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Matt Cain's contract expires after the 2012 season
The San Francisco Giants are a team built around their outstanding pitching staff. From top to bottom, the Giants have one of the best group of pitchers in baseball.
However, the contracts for aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are nearing expiration. Cain's contract expires at the end of the 2012 season and Lincecum is under the Giants' arbitration control only though the 2013 campaign.
Giants' GM Brian Sabean has stated that he wants to sign both Cain and Lincecum to long-term extensions. We'll see if he can do it.
In addition, the Giants also have arbitration control of closer Brian Wilson until the end of the 2013 season. Wilson could be the odd man out, if money becomes an issue.
With the Giants needing to keep their core pitching staff together, that does not leave a lot of money to acquire the big bat the Giants and their fans are coveting.
Unfortunately, the albatross contracts that Peter McGowan gave to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand are huge hurdles for the Giants to overcome.
The Giants' ownership group has stated they do not want the 2012 payroll to exceed $130 million. When over a quarter of that amount is tied to Zito and Rowand, they have a problem. The Giants ended 2011 at about $124.5 million
Zito is owed $19 million in 2012, $20 million in 2013 and another $7 million buyout after the 2013 season. Rowand is owed $13.6 million for 2012, which is totally dead money.
This lack of financial flexibility will handcuff Sabean, in his quest to acquire the big bat the Giants need.
San Francisco has already traded enigmatic starter Jonathan Sanchez for outfielder Melky Cabrera. Cabrera fills a void in center field for the Giants and also as a leadoff hitter.
However, the Giants still have three glaring weaknesses. First and foremost is an impact bat. If that was an outfielder it would be even better.
Shortstop is the next area of need, although the Giants appear resigned to giving the job to Brandon Crawford. He is an excellent fielder, but is not a competent big league hitter as of yet. He batted just .204 with a .288 OBP in 2011. A full year at the Triple-A level would benefit Crawford, but do not expect that to happen.
The Giants also could use a backup catcher to spell Buster Posey. It remains to be seen how well Posey will return from his devastating injury and as a catcher, he will need rest anyway. The Giants should be able to find a decent backup catcher for a good price, if they so choose.
I expect the Giants to kick the tires on some of the top free-agent hitters on the market. A player like Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Carlos Beltran would look good on the Giants' roster in 2012.
The Giants will also look at some of the next tier of decent hitters available, like Michael Cuddyer and Jimmy Rollins. Unfortunately, I do not think any of these players will fit into the Giants' budget.
If the Giants head into the 2012 season with an outfield of Nate Schierholtz, Melky Cabrera and Brandon Belt, that could spell trouble. There is not enough pop there and you would be banking on a major improvement from Belt, who only hit .225 last year.
The Giants will be doing a lot of talking in this year's hot stove league, but unfortunately, I don't think they'll be able to make an impact move to upgrade their offense.
Manager Bruce Bochy will be counting on Posey and Freddy Sanchez to return and be productive in 2012. He will expect another big year from Pablo Sandoval and needs a resurgence from Aubrey Huff.