San Francisco Giants: 5 Major Storylines from the Hot Stove and Winter Meetings

Dan MoriCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2011

San Francisco Giants: 5 Major Storylines from the Hot Stove and Winter Meetings

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    The San Francisco Giants were hoping to get the big bat they needed this winter. With the winter meetings concluded, it does not appear that the Giants will be able to make a big splash this off season.

    The Giants did re-sign pitchers Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez as left-handed relievers out of the bullpen.

    Without the big bat the Giants coveted for their lineup, it appears they are counting on the return of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez from injuries in 2011 in order to bolster their anemic offense. The Giants will also need big years from Pablo Sandoval and last year's disappointment, Aubrey Huff.

    The key for the Giants to contend in 2012 is for their pitching to again be dominant and for one or two players make a big jump forward offensively, this upcoming season. Brandon Belt and Brett Pill are two potential candidates to step in and contribute offensively.

    Let's take a look at what the Giants did this winter and also what they were not able to accomplish. Here are the top five Giants' storylines from the hot stove league and winter meetings.

5. No New Free Agent Signings at All

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    It was a very disappointing winter meeting period for the San Francisco Giants and their fans. They found themselves on the outside looking in, as they were unable to land any new players. The Giants coveted a big bat to bolster their lineup, but they were simply unable to get any free agent deals done.

    The fact that the Giants considered Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols but were unable to sign any one of them is a testament to how expensive this free agent market got very quickly.

    The problem for the Giants is that they also do not appear ready or willing to spend any extra money, even for a big-name hitter. Even the tier-two guys like Michael Cuddyer, Jimmy Rollins or Josh Willingham were priced above the Giants' budget.

    Now that I think about it, even tier-three players like Clint Barmes, who signed a two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Pirates, were out of the Giants' range.

4. The Giants' Ownership Group Has Set a Budgetary Ceiling

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    The San Francisco Giants began the 2011 season with a payroll just above $118 million and ended it between $124 and $125 million. The Giants' ownership group has given GM Brian Sabean a self-imposed spending cap at $130 million.

    This is an increase over 2011, but it's largely eaten up by escalating salaries of their existing players. Currently, the Giants have only seven players under contract but have spent nearly $82 million, which includes $13.6 million in dead money owed to Aaron Rowand.

    I am convinced that the two huge deals engineered by then-managing partner Peter McGowan are a big reason he was ousted as the head man running the Giants. The Zito and Rowand contracts amount to $32.6 million, or about one quarter of the Giants' overall 2012 budget.

    After the 2012 season, the bad news is the Giants will still owe Zito another $27 million. Talk about dead money—this is more of it. These poor contracts are the work of McGowan, not Brian Sabean—but Sabean's hands are tied because of them.

    With Tim Lincecum expected to receive a one-year contract in the $20 million range, the Giants will have roughly $28 million to sign the rest of their entire roster.

    There is no money for making any bold moves, so the Giants must hope that the players they have will improve and have good years.

    Health will also be a key factor for this team. The Giants were decimated by injuries in 2011, as every main position player except Huff missed significant time due to injuries. The pitching staff also had several injuries, and good health will be vitally important for the Giants in 2012.

3. The Giants Acquire Melky Cabrera from the Royals

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    The San Francisco Giants traded enigmatic starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and minor league lefty Ryan Verdugo to the Kansas City Royals, for Melky Cabrera.

    The Giants were unlikely to spend the $5-6 million it would have taken to keep Sanchez anyway, so this was a very good deal for the Giants. In Cabrera, San Francisco received an outfielder who, at age 27, should be reaching the prime of his career.

    Cabrera had a break-out season for the Royals in 2011, batting .305 with 18 home runs, 87 RBI, 102 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. These were all career-highs for Cabrera.

    The Giants are hoping this is the beginning of an upward trend and not a career season from Cabrera. While I do not expect him to duplicate those numbers playing half his games at AT&T Park, he is a definite upgrade to the Giants' offense in center or left field.

    Cabrera will most likely be a starter for the Giants and can bat in the lead-off spot or further down in the order, depending on the lineup on any given day. His OBP last year was .809 and if he can come anywhere near the numbers he produced in 2011, the Giants will be quite pleased.

2. No Contract Extensions Have Been Completed with Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum

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    The San Francisco Giants have not yet signed their two ace pitchers, Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, to contract extensions. This is critical to the Giants' success beyond 2012.

    Cain's contract is up at the end of this coming season, and he will become a free agent. Unless the Giants sign him now, Cain will break the bank, as teams like the Red Sox or Yankees will be offering him boatloads of cash.

    If the Giants want to keep Cain for the long term, the time to complete an extension is now, before he hits the open market.  A four-year extension for Cain, who is still only 27 years old, at about $18 million per year would be appropriate.

