After winning two World Series championships in three seasons, the San Francisco Giants faltered on a massive level in 2013. General manager Brian Sabean adopted a familiar post-title tactic while conservatively strapping together a roster that featured a majority of the players that previously lifted the Giants to triumph.
San Francisco ultimately failed to make the playoffs, an occurrence that could be attributed to inconsistent offensive production and an extreme lack of depth on the bench. The Giants’ dismal pitfall into mediocrity was intensified by the team’s blatant inability to mount clutch hits with runners in scoring position. San Francisco also struggled to effectively execute principal fundamentals, like moving runners over from second base to third with less than two outs.
The culmination of inadequate performances across across the 25-man roster disabled the Giants from competing at a championship level in 2013. They finished the season ranked 21st in total runs scored, despite recording a respectable .260 team batting average.
For the Giants to reassert themselves as contenders next season, significant roster improvements need to be made on offense, specifically in left field and on the bench. San Francisco suffered several key injuries in 2013, namely center fielder Angel Pagan, who missed a substantial amount of time due to a hamstring pull that eventually required midseason surgery. The Giants’ inability to find a suitable offensive replacements for injured players consequently led to their demise.
Sabean has already begun the process of reinvigorating the Giants’ lineup, re-signing exhilarating right fielder Hunter Pence to a five-year contract worth $90 million. Pence had a career season in 2013, despite the Giants’ finishing in a third-place tie in the NL West. The lanky free-swinger mounted a .283 batting average in 687 plate appearances, blasted 27 home runs and drove-in 99 runs while playing in all 162 games.
Pence is a galvanizing proponent of the Giants’ offense, but was too heavily relied upon in 2013. San Francisco’s most glaring offseason need is opposite Pence in left field, where manager Bruce Bochy was forced to adopt a platoon strategy between Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco. Neither player excelled when granted the opportunity to showcase their abilities. Blanco was eventually shifted to center field in the wake of Pagan’s season-crippling injury, thus further exposing the Giants’ extreme lack of depth on the bench.
The Giants are renowned as a team that wins with outstanding starting pitching and stellar defense. However, that sentiment dissolved last season. San Francisco’s formerly prominent pitching staff struggled mightily, recording a 4.00 ERA. The Giants’ offense was frequently left to pick up the pieces, often playing from behind.
Sabean can ill-afford to be conservative this offseason, especially considering the fact that San Francisco will likely return seven of their eight regular position players in 2014. It’s possible for the Giants to work a trade that could yield a highly-touted prospect who’s ready to contribute. However, it doesn’t seem feasible to think that out-of-shape third baseman Pablo Sandoval will generate top-notch interest. Sandoval has consistently had difficulty staying healthy, a defining characteristic that ultimately hindered his production last season.
The emergence of first baseman Brandon Belt bodes well for the Giants in the long-haul. It’s also advantageous to have Buster Posey, the most indispensable catcher in the game, locked-up for the next eight seasons. But the Giants need more than that to compete with the surging Los Angeles Dodgers next season.
Sabean is going to be forced to pop-open the checkbook and dish out some serious cash this offseason if the Giants are going to greatly improve their roster.
Free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would aptly fit the Giants’ gaping hole in left field, but acquiring his services would come at a monstrous cost. Ellsbury recorded a .298 batting average, smashed nine home runs, drove-in 53 runs and stole 52 bases in 2013, numbers of which could earn him a deal in the seven-year range that tops out at $150 million.
That brand of contract strikes fear into the Giants’ front office brass, especially in the wake of the infamous Barry Zito deal. However, this season’s free agent market is relatively thin, which could force the Giants to be more aggressive than they’re typically accustomed to. Snagging a player like Ellsbury has the potential to greatly improve the Giants’ efficiency on offense.
If the Giants expect to compete for a championship in 2014, they need to be willing to spend big money.