SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants typically use the Winter Meetings to set up significant deals instead of making them. This year could be different.
As everybody familiar with the club knows, the Giants' most pressing need is obtaining a legitimate closer. Three free agents fit that description: Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. Unless the Giants set the pace by becoming the first team to sign a relief ace, they could be forced to act fast by agreeing to terms with one of the remaining closers within a couple of days, maybe less, once the first member of this trio reaches an agreement.
Thus, the Giants know they must be prepared for anything when their delegation arrives for the Meetings that begin Monday. MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 6 a.m. PT.
The Giants engineered no moves at last year's Meetings, but they proved they had remained extremely busy -- and productive -- behind the scenes. They announced the signing of right-hander Johnny Cueto a few days after the Meetings ended and settled on a contract with center fielder Denard Span a month later. This time around could be the same for San Francisco, unless a sudden signing involving Chapman, Jansen or Melancon spurs club management into action.
Closer: General manager Bobby Evans has tried to temper expectations of signing one of the Big Three free-agent closers -- "We have no way of knowing," he said recently -- but the fact is that the Giants do few things halfway. Making incremental upgrades is not their style. They'll be sorely disappointed if they can't secure Chapman, Jansen or Melancon, though Evans has mentioned the possibility of trading for a closer.
Reliever: The Giants wouldn't mind adding a proven performer to the relatively young setup corps that's likely to include Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, Steven Okert and Derek Law, each of whom possesses fewer than two years of big league service time. Re-signing right-hander Sergio Romo remains a possibility, though that probably wouldn't occur until later in the offseason.
Outfielder: Evans has repeated that the Giants are content to enter Spring Training with Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson competing for the left-field vacancy. But the club would listen to a trade proposal that would add a productive bat to the lineup. Signing a free agent is a long shot, because even accomplished hitters are reluctant to perform at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. Don't rule out the possibility of the Giants adding a center fielder and moving Span to left.
Whom they can trade if necessary
RHP Matt Cain: Don't misinterpret this. The Giants aren't shopping Cain, partly because his contract makes him difficult to deal. So does his recent injury history, which limited him to 43 starts in the previous three seasons. Thus, an unlikely trade proposal involving Cain would get the Giants' attention. The erstwhile ace is in the final year of an eight-year deal that will pay him $21 million this season. The team holds a $21 million option on his services for 2018. The other option is a $7.5 million buyout, which the club likely will exercise.
LHP Osich: This is a guy whom the Giants would much rather have pitching for them than against them. He led the Majors by allowing just two of 43 inherited runners to score (4.7 percent). But with Okert showing promise and veteran Will Smith returning, the Giants might consider parting with Osich if he could sweeten a deal for a hitter or closer.
In the estimation of MLBPipeline.com, the Giants' top 10 prospects are infielder Christian Arroyo, right-hander Tyler Beede, first baseman Chris Shaw, outfielder Bryan Reynolds, right-hander Sam Coonrod, catcher Aramis Garcia, right-hander Joan Gregorio, left-hander Andrew Suarez, right-hander Jordan Johnson and outfielder Steven Duggar.
The Giants won't rush Arroyo or Beede to the Majors. But they could find their way into San Francisco uniforms next year if they continue to progress and certain circumstances arise, such as injuries. One prospect who might make his Major League debut next year if he maintains his rapid rise is outfielder Austin Slater, currently rated the Giants' No. 22 prospect by MLBPipeline.
Rule 5 Draft
Typically, the Giants are spectators in the Rule 5 Draft. With their roster at its 40-man limit, this pattern probably will continue. They'd drop a player from the roster to add a key free agent, but it's doubtful that any Rule 5-eligible performer would prompt them to make that kind of move.
Big contracts they might unload
Aside from Cain, who as mentioned is basically untradeable, none. The Giants need each of their higher-salaried performers -- Cueto, Span, Buster Posey, Jeff Samardzija, Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Matt Moore and Brandon Belt -- to sustain their annual pursuit of a World Series title.
The Giants' payroll, which exceeds an estimated $170 million, ranks among baseball's highest. They're prepared to go higher if it means adding a player or two who can strengthen the roster. "Resources will be expended as necessary," club president Larry Baer said after San Francisco's season ended with a Division Series loss to the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs.