SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants are being reminded that the bill for winning the World Series always arrives during the following offseason and is inevitably exorbitant.
Hoping to keep its championship club as intact as possible, San Francisco moved aggressively to retain left-hander Jeremy Affeldt by signing him to a three-year, $18 million contract on Nov. 14. But two of the Giants' other key free agents, second baseman Marco Scutaro and center fielder Angel Pagan, remained unsigned with less than a week to go before baseball's Winter Meetings begin next Monday in Nashville, Tenn.
Signing one or both looms as a top priority for the Giants during the meetings. Though general manager Brian Sabean recently characterized talks with representatives for Scutaro and Pagan as "upbeat," the fact that the Giants haven't reached a deal with either indicates that some complications exist. As Affeldt's agreement reflects, Sabean likes to act quickly in securing free agents. The Giants may have hit a snarl with Scutaro, who at age 37 could be seeking to maximize the value of what likely is his last contract, and Pagan, who's believed to be seeking a deal lasting as many as four years.
Both positioned themselves nicely to capitalize on their roles in the Giants' success. Scutaro hit .362 with 44 RBIs in 61 games after the Giants acquired him from Colorado on July 27, then won Most Valuable Player honors in the National League Championship Series against St. Louis while batting .500. He also stroked the go-ahead single in the Giants' 4-3, 10-inning victory in the Game 4 World Series clincher at Detroit. Pagan gradually entrenched himself at the top of the order and hit 15 triples to set a San Francisco-era franchise record.
San Francisco's brain trust will strive to seek some sort of resolution regarding Scutaro and Pagan during its stay in Nashville. Short of a signing, the Giants will try to gain a better sense of whether agreements with them are possible. If not, they'll begin pursuing alternatives more seriously.
It's widely believed that Scutaro, whose production on the field matched his popularity in the clubhouse, ultimately will stay with the Giants, probably on a two-year deal. The Giants have few options if he doesn't return. Free-agent second basemen available include Kelly Johnson (.225 batting average, 16 home runs, 55 RBIs with Toronto in 2012) and Placido Polanco (.299 career average in 15 seasons; .257 this year in 90 games with Philadelphia). Bringing back Ryan Theriot, the regular second baseman until Scutaro arrived, is a long-shot possibility.
Though losing Pagan might represent a setback for the Giants, they at least could consider free agents with comparable skills, including Michael Bourn (.274, 96 runs, 42 stolen bases in 2012 with Atlanta), Shane Victorino (.255 in 154 games with the Phillies and Dodgers) and B.J. Upton (.246, 28 homers and 78 RBIs with Tampa Bay).
The Giants aren't believed to be in contention for Josh Hamilton, the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player who would considerably strengthen any lineup. Though club president and chief executive officer Larry Baer recently suggested that the Giants can handle a slight increase from last season's payroll of approximately $130 million, Hamilton probably is out of their price range. The Giants will shed approximately $30 million in contracts in 2013, but they must accommodate $15 million in raises owed to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval and others.
San Francisco also will absorb a hefty pay hike for NL MVP Buster Posey, who's projected to receive at least $5 million as a first-time arbitration-eligible player. Exploring a multi-year deal for Posey, which ranks high on the Giants' priority list, could become a Winter Meetings topic, though it'll likely wait until spring.
The Giants' other needs include a left fielder who can provide ample offense. Gregor Blanco started all 16 games in left field during the postseason and 25 in the regular season. But he contributed relatively little at the plate (.244, .676 OPS) while thriving defensively. The Giants should have learned the danger of standing pat with their roster after finishing second in the NL West to Arizona in 2011, one year after they captured the World Series.
With that in mind, the Giants will consider performers who can provide an offensive upgrade, such as Nick Swisher. The switch-hitter has played primarily right field, though he has made 117 career appearances in left. Swisher batted .272 with 24 homers and 93 RBIs this year. He has exceeded 20 home runs in each of his eight full Major League seasons.
Ryan Ludwick, who the Giants eyed last offseason, also is back on the market. Ludwick thrived for Cincinnati this year, hitting .275 with 26 homers and 80 RBIs, though his numbers likely would be much less gaudy while playing half of his games at AT&T Park.
San Francisco also could fill this vacancy by signing a first baseman and moving Brandon Belt to left, where he started four games in 2012. The Giants can be expected to take a look at Adam LaRoche, whom they wooed before the 2010 season. LaRoche sustained the type of performance this year that originally made the Giants covet him, batting .271 with 33 homers and 100 RBIs for NL East champion Washington. Swisher also owns experience at first base, having played 307 games there.
Lacking depth in the rotation besides left-hander Eric Surkamp, who's overcoming Tommy John elbow surgery, the Giants might be wise to shop for a low-budget pitcher (Freddy Garcia? Randy Wells? Carlos Villanueva?) who's at home in the bullpen but can start if necessary.