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Sandoval focus of Giants' offseason plan of attack

Free-agent third baseman hits market after another strong October

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants general manager Brian Sabean clearly stated Thursday that the fate of free-agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who's said to want a six-year contract, will shape the course of the club's offseason.

The majority of questions and issues brought before Sabean, manager Bruce Bochy and team president Larry Baer during the Giants' annual end-of-season news conference at AT&T Park seemingly hinged on whether the reigning World Series champions can retain the 28-year-old Sandoval.

"Pablo's the heavy lifting," Sabean said.

The oddly somber mood that permeated the approximately 20-minute gathering indicated that Sandoval's status is weighing uncomfortably upon the front office. Sabean said that among San Francisco's five free agents, "Pablo's the only one we've engaged, as far as [making] an offer and moving forward in that fashion."

Sandoval, who rejected a three-year, $40 million offer from the Giants during Spring Training, wants at least a six-year deal, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday. The high demand for third basemen and the option of an American League team's using Sandoval as a designated hitter could elevate the average annual value of his contract toward $20 million.

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Sandoval's postseason proficiency is another factor in his favor. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 2012 World Series, and followed that this year by batting .366 in the postseason and amassing a big league record with 26 playoff hits.

The degree to which Sandoval dominates the Giants' offseason landscape cannot be underestimated.

Asked to prioritize the club's needs, Sabean replied, "Pablo. As we speak."

Sabean declined to elaborate on the status of talks with San Francisco's four other free agents: left fielder Michael Morse and right-handers Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo -- mainly because those negotiations aren't active.

"I'm not going to address anybody at this time other than Pablo," Sabean said.

Sabean acknowledged that if a rival team offers a contract to one of those players, the Giants will respond readily if they so desire.

"If something jumps up, we're prepared to react and bring it to Larry to make a quick decision," Sabean said. "We're more than prepared. We didn't lose any time. We're ready to go."

Added Sabean, "We're exploring any place that we may have a hole."

Third base will top that list if Sandoval departs, primarily because the Giants lack a Major League-ready successor in their organization.

"We don't have a solution in-house," Sabean said. "So it would have to come from the outside."

Aside from Sandoval, Chase Headley is the most coveted third baseman in free agency.

Other topics raised during the approximately 20-minute session with reporters included:

• The starting rotation, which could use a fresh arm or two. "We have a need there, I think," said Bochy, who noted that Matt Cain is recovering on schedule from elbow surgery, Tim Lincecum will rejoin the starting rotation and Yusmeiro Petit's value rests largely as a long reliever.

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Andrew Susac's edge over Hector Sanchez as the Giants' backup catcher. Bochy said that Sanchez, who struggled to overcome post-concussion symptoms toward the end of the season, had unavoidably gained weight. However, Bochy added that Sanchez should provide rigorous competition for Susac in Spring Training.

• Center fielder Angel Pagan's improved health following his September back surgery. "Right now, he's really excited about how he feels," Bochy said of Pagan, who batted .300 in 96 games this past season.

• The uncertainty surrounding second baseman Marco Scutaro, whose back problems limited him to five games with the Giants. "The best scenario is that he has a good winter and can come back and help in some way or form," Bochy said. "It was frustrating for him and for us with all he had to go through."

• Bench coach Ron Wotus' emergence as a candidate for Tampa Bay's managerial opening. "Ronnie has done such a great job for me," Bochy said. "He sees different ways to do things. He's very well-prepared. He's going to bring a lot to any team [that hires him]. He's the guy who really runs our defense here, and he's the guy who helps me quite a bit before the game and during the game. He's the one who runs Spring Training. So [given] his knowledge and experience, he's ready. There's no question about it."

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.
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