There are a number of issues which many agree are high priorities. Clearly #1 is resigning Hunter Pence, which was leaked to be on the burner now for the Giants to get done with Pence before free agency starts. Also very important is what should the Giants do about the starting rotation with only two pitchers signed to a contract. In addition, something needs to be decided about LF.
Others appear not to be so clear, but I think the Giants need to address signing Belt to a long-term deal that covers at least his arbitration years and also how to keep Posey's health and strength deep into the season.
A big difference this year versus our championship years was that Posey has not hit like he had in those seasons, and while still good overall, he was not MVPosey like he was in 2012, or as good as he was in 2010 after he got the starting job. He has actually hit very poorly in the second half this season. Both championship years, he was paced to not get over exhausted, in 2010 because he was still getting used to the work load in the majors and the Giants were afraid that he couldn't handle more than 100 starts at catcher, in 2012 because he was still recovering from his devastating leg injury in 2011.
Part of the problem was that the guy who helped make 2012 possible, Hector Sanchez, was out injured or rehabbing in AAA for most of the 2013 season. Quoroz, who was the main backup, was not much of a hitter - not even close to what Sanchez is - and thus the Giants did not rest Posey as much. They also did not want to remove Belt's bat and replace it with Quoroz, it was a huge decline in offensive production.
Let's take a look at his usage to July 8th both seasons (ASB was after 8th in 2012). In 2012, the Giants rested Posey 9 games plus PH 3 games for a total of 12 games of rest (out of 86 games played to July 8th), but in 2013 the Giants rested Posey only 3 games plus PH 4 games for a total of 7 games (out of 88 games played to July 14th). Plus he started 13 games at 1B in 2012 but only 9 games as 1B in 2013, out of the games to July 8th.
I would note here that Belt being a better hitter in 2013 also made putting Posey at first base a greater imposition on the lineup, as that resulted in replacing Belt with Quoroz's bat, and that was probably a factor too in avoiding giving Posey a rest at catcher.
The final tally there is 12 games of rest and 13 starts at 1B in 2012 versus 7 games of rest and 9 starts at 1B in 2013. And that resulted in Posey starting in 58 games as catcher in 2012 versus 74 games as catcher in 2013, an extra 16 games as catcher in 2013. Posey clearly got more rest in 2012.
Sanchez has publicly said that he's going to rest this off-season and get himself into proper condition to be ready to play in the majors in 2014. In addition, it was playing in the Winter Leagues where he injured his shoulder, so resting should help with avoiding injury too. So he should be able to give Posey more rest at C in 2014. But that still leaves the 1B problem with removing Belt or forcing him to play in LF on the days Posey plays 1B.
Move Belt to LF for 2014
I think the Giants need to address this issue by planning out the future of Posey, and by extension, Belt. First off, I think they should move Belt to LF for the 2014 season and fill in at 1B with a free agent signing on the cheap, much like the Huff signing while giving Pill a chance to win 1B as well. Belt has clearly improved as a hitter this year and appears ready for his closeup, which I'll get to next. Having Pill and/or a free agent share 1B would make the imposition of Posey at 1B not as onerous (unless they both hit, in which case, the Giants could give Posey a full rest instead of a start at 1B rest). The dropoff, if any, from Pill/FA to Hanchez (since he would replace the 1B in the lineup when Posey moves to 1B) should be less than that of losing Belt.
Then starting in 2015, the Giants should probably be planning to move Posey to another base, probably 3B (floated here previously and by Bochy in a recent interview) where he would still be plus offensively and able to field decently (hopefully given his leg injury, but Bochy probably would not have put this out there unless the Giants have seriously thought about putting him there; he did play SS coming into college and was a reliever in college). But that, of course, requires a new starting catcher. By then hopefully Hanchez will be ready to take on the starting role, but also Andrew Susac, who did well in AA this season, both offensively and defensively, should have a full AAA season under his wing as well, and they could be battling for the starting role in spring into the regular season.
2015 is Wide Open Though
Where Belt goes in 2015 will depend on a lot of factors, unknowable now. If Sandoval hits well and resigns with the Giants, Posey at 3B would push him to 1B, leaving Belt in LF. If Pablo don't hit or leaves by free agency or is traded, then 1B could be available for Belt again. Though Villalona, who put in a good year in A-AA, would have a year in AAA under his belt as well and could be pushing for a starting job as soon as the end of next year if he's slugging greatly in hitter's league AAA. And then there is Duvall, who could be ready for his chance in the majors as well by 2015, and 1B could suit his talents as well (in this case, they might just stick with Posey at 1B and let Duvall play 3B).
Also, if one of the OF prospects come through in 2014, in particular, Brown, the Giants could move Belt back to 1B to open up a starting spot in the OF. There is also Williamson who had a nice year for us, plus all the other AAA prospects who have done enough in AAA to warrant a look in the majors but not enough that they couldn't be AAAA players. Or the Giants could be creative and trade away one of the older OF (Pagan would be starting his third year of his new contract, Pence second assuming he resigns) to open up a spot. Lots could happen to change things up.
In any case, we need Posey to be better than the .672 OPS hitter he has been in the second half of the season if we hope to both get into the playoffs as well as make hay in the playoffs. While his OBP was still above average - though still down for him - it was his SLG where he really wilted. It appears that we need to rest him more in order to keep him fresh later in the season.
Moving him off catching now, while that reduces the risk of him being injured (like he was recently getting a pitch knocking off one of his fingernails), first, we have no realistic replacement internally right now, second, to get a good replacement on the free agent market, it would cost a lot of money to get that player, and as a recent Baggerly article noted, the money saved from dropping Zito's contract has already been spent, so the money might not be there, third, acquiring such a catcher in a trade would probably be costly as well.
