The off-season is still at least two months away. But with the Giants barely hanging on by the skin of their teeth, perhaps it is a good time to discuss three things. What went wrong this year? What should we expect from the rest of the season? And what should they do to prepare for 2014?
First off, I'm not terribly upset or even surprised at the way this season went. Two WS titles in three seasons is a big deal. And I am not about to complain that things just didn't work out this season. Everyone will have their own take on what led to the season we're having this year. For me, the season went south when Angel Pagan went down. He's not the best player on the roster. Nor is he even all that much of a world-beating lead off hitter. When the Giants' brass decided to use the Blanco/Torres platoon in LF they were relying heavily on Pence and Pagan staying healthy. Pence and Pagan are legitimate starting OF. But Blanco and Torres are barely legitimate 4th OF. Losing Pagan meant that we suddenly went from having a decent OF to having to use two fourth-OF-types in three of the OF positions. Along with losing our only legitimate leadoff hitter, that proved too much for our offense. I think Murphy is a better defender and, if I remember correctly, bats left. We could always use Brown or Peguero as a fourth outfielder against tough lefties.
Throw into that mix the fact that our pitching staff was likely exhausted from two extended WS runs in three seasons and It is not unsurprising that arms were tired and energy levels depleted. Vogelsong's arm...the oldest of the staff...went first. Then Zito's arm wore down and he couldn't hit his spots. Cain and Lincecum are both drained. I think even Affeldt's body wore down from the heavy post season.
Having the team be out of contention so early this season might be the best thing that could have happened. Sabean, Bochy and the rest of the FO and Staff will likely soon be able to focus on letting the veterans recover from so much work the last few seasons. This is a good time to see what we have in the Minors. Kieschnick, Peguero, Pill, Brown, Susac. Tanaka, Perez, Noonan and others would and should be given a chance to play often, especially come Sept. 1. Kickham, Surkamp, Hembree, Fleet, Mejia and others should be given a chance to throw in ML games.
Once the season is finished, decisions will have to be made. First and foremost, make qualifying offers to both Lincecum and Pence. Efforts should be made to resign both. Timmy, if he's smart, will do one of two things, take a hometown discount and sign that long term deal he's been avoiding for years. His performances the past 7 games are strong enough indicators that he is good enough to be a solid middle of the rotation starter. That's worth the $10-12m per year he'd likely be offered (AT BEST...assuming he closes out the season as strongly as the last seven starts have been). Or he should just take the qualifying offer and use 2014 to give it one last chance to prove he's worth a good long term deal.
Pence's bat is dispensable. But his hustle, drive and clubhouse presence are not. He's not worth more than the qualifying offer he will get. And if he really meant it that he wants to stay in SF he will take a 4-5 year deal worth $13-$15m per year. He's not worth more than that.
Lopez should definitely be re-signed. Even if it is for about what he made this year. He seems to be pitching better with age and he is a proven winner. Chad Gaudin should be resigned. He is a solid long reliever and/or 5th starter. Give him $3-5 over 2-3years (that's a nice raise from his $750K this year). And resign Arias. He's a solid .280 hitter with solid defensive skills at 2b,ss and 3b. Giving him $1.25m would be a reasonable raise.
Let Blanco and Torres go ($3.5m savings). Let Zito go, paying him his $7m buyout (saving $13m). Those savings, plus the $8m less for Timmy, would be enough to cover all the pay raises for other players, like Posey and such. But that leaves us with two major holes to fill...LF and a SP.
In LF, we have a competition between Brown, Kieschnick, Peguero, and perhaps Blanco or Francour. Or the team could make a move to upgrade LF by going after a Michael Morse or David Murphy. Without a Morse or Murphy, I fear what would happen if Pagan or Pence were to go down.
At SP, under the above scenario we'd already have Cain, Bum, Timmy, Vogey and Gaudin. There would also be the possibility for one of our minor league pitchers making a big move up. Kickham has looked relatively good one or two times through a lineup, which would bode well for him to make it as a long reliever for us next year. Especially if Gaudin is re-signed as a fifth starter. Surkamp is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery and has looked good and bad in his starts since coming back. He is, however, little more than a younger version of the older Zito we suffered through the past six years+.
A number of Giants' minor league pitchers continue to progress and could make the leap to the big club in 2015 or 2016. This couldn't come at a better time. Since Vogey is likely on his last leg...Gaudin is, at best, a fifth starter, and Lincecum could burn out as a SP if his current progress doesn't pan out long term (which is why I wouldn't necessarily offer him a long term deal, unless it were extremely team friendly).
That would give us a line up of: Pagan (CF), Scutaro (2B), Posey (C), Panda (3B), Pence (RF), Belt (1B), Murphy/Peguero (LF) and Crawford (SS) - with Arias, Quiroz/Sanchez, and Kieschnick coming off the bench.
SP - Cain, Bum, Timmy, Vogey, Gaudin (with Surkamp or Kickham as LR/Spot Starter)
RP - Affeldt, Mejiras, Lopez, Hembree, Casilla, Romo w/Kontos and others biding time in the minors.
Admittedly, all this will change in the next several months. If the Giants somehow slip back into the race..things changes....if one or more of the call ups do well in September...things could change...if Pence or Timmy reject our QO....things change...if Vogey comes back and DOESN'T do well...things change. This is, as it always is with us fans, purely speculative and merely designed to have a little fun projecting.