percentage better than .500 in five of his last six years, would provide power and be a perfect offensive fit.
Even if the Giants don't sign a hitter, they can trade for one. Or, they could trade Pablo Sandoval.
At first, it doesn’t seem to make sense that the Giants would trade one of their best hitters to improve their offense. However, it makes more sense if you dig deeper.
They would have to risk an uprising in San Francisco, but it might be for the best. Sandoval is entering the final year of his contract, and patience is wearing thin with the third baseman. He is constantly out of shape, and, quite frankly, is overrated.
But because of his three-homer game in the World Series, Sandoval is known as a clutch hitter who, when on, is one of the best in the game. That means his trade value is high, and that means the Giants could get a good deal for him.
Should the Giants make a trade?
If they were to trade for a good long-term option in left field, like Alex Gordon, they could insert Joaquin Arias at third base and wait for third-base prospect Adam Duvall to come up. Arias isn’t a flashy option, but he is much more competent than Blanco (who would start in left field if the Giants get no one else) and having a solid left fielder long term would definitely trump having Sandoval short term.
The possibility of a deal makes sense for the Giants, but, unfortunately for the team, it won’t happen. The possibility of dealing a prospect for a big bat also makes sense, as the Giants have a wealth of quality arms in the farm and can afford to lose one.
However, as we all know, Sabean has tried that before. He traded Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran in 2011, and that didn't pay off. So, the conservative general manager likely won't make any kind of big trade.
In other words, the Giants won’t make a huge splash this offseason.
The Giants won titles with pitching, but this scenario is different. The Dodgers are a great team, and if the Giants don’t make a big deal, they aren’t going to contend. 2013 was supposed to teach that to Sabean, but apparently, it hasn’t.
And because of that, the Giants will likely fill out a strong pitching staff and bullpen but leave the offense the same. Consequently, the team likely will be good but have a difficult time bringing home another World Series trophy.