The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series, their second title in three years. Expectations were very high as they entered the 2013 season, but a myriad of injuries and a few mediocre performances by key players derailed their hopes.
The Giants finished the 2013 season with a disappointing 76-86 record, a distant third behind the NL West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers.
Determined to put themselves back into title contention, Giants GM Brian Sabean wasted little time once the season ended. The Giants were very active in the market as they sought to solidify their roster.
Sabean locked up both Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum before either player hit the open market.
Pence signed a five-year, $90 million contract, which looks very reasonable in comparison to some of the other top free-agent outfielders like Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Beltran.
Pence led the Giants in six key offensive categories with 27 home runs, 99 RBI, 91 runs scored, 22 steals, 178 hits and a .483 slugging percentage.
In addition, Pence was the only Giant to play in all 162 games. His constant hustle and infectious attitude makes him a great teammate and fan favorite. Pence also played a very solid right field in the windy, quirky and very tough AT&T Park, home of the Giants.
Sabean took a little heat when he inked Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal. Although a fan favorite, Lincecum is not the same pitcher he was earlier in his career.
He is coming off a 2013 season that saw him go 10-14, with an ERA of 4.37 and WHIP of 1.315.
Lincecum did make 32 starts and throw 197.2 innings, which has a lot of value. He allowed 184 hits and 76 walks while striking out 193.
Lincecum has lost the mid-to-upper 90s velocity that made him a two-time Cy Young Award winner. 2013 was a season that saw him learn how to get opposing hitters out with a fastball that hovered in the 90-91 mph range.
The key for Lincecum is his command and working from ahead. He still has an outstanding changeup, but his margin for error is far less that it was a few short years ago.
Like Pence, Lincecum is a fan favorite and a marketer's dream. His No. 55 jerseys are all around AT&T Park, which makes Lincecum even more valuable to the Giants.
Although Sabean probably could have signed Lincecum for less, he did not want to take the chance on losing him to a team like Seattle, Lincecum's hometown. The Mariners proved they were willing to spend a lot of money this winter, which could have meant seeing Lincecum in a Seattle uniform.
As the old saying goes, "it's not my money," so for only a two-year deal, it was worth the risk for the Giants, as they hope Lincecum can recapture some of the magic from his earlier years.
Sabean also secured the services of left-handed relief specialist Javier Lopez and starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong. Lopez was very effective last season against left-handed hitters and plays a critical role in the Giants bullpen.
The Giants hope Vogelsong can return to his 2012 form, as a hand injury that occurred while batting derailed his season.
Free-agent pitcher Tim Hudson was the Giants' biggest acquisition from outside the organization. Hudson signed a two-year, $23 million deal and will most likely slot in as the Giants' third pitcher in the rotation.
Hudson sustained a gruesome ankle injury while covering first base in late July. Following surgery, he appears to be on track to start spring training with no restrictions.
Prior to his injury, Hudson had started 21 games and worked 131.1 innings, allowing 120 hits and 36 walks while striking out 95. Hudson's ERA was 3.97, and he had a WHIP of 1.188. Hudson should also benefit from working half of his games at the very pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.
With the commitment the Giants have made to pitching, Sabean has his starting rotation set, and the team's seven-man bullpen also looks in order.
The Giants made one other move, signing free-agent Michael Morse, who is slated to be the Opening Day left fielder. Morse agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal. If he can stay healthy, this could prove to be a steal, as Morse has excellent power and will be an offensive upgrade for the Giants.
Morse battled a wrist injury last season. He struggled at the plate, batting only .215, with 13 home runs. If he can return to anywhere near his 2011 performance, when he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI, the Giants will be thrilled. Morse's .910 OBP that year was outstanding.
The NL West has three strong teams with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Giants all having a chance to win the division.
The Dodgers have to be considered the favorite, as they are the defending NL West champions and have the money to acquire whatever they may need by the middle of the season.
The Dodgers already have an outstanding pitching staff led by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Offensively, a healthy Matt Kemp to go along with Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig give L.A. excellent firepower.
Who will win the NL West?
In the end, the key for the Giants will come down to good health. If the Giants can stay relatively healthy, they and the Dodgers, with their seemingly endless financial resources, will battle it out for the division crown.
The Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt and the recently acquired Mark Trumbo, but their pitching is a question mark. They also plan to start Chris Owings, an unproven youngster, at shortstop.
Even if the Giants do not win the division, they have an excellent chance to earn one of the two wild-card berths in the National League. So, if San Francisco can avoid the plethora of injuries that befell it in 2013, it will contend and ultimately make the playoffs in the upcoming season.