    In comparison, Mark Buehrle, who is not as good as Cain and will be 33 years old when the 2012 season begins, signed a four-year contract with the Marlins for $56 million, which averages out to be $14 million per year.

    The case of Lincecum is much different. Unlike Cain, Lincecum will not be a free agent until after the 2013 season. The problem is, he will be more expensive.

    Lincecum is expected to make about $20 million in 2012, and if he continues to have good years, that number will continue to rise. Lincecum's agent, Rick Thurman, has stated that his client is unlikely to sign an extension this year.

    If the Giants are unable to get Lincecum to sign an extension now, it will be incumbent upon them to do it prior to the 2013 season. If Lincecum hits free agency after the 2013 season, the price tag will be so steep that the Giants might be unable to keep him.

    My educated guess is that GM Brian Sabean will sign Cain to an extension prior to the beginning of next season, but we will be forced to wait another year on Lincecum.

    The Giants desperately want to keep their core group of starters, Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner in the Orange and Black. We'll see if they can do it.

1. The Giants Acquire Angel Pagan from the Mets

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    At first glance, the Giants' trade of Ramon Ramirez and Andres Torres for Angel Pagan was a curious one. However, there are four factors that, when explored, help one to understand why this deal made sense for the Giants.

    First off, it was questionable whether the Giants were going to offer salary arbitration to Torres. He will be 34 years of age when the 2012 season begins and is coming off his worst year as a Giant. Torres batted only .221 last year with four home runs and 19 RBI. His OBP of .312 and OPS of .643 were below par.

    In comparison, Pagan is 30 years old; and although he is coming off a relatively poor year, that can be explained by all of the turmoil surrounding the Mets last season. I'm sure it was not much fun playing for the Mets in 2011.

    Pagan hit .262 with seven home runs, 66 RBI and 32 stolen bases last season. He had his best year with the Mets in 2010, when he batted .290 with 11 home runs, 69 RBI and 37 steals.

    Pagan is an offensive upgrade over Torres, although the Giants will miss Torres' outstanding defense in center field. Pagan made 10 errors in center field last year, which is way too many. He will have to improve in this area for the Giants.

    I do expect Pagan to be energized playing in front of the large, boisterous crowds that fill AT&T Park. Whether he can duplicate his numbers from 2010 remains to be seen, but he should do better than his 2011 performance.

    Pagan has also stated that he will be happy to bat leadoff for the Giants, if that's what helps the team. This was welcome news for manager Bruce Bochy, as Pagan could start in center field for the Giants and hit at the top of the order more often than not.

    With the Bernie Madoff financial scandal putting owner Fred Wilpon in a tailspin, and the Mets being out of contention early on, it was easy to see why players lost their focus in New York. Those distractions will not be an issue in San Francisco and I do envision Pagan having a good year.

    Ramirez was a very solid reliever for the Giants in his year and a half with the team. In 2011, Ramirez appeared in 66 games and had an ERA of 2.62 and WHIP of 1.165, both very good numbers.

    That being said, Ramirez was really the sixth reliever in the Giants' bullpen, after Wilson, Romo, Lopez, Affeldt and Casilla. The Giants are also very high on young reliever Heath Hembree, who could possibly take over Ramirez's spot in the pen.

    This made Ramirez expendable and the fact that the Giants will save about $1 million in the overall deal, sealed it for Sabean.

Do the Giants Have Enough to Win the NL West?

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks won the NL West in 2011 and have improved themselves this winter. They acquired starting pitcher Trevor Cahill from the Oakland A's, and he will bolster an already strong rotation consisting of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter.

    The Diamondbacks were so thrilled with the addition of Cahill that they have allowed veteran starter Joe Saunders to depart, not tendering him a contract.

    Arizona returns their core offensive players in Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, Chris Young and Paul Goldschmidt. There really are no glaring holes in the Diamondbacks lineup and they have upgraded their pitching.

    The Diamondbacks will be very tough to beat in 2012.

    In addition to Arizona, watch out for the Dodgers in the long term. Depending on who buys the team from embattled owner Frank McCourt, the Dodgers might be willing to spend big money to attract top flight talent back to Los Angeles. This is a year away, but something to be aware of on the horizon.

    In order for the Giants to get back to the top of the NL West, they will need to continue their stellar pitching and get big offensive years from Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. Aubrey Huff will need to rebound from a poor 2011 season, and this being a contract year for him, I think he will.

    The Giants will also need productive seasons from Freddy Sanchez, Nate Schierholtz, Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. If youngsters Brandon Belt and Brett Pill are able to provide consistent offensive production, that will be a big bonus for manager Bruce Bochy and the Giants.

    I do believe the Giants will be right in the thick of the division race in 2012.  However, there are a lot of questions and the Giants are no longer the favorites heading into the coming season.