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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Giants Offseason Preview

I've been a bad Giants blogger.  I haven't written since mid-season, since the All-Star break after Tim Lincecum threw his no-hitter.  Honestly, I was just depressed.  The 2013 season went down the tubes shortly after that and the Dodgers caught fire.  I just couldn't find the time to write in between all the tears.  That being said, it's funny how looking at that last post now leads somewhat nicely into this one. Why?  Because the Giants just re-signed Lincecum to a 2 year 35 MEELION dollar contract.

Prior to Timmy's no-hitter, he was on the trading block.  Teams were nibbling and Sabean wasn't exactly saying he was off limits.  Then the no-no came and fans went wild and all of a sudden Timmy was not just untradeable from a marketing perspective, but he became a re-sign candidate.  Fast forward through the end of the season and Lincecum pitched well enough to make the Giants believers that he was evolving into an actual pitcher and not just a ridiculously talented thrower with Cy Young stuff. He started studying hitters (and it's pretty unbelievable that Lincecum had not been doing this previously) and started prepping for his starts in ways most, if not all, starting pitchers typically prepare.  He was a little unlucky if you believe in those sabermetric stats and the bullpen did like to especially suck in Timmy games and the end result was another losing record (10-14) and a 4.37 ERA coupled with a 1.32 WHIP.  However, the Giants saw enough to believe he'll make even more adjustments and become a consistent winner again in 2014 and 2015.  The proof:  they gave him 35 large when it could be assumed he wouldn't have seen nearly close to that in free agency.  But Lincecum is more valuable to the Giants anyways.  He IS a Giant first of all.  He's had some fantastic years in San Francisco.  He was the bridge between Barry Bonds and Buster Posey.  And oh yeah, he helped win two World Series titles.  A 2 time Cy Young award winner, a 4 time All Star, and a 2 time champion.  It's hard to let that type of pedigree walk out your front door even if 2012 and 2013 gave indications that the pitcher we knew from 2008-2011 was all but gone already.

The truth is the Giants need starters.  With Bumgarner and Cain the only two under contract, the Giants were faced with several scenarios.  Keep Tim.  Keep Vogelsong.  Let one or both go.  Find new pitchers.  The Giants somewhat know what they have in Lincecum so they went the safe route.  Re-sign him, slot him in as the #4 starter, and hope to the baseball gods that he surprises everyone and regains complete dominance.

If you have been listening to the Giants brass, Giants fans have to know that their offseason focus is fixing the rotation.  Re-signing Lincecum is one step in the right direction but Sabean, Evans, Bochy, Baer, et al have to know that Lincecum can't be counted on as being their #3.  He is a back end starter now until he proves otherwise (again, that is the hope).  They are talking big about Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, the gem of the starting pitching free agent market.  But the Japanese posting and bidding system is a mess and every major big market team is expected to be part of the bidding.  Aside from Tanaka, the Giants have to be interested in the likes of Ervin Santana (who they allegedly had interest in at the deadline), Tim Hudson, Matt Garza, and Ricky Nolasco.  But all of those guys come with question marks.  If the Giants really hope to compete with the Dodgers, they really can't afford question marks in their rotation.  The Giants won in 2010 and 2012 because their rotation was filled with #1 and #2 type pitchers.  Most baseball people think that Matt Cain simply had an off year.  But let's not forget he finished the year with a 4.00 ERA as well.  Lincecum already is a wild card.  The Giants need someone to add to Bumgarner and Cain that is a proven stud.  Tanaka is the closest thing in free agency.  David Price is likely the best overall option.  However, prying him from Tampa Bay would be difficult for San Francisco.  The fear here is that if the Dodgers whiff on Tanaka, they target and get Price as a consolation.  The Giants have some very good pitching prospects in the minors but next to nothing to offer positionally to Tampa.  And even the Giants pitching prospects may be too far away to entice the Rays in a deal for their ace.  However, the Dodgers and Rangers DO have the necessary pieces to make a Price deal.  As a Giants fan, that's scary.  A rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, Price, and Ryu?  It would make me sick.  If Sabean and the boys could swing a Price trade though, it would be a coup.  Price is controllable for 2 more years and would give the Giants one of the best rotations in baseball yet again.  However, as mentioned, the chances of that happening are slim to none. The good news is that the Giants know they need to make their rotation a priority.  If anyone knows pitching, it's the Giants.

Aside from the need to complete the rotation (and who knows what's going to happen to Vogey), the Giants need a left fielder.  When Lincecum signed his contract, there was some outcry that the Giants just used up some valuable money that they would need to upgrade the offense.  To those worried, don't be.  The Giants are showing they have money and are fine spending it.  The World Series hasn't even ended and the Giants have shelled out $125 million to 2 players: Lincecum and Hunter Pence. The Pence deal HAD to be made and was and props to the Giants for opening up their rainy day fund and splurging on their own guys.   But their job is not done.  If the Giants open the season with Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez as their left fielders then this offseason will have been a failure.  That is the truth.  Although I agree the Giants need to revamp their rotation, they could, in theory, get by with a rotation of Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong, and Petit/Gaudin/Surkamp.  Not ideal but they could get by with that until the 2014 trade deadline.  Even prior to last season, Giants fans were questioning the Blanco/Torres platoon in left field.  It wasn't that productive even before Pagan got injured.  Once Pagan was injured and the Giants had to play Blanco and Torres every day it was a disaster.  This year it's clear.  The Giants need a left fielder.  There are not a lot of options out there and it may not be a "name" per se, but the Giants have to find a way to improve left field.  At this juncture, I don't have any suggestions.  A Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo will not be patrolling the outfield at AT&T in 2014 because the Giants aren't going to break the bank for an outfielder. But they do need to fix it.  Moving Belt there and finding a 1B is an option as well, though the Giants hardly want to move Belt away from first if they can avoid it.

Lastly, the Giants need to re-sign Javier Lopez.  They took care of their first two priorities in getting Pence and Lincecum signed.  Now they need to get their sturdiest reliever taken care of.  It's safe to say Mijares flunked his 2013 audition.  The Giants can offer Mijares arbitration if somehow Lopez gets lured away but it's more likely that he gets non-tendered to save 2 million.  Without Lopez, the Giants are looking at Mike Kickham and the in-the-doghouse Dan Runzler as 2nd lefties out of the pen.  Not very inspiring.  Lopez has been invaluable out of the pen in his Giants career.  With SF, he has a 2.26 ERA in 3.5 seasons and the Giants probably don't get out of the 2010 NLCS against the Phillies without him completely shutting down Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the late innings.  He also is a fantastic clubhouse guy (who I predict will someday be a pitching coach or manager).  His sidewinding ways are a great contrast to what should be a high velocity pen in 2014 (Casilla, Affeldt, Hembree, Rosario).

The Giants have done a great job getting Pence and Lincecum under contract before free agency.  But once the season officially ends with the last out in the World Series (and let's all take the time to thank the Cardinals for knocking out Los Angeles) Sabean and his top lieutenants will have their work cut out for them in making this Giants team better for 2014.