New-look roster likely to enter revamped Spring Training next season
SAN FRANCISCO -- Approaching what promises to be an ambitious offseason, the Giants know they need new ingredients for their winning formula.
The Giants' fall from their perch as World Series champions will necessitate significant roster upgrades. General manager Brian Sabean acknowledged that this year's club lacked depth, a shortcoming exposed by the numerous injuries that befell the team.
Predictably, the Giants will not reflexively invite back a large percentage of the team, as they did this season. The Opening Day roster featured 22 members of the 25-man postseason roster from 2012. But the time has arrived for the snake to shed its skin, so to speak.
"It's safe to say that the window with [the current team] is closed," Sabean said Friday during his annual season-ending summary with local reporters. "Now we have to create a new window immediately."
Sabean, the Major Leagues' longest-tenured general manager, will try to re-sign free agents such as right fielder Hunter Pence, right-hander Tim Lincecum and left-hander Javier Lopez. They are viewed as part of the solution, not the problem.
"You have to do the heavy lifting first," Sabean said. "We have to get better talent, including re-signing our own talent. That's where we'll start."
The Giants have already begun contract talks with Pence, the team's leader in home runs, RBIs and runs scored who earned $13.8 million this year. San Francisco's exclusive negotiating period with Pence and its other free agents lasts until five days after the conclusion of the World Series. Right fielder Andre Ethier's five-year, $85 million deal with the Dodgers has been mentioned as a template for Pence, though he might have enough leverage to command a more lucrative package.
Assuming that the Giants and Pence reach an agreement, Sabean said he would then throw himself into negotiations with Lincecum. Conveniently, Lincecum's agent happens to be Rick Thurman, who also represents Pence.
In a separate interview, Sabean indicated that the Giants had enough economic freedom to address their priorities.
"We're going to be in the same range or a touch more," said Sabean, who operated with a payroll of approximately $137 million this year. "I don't think payroll's going to be an issue for what we need to do."
Sabean emphasized that improving the pitching staff was imperative. Renowned for their pitching during their 2009-12 stretch of four consecutive winning seasons, the Giants entered Friday with a 3.96 ERA, tied for 12th in the National League. Sabean was especially concerned with the starters' 4.32 ERA, third-worst in the league.
"We need to improve the strength and depth of the pitching staff," Sabean said. "We're behind the Dodgers and the other four playoff teams, in my estimation. We have to get back to having a stronger starting staff. The numbers show that. It wasn't a good year as far as consistency and performance. That has to improve."
Sabean acknowledged he was not certain how the Giants would acquire the pitching and the left fielder they sought. The free-agent market has relatively few attractive starting pitchers and outfielders. "As you know, the market is not very friendly," Sabean said.
Sabean also sounded less than optimistic about the possibility of engineering trades to plug holes. "I don't know how realistic the trade front's going to be. We got real lucky with that the year before," Sabean said, referring to the in-season deals for Pence and second baseman Marco Scutaro that helped propel San Francisco toward a World Series title.
San Francisco's Minor League system is pitching-rich, but those prospects lack experience and are not expected to be Major League-ready until 2015.
"We need more talent; we need more depth," Sabean said. "However we accomplish that, we're going to try to do that."
The Giants also must maximize their existing assets. For example, Sabean issued his yearly challenge to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who has struggled with fluctuating weight and run production. Sandoval made progress in the former area by losing approximately 20 pounds. But his offensive statistics entering Friday, including a .276 batting average, a .416 slugging percentage, 14 homers and 77 RBIs, underwhelmed Sabean.
"The sky's still the limit -- we're still waiting for that," Sabean said. "It's up to Pablo. We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. He's on the last year of a contract. It's in his court now."
The Giants will demand improvement from their on-field staff as well as the players. Sabean said he and manager Bruce Bochy had discussed changing the Spring Training routine to better prepare the team.
"We've talked long and hard, and we'll continue to talk about what we can do different in Spring Training to get ready for the season," Sabean said. "This coming Spring Training, it'll be really important for us to get it right to get them out of the gates fast and furious."