Offseason In Review: San Francisco Giants

After an unsuccessful attempt at defending the 2012 World Series crown, the Giants doubled down on their veteran core while adding two significant free agents to the mix.
 
Major League Signings
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
Extensions
  • Hunter Pence, OF: Five years, $90MM. (Agreed to deal on Sept. 28, 2013.)
  • Tim Lincecum, RHP: Two years, $35MM. (Agreed to deal on Oct. 22, 2013.)
  • Joaquin Arias, INF: Two years, $2.6MM.
Notable Losses
Needs Addressed
 
As the end of the 2013 regular season approached with nothing left to play for, the Giants looked ahead at a 2014 with uncertainty in the corner outfield and the back half of the rotation. In particular, San Francisco faced the pending free agencies of right fielder Pence and one-time ace Lincecum. Having previously pursued a strategy of retaining its own players, would San Francisco commit the resources needed to keep these major names in town?
 
Lincecum
The answer, of course, was a resounding yes. First, GM Brian Sabean got a jump-start on the offseasion by inking Pence to a market-setting five-year deal at the tail end of the season. $90MM was a big commitment, but the cost for Pence looks reasonable when put in context of the free agent spending that came in its wake. (Shin-Soo Choo may not prove to be a better producer than Pence, but got seven years and $130MM; Curtis Granderson, who is two years older and has had injury and performance issues, landed at four and $60MM.) 
 
Then, the Giants moved quickly to lock up the enigmatic 29-year-old Lincecum, whose fortunes shifted downward in 2012 and 2013. Though a mid-summer no-hitter highlighted some sparks of his former dominance, Lincecum ended last year with a second-straight campaign that fell far shy of his early-career standards. Nevertheless, the Giants signed on for two more years at the eye-opening price of $35MM. 
 
Even with Lincecum in place, the club had two open rotation spots after declining options on Vogelsong and Zito. The first was filled with veteran hurler Tim Hudson, who received a $23MM guarantee (and full no-trade clause). This year will be Hudson's age-38 campaign, and he is coming off of a devastating ankle injury. Nevertheless, the 15-year MLB veteran has been a model of consistent excellence, having logged just two seasons in which he allowed more than four earned runs per nine innings.
 
The second hypothetical rotation spot was re-filled with its original possessor, Vogelsong. Discussions on a new deal began even as the team declined its 2014 option over the 36-year-old righty, who struggled with injury and performance issues last year after two effective campaigns in 2011-12. It wasn't just that his 2013 ERA ballooned to more than double its 2011 level. Vogelsong's strikeout and groundball rates declined, while his walk and home run-per-flyball rates increased, in 102 2/3 innings last year as against his two prior seasons. While San Francisco will surely hope for a bounceback, the club seemed to pay a bit of a premium over the much smaller guarantees given pitchers like Paul Maholm ($1.5MM) and Chris Capuano ($2.25MM).
 
Meanwhile, Sabean moved to address two other important elements of the roster's makeup. By re-signing 36-year-old southpaw Javier Lopez with a three-year guarantee, the Giants ensured that they would return every pitcher who made thirty or more relief appearances for them in 2013. 
 
Finally, Sabean decided to fill the club's left field opening with free agent Michael Morse. In spite of a rough and injury-riddled 2013, Morse has an accomplished big league bat. His outfield defense is quite another story, however; when added to poor baserunning, it is fair to ask whether he was the right fit for this club.
 
Questions Remaining
 
MLBTR's Zach Links wrote before the start of the offseason that the Giants could look to bring in some fresh blood in the bullpen and bench. While some changes are likely in the offing in both areas, San Francisco did not make any big moves on the fringes of the roster. A collection of prospects, waiver claims, and minor league free agents is competing with some of last year's arms to round out the bullpen, with several slots still apparently up for grabs.
 
The bench figures to add one recently effective big leaguer in outfielder Gregor Blanco, who was demoted to make way for Morse after holding down the left field job last year. Otherwise, however, it too will be composed of players who saw time off the bench last year unless a non-roster invitee can break camp. Second baseman Marco Scutaro is increasingly looking like a health concern as the spring drags on, though San Francisco has several depth options up the middle.
 
It could well turn out that only Hudson and Morse will be new faces on the Opening Day roster. Much the same roster will take the field in 2014 as was in place for the two prior campaigns. The question remains, then, whether that group will play more like the one that took home 94 wins and a World Series in 2012, or the one that stumbled to a 76-86 mark last year. 
 
Deal of Note
 
One of the more interesting contracts in recent memory is the Giants' extension of Lincecum just before he was set to hit the open market. One of the most recognizable players in the game, the two-time Cy Young winner's star faded quite significantly over the last two years. 
 
Back in September, I polled MLBTR readers on the relative merits of Lincecum and fellow one-time ace Ubaldo Jimenez. As I wrote at the time, there were many similarities between the career arcs of the two pitchers. (In brief: similar age and mileage; struggles with declining velocity; analogous peak/collapse/partial redemption paths.) While it is reasonable to argue a preference for the new Oriole, readers preferred Lincecum at nearly a 2:1 clip. 
 
Now that both have signed new deals, the comparison is quite different. Lincecum is only a two-year risk for San Francisco, but he will earn $17.5MM per year — a higher AAV than all but a handful of 2013-14 free agents and the 17th-highest rate of all time for a pitcher. He also gets a full no-trade clause. Meanwhile, for an extra $15MM guarantee, Baltimore can slot Jimenez in its rotation for two additional seasons. And the actual spread is even smaller once the dollars are discounted to present value, especially since Jimenez will have $2.25MM a year deferred without interest.
 
Lincecum has looked strong in the earlygoing this spring, and still tantalizes with the ability to shut down opposing teams. But while his 2013 season stabilized his value and seemingly raised his expected floor moving forward, it did little to show that he will return to being a frontline starter over the course of a full season. The Giants, more than any other team, seem to act on the premise that they know their own players best, and they surely know Lincecum well after seven MLB seasons of highs and lows. Nevertheless, he will have to exceed his recent track record — by a fairly significant margin — to justify his ace-level annual salary.
 
Overview
 
I noted on Wednesday that the NL West-rival Diamondbacks have had two straight offseasons of major trades that reshaped their roster. Precisely the opposite has been true of the Giants, who have extended or re-signed virtually all of the significant players that might have left the club via free agency. It will be particularly interesting to track these two franchises' fortunes given their divergent approaches.
 
A rebound is expected for a San Francisco club that significantly underperformed expectations last year. But like Arizona, this team faces an uphill battle (on paper, anyway) to challenge the Dodgers for the division crown. For that to happen, Sabean needs to have been right with his pitching investments and the team needs to receive more production from players like Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval.
 
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


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