San Francisco Giants: This Offseason Has to be Better Than Last


The San Francisco Giants enter this offseason with a main focus on their minds: the starting rotation has to improve. In their first press conference after the conclusion of the season, general manager Bobby Evans and CEO Larry Baer made this crystal clear. When asked about keeping up with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation, Evans quickly fired back with “We don’t want to keep up with them, we want to pass them”.

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For the first time in a while, the Giants’ offense is not an issue entering the offseason. Even while missing key pieces to their lineup for large chunks of the year, the Giants still won the team batting title, as their combined .267 average led the National League. The only real hole in the lineup is in left field, as Nori Aoki is waiting to find out if his team option will be picked up and Marlon Byrd is a free agent. However, the team can live with whoever they plug into that spot, because of the strength up and down the lineup when they have all the pieces. Thus, the attention now turns to the starting rotation.

The Giants entered the previous offseason with the same quandary as this year: their weak starting rotation needs an upgrade. They attempted to improve last season, but they couldn’t entice Jon Lester enough to pull him away from the Chicago Cubs, and James Shields‘ price tag was too high for their comfort. The team was linked to Max Scherzer, but there was never any inclination that the Giants would actually pick up Scherzer for the exorbitant amount of money he was asking.

When those avenues closed off, the Giants re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year deal, and though he pitched very well when he was healthy, he missed about half the season because of hip and back ailments. The team also brought back Ryan Vogelsong, and while he was serviceable, he wasn’t the impact pitcher the Giants needed.

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This year, if the Giants want to stick to their even year tradition and make it back to playing meaningful baseball in October, they need to have a better offseason. Madison Bumgarner was the only starter the team could rely on to consistently pitch deep into games, and as a result, the bullpen was overworked and run down by the time the season concluded. By improving the starting rotation, the Giants will also improve their bullpen, as they won’t have to dig into their stash of relievers so early in games.

San Francisco comes into this offseason with a lot of money on their hands, around $50 million amid recent speculations. They’ve made their focus known, and they have the money to execute their plan, but free agency is one gigantic variable. It can’t be predicted how players will choose where they will play. There are circumstances that the Giants can’t control, like last year, when Lester chose the Cubs because of his past relationship with their general manager, Theo Epstein.

The Giants have already expressed their interest in bringing back Mike Leake, whom they acquired at the trade deadline from the Cincinnati Reds. Leake suffered through inconsistencies and injuries during his short stint with the Giants, but had some starts that proved what he can do for a team when he’s right. In his first two starts with the Giants, Leake went 12.1 innings while giving up nine hits and three runs, but lost both starts as his offense couldn’t back him up. In his last start of 2015, he fired his first career shutout, surrendering just two hits over nine innings.

Even if the Giants are able to bring back Leake, who has ensured the Giants that the interest is mutual, they shouldn’t be relying on him as their only acquisition. With the sheer volume of starting pitching that figures to be on the market, the Giants should set their sights on picking up another starter to complement Leake.

The two big dogs that will be, or figure to be available are David Price, whose contract expires at the end of this year, and Zack Greinke, who will almost assuredly opt out of his enormous contract to earn an even more outrageous sum of money. If the Giants do plan to bring back Leake, who will most likely earn more than $15 million this season, those two would likely be out of their price range.

But even below the top two starters, there are some attractive options that the Giants could move in on. Jordan Zimmermann is seen as the best pitcher in the “second-tier” of available starters, and after the extreme level of dysfunction the Washington Nationals suffered through, he may be looking for a way out. Jeff Samardzija fits in that second-tier, but he suffered through a poor 2015, leading the American League in hits allowed, home runs allowed, and earned runs allowed. Signing Samardzija is the type of risk the Giants would likely want to avoid after their experience with Barry Zito.

Johnny Cueto struggled mightily after a trade sent him from Cincinnati to the Kansas City Royals, but a move back to the National League could serve him well. But again, the Giants would be taking a risk, especially after Cueto dealt with elbow problems earlier in the season.

Doug Fister, Scott Kazmir, and Wei-Yin Chen could all be on the Giants’ radars, and although none are the big number two pitcher behind Bumgarner that would seemingly be the target, they would all fill in nicely in the rotation as a third pitcher, and create a deeper rotation than the Giants had this season. Andrew Baggarly also mentioned Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda, who could become available to sign this Winter, and that the Giants will not be shy on the trade market, either.

The main takeaway is that there are a lot of options, and the Giants have the money to spend to improve their team. They have to be willing to take a risk in order to improve the team. If there is no risk, there is no reward.

Expectations will be high in 2015, as the Giants’ young offensive players like Matt Duffy, Brandon Belt, and Joe Panik, as well as veteran like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence will likely improve, and will give the team the kind of lineup that could make a lot of noise in the National League West. The pitching has to be able to support that lineup.

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