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Pitching high on Giants' Hot Stove agenda

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants don't necessarily need to engineer the best personnel moves to return to the postseason. They just have to make the right ones.

For example, in the 2013-14 offseason, the Giants' most recent winter following an unsuccessful World Series title defense, they signed free agents Tim Hudson and Michael Morse. These were complementary additions, not major ones. Yet both contributed to the season-long effort that ended with a seven-game World Series triumph over Kansas City.

But the perception has grown that the Giants must undergo significant upgrades to keep up with the Dodgers. Los Angeles has won three consecutive National League West titles and owns a pronounced edge in starting pitching, particularly if Zack Greinke stays with the team despite expectations that he'll opt out of his contract. Division rivals Arizona, Colorado and San Diego are bent on interrupting the Los Angeles-San Francisco double occupancy atop the West standings. To maintain their contender status, the Giants must bolster their roster, even if only incrementally.

• Giants Hot Stove Tracker

Free agents/options: The Giants are expected to make a serious attempt to retain right-hander Mike Leake, who turns 28 on Nov. 12 -- a remarkably young age for a free agent. However, they'll face serious competition because Leake, who was traded in midseason, can't be made a qualifying offer and won't come with the baggage of free-agent compensation.

This could be the year the Giants decline to engage in their annual waltz with right-hander Ryan Vogelsong. He believes he can still start, but San Francisco might not have roster room for him. San Francisco also is under no immediate pressure to re-sign right-hander Tim Lincecum, who must recover from hip surgery first.

Among outfielders, the Giants are believed to be leaning toward picking up Nori Aoki's $5.5 million option but are against retaining August acquisition Marlon Byrd, whose $8 million option did not vest. Alejandro De Aza, another late-season pickup, probably will be allowed to depart.

Video: [email protected]: Aoki drills leadoff home run in the 1st

Needs: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Unsure of what they can expect from their starters outside of Madison Bumgarner, the Giants will focus on obtaining reinforcements for their once-formidable rotation. Everywhere else, the Giants are either well-stocked or relatively certain that an offseason of healing will make a difference, as is the case with right fielder Hunter Pence.

Potential targets: Free-agent starters such as Ian Kennedy, Jeff Samardzija and Jordan Zimmermann ordinarily would intrigue the Giants. But these right-handers are likely to be tendered qualifying offers that would require the signing club to surrender a Draft choice. The Giants still might be interested, depending on circumstances. Don't be surprised if the Giants make a serious bid for left-hander David Price, as they did with Jon Lester a year ago.

Video: [email protected]: Price fan seven over seven for 17th victory

Trade assets: San Francisco possesses no obvious trade candidates. They exist, though. On multiple occasions, the Giants have proven willing to part with a prospect or two from the lower Minors. Last season's deals for Leake, De Aza and Byrd might have depleted the Giants' supply of youngsters somewhat, making free agency a more likely player-acquisition option than trades.

Financial situation: The expired contracts of Lincecum, Hudson, Jeremy Affeldt, Marco Scutaro and Vogelsong will shave more than $46 million off the Giants' payroll. The club has more than $120 million committed to 10 veterans: Pence, Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, Jake Peavy, Angel Pagan, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Gregor Blanco.

Bottom line: Rare is the offseason when the Giants don't get at least a semblance of what they want. They should manage to obtain a pitcher or two, particularly since they have some payroll room.

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.
Read More: San Francisco Giants, Nori Aoki, Mike Leake, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum