After failing to earn a playoff berth, the San Francisco Giants need to closely examine the weaknesses associated with the team’s collapse and rebuild the roster to the point of contention. General manager Brian Sabean has already begun the revamping process, re-signing fan favorite Tim Lincecum and slugging right fielder Hunter Pence.
The Giants’ front office brass still has a slew of difficult decisions to make this offseason. San Francisco just suffered its first losing season since 2008, completing a horrid World Series defense that resulted in a third-place divisional tie. Sabean can’t sit back and duplicate a tired philosophy, which includes bringing back a large contingency of players that propelled the Giants to playoff success in recent seasons.
It’s highly probable that left-handed specialist Javier Lopez is now a focus point for the Giants. Lopez was purely dominant in 2013, recording a 4-2 record and 1.83 ERA in 69 appearances. He also allowed just 42 baserunners in 39.1 total innings pitched. Lopez is a key component to the Giants’ lasting success in the bullpen, but is going to command significant interest in the free-agent market.
For the Giants to re-sign Lopez, they need to at least match corresponding offers from other teams, which will likely result in a deal that totals more than $13 over the course of two seasons. If Lopez resumes his career in Giants’ uniform next season, he’ll mark the fourth player in San Francisco’s bullpen earning at least $4.5 million (Santonio Casilla $4.5MM, Jeremy Affeldt $5MM, Sergio Romo $5.5MM). The culmination of those contracts have the potential to account for roughly $21.5 million of team payroll.
Lopez is an important weapon to have at the back-end of the bullpen, but the Giants need to effectively prioritize offseason needs in order to build the most formidable 25-man roster possible heading into spring training.
The No. 1 point of emphasis for the Giants during MLB Winter Meetings should be acquiring a versatile left fielder that can provide significant production on offense. Sabean will almost certainly enter discussions with other teams in respect to potentially work out a deal that would net the Giants a legitimate everyday player in left. However, it seems unlikely for a trade to occur, specifically because of the limited amount of bargaining chips the Giants currently have at the table.
Top farm prospects Kyle Crick (RHP) and Clayton Blackburn (RHP) are virtually untouchable. The Giants also highly regard slugging outfielder Mac Williamson and could-be future closer Heath Hembree.
The Giants’ lack of high-quality trading pieces raises the notion of tinkering with the projected starting eight. However, shifting first-baseman Brandon Belt to left field in order to fill a gaping void while simultaneously entering the market for a new first-baseman is preposterous. Belt surged in the second half of the 2013 season after making subtle changes at the plate, altering his grip and standing back in the batter’s box. The 25-year-old smashed a .289 batting average with 17 home runs while driving-in 67 runs. It simply wouldn’t make sense to exploit Belt’s comfort zone by forcing him to switch positions.
The most logical option for the Giants to fill the void in left field is ultimately to become competitive in free agency. The most intriguing player on the market is outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is seeking a monumental contract that would supposedly exceed $20 million per season. That figure will surely detract several teams from engaging in negotiations, although the Giants shouldn’t be one of them. Upgrading the offense in left field should rank as the Giants’ top priority this offseason, thus making Ellsbury a focal point.
The Giants’ bullpen is a crucial component of the team’s potential success in 2014. However, it doesn’t make sense to prioritize re-signing Lopez over a franchise-defining decision like signing a player of Ellsbury’s ability. The 30-year-old veteran has a proven track record, sustaining a .297 career batting average and .350 on-base percentage in seven professional seasons. The Giants could surely use that type of production at the top of their lineup.
It’s also essential for San Francisco to rebuild its starting rotation, which currently features Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Lincecum. It’s possible for journeyman pitcher Ryan Vogelsong to earn a reprise, which would leave just one vacant rotation spot. San Francisco’s rotation and bullpen aren’t in dire straights, but the Giants’ offense needs profound improvement.