The time to deal with moving Posey off catching was last season, after his injury, not now. We just need to roll the dice with him catching and wish for the best, just like we did last season and this season. Plus, he has not really dealt with much injury in 2012-13 either, it is lack of rest that brought him down, for the most part, it appears. If Hanchez is back, and particularly if we move Belt to LF for 2014, that problem should be solved.
Belt Long-Term Deal
I think that everyone can agree that it's a nice thing to sign him long term, but is it a priority? I believe so.
Even if you want to dismiss his hot hitting late in the season, when there is nothing on the line, from April 16 to July 21, over three full months, Belt hit .289/.364/.490/.854 over that period, and that was when we needed the hitting because Pagan was out, Blanco up and down, Scutaro was battling finger and back injuries, Crawford was battling his finger injury, and Sandoval was battling a variety of injuries. That was half our lineup and three of our top five hitters. I saw one comment that teams get over injuries, and that is just not true when you are missing three of your top hitters (and arguably, Crawford was one of our better hitters when the injury affected him). As it was, he was one of our top hitters during that period. He has also hit a lot better with RISP, .926 OPS vs. .828 with the bases empty, this season.
Belt is now hitting around Pence's OPS range when he was entering arb too and Pence is being paid what I think is a rich $13.8M this season for what he had been doing previously. I think we should be able to sign Belt to a deal similar to Sandoval, who actually hit a lot better than Belt has up to that point, so with some inflation, his contract I think is where Belt's long-term deal should be.
Panda's deal only covered his arb years, but compared to Pence's deal, that would save the Giants $3.7M the first regular arb year, $4.7M the second, and $5.55M the third. That's roughly $14M. Pence also got $3.5M in his super-two arb year, so I think the Giants could save at least $1M there, for a total of $15M in savings relative to what Pence got.
That's the minimum savings, $15M.
What if Belt's season's end of over 1.000 OPS is his new level of play? He's going to get a heck of a lot more than what Pence got, he'll be getting into Votto and Howard territory. And perhaps that is where some might disagree with me, on what Belt will be in the future.
I think Belt is pretty close to reaching that level, he has mostly hit well all season long this season, except for two weeks in early April and two weeks in late July. He's been on fire since changing his grip, and it would surprise me if the changes someone noticed recently wasn't accurate, his HR power has actually not been that consistent during this hot stretch, so it would not surprise me if he's trying to keep the hot hitting while figuring how to bring back the huge HR power he has.
If he reaches Votto/Howard standards, a long-term contract now would be an even larger savings than the $15M vs. Pence.
Still, even if the others are right and he's at best an average player, he's still been a good hitter even while struggling to figure out hitting in the majors. A long term deal typically factors in the possibility that he'll just be average while acknowledging that he'll probably be better than average. If we can get him for something in the $10M+ range for his free agent years, that's a good deal for us even if he is average (average = $10M salary).
Given how impacted the Giants budget has been plus the urgency due to the Dodger's spending largesse, the Giants must account not only for 2014 issues but long term budgetary issues as well this offseason, or find that we would need to cut out necessary personnel simply because of lack of budget (like when we had to trade Rus Ortiz to clear salary). Not dealing with it this off=season only introduces a potential landmine that could blow up the budget in future seasons.
Getting Belt signed to a deal like Pablo's 3 year, $17.15M (probably more like 4 years, $18-19M) is an priority this season simply because of the money we could save just during his arb years (remember, Pence is getting paid $13.8M just for this season). It don't matter that we control him if his salary costs rise so much later that we need to jettison other people, particularly since it could have been taken care of now for much less cost.
Lastly, just looking at it from a saber perspective, it makes a lot of sense. His WAR was 2.3 last season and around 4 this season (probably north of). That's roughly $12M and $20M of production respectively in market value, with the expectation that 2014 should be an improvement over 2013. Yes, he could turn out to be an up and down guy like Pablo, but Pablo's contract has still be a deal where he produced more than he was paid. And again, contrast that with Pence's salaries. And Pablo's contract (even without inflation of maybe 10-20%) is probably in the ballpark given that Sandoval was producing at a roughly 5 WAR seasonal pace when he got the contract, much higher than what Belt has produced.
All in all, getting Belt signed to a long term deal - at minimum like Sandoval's deal, but I would like to see options covering his free agent years as well, and, just looking it over, something like Bumgarner's deal (5 year, $35M) I would not be adverse to, Belt is a good athlete, and likely to play well into his 30's - is a key priority. That would buy out his first year of free agency while giving us options on two more years, covering him to age 30 and giving us options on age 31 and 32. But just getting him signed to a deal like Sandoval would still provide long-term benefits for the budget. Long term cost control is a priority given the Dodger's spending like the Yankees, and particularly because Belt looks poised to really rake in the money going forward.
Signing Pence Long-Term
Technically, if the Giants do sign him before the free agency period starts, this move could technically be considered an in-season move, not off-season, but that would be quibbling. In any case, I think he showed his value last season both during the season and during the playoffs, and made his case rather loudly in recent days, though throughout most of this season really.
My only fear is that his representation will want a lot more. These are the same guys who have guided Lincecum through his contracts with the Giants. Pence, while a good hitter, is not the hitter teams have paid for the past three seasons - his arb awards basically put him at a $17.5M market value player. I don't think that is his true value, I think it is close to the $13.8M he is making this year. But he will want a raise of some sort.
I would be OK with a 4-5 year deal for up to $15M per. Pagan and Bourn set the bar with his 4 year deal last season, so Pence is getting at least that. Maybe the extra year could be an option that vests if he plays in 150 games in his last season of the contract.
Above that, I would grin and bear it depending on the final results of all the signings. I thought Bonds' deal was too long and too large and very risky, but that the way the game is played today, you have to make the call and sign up guys to such long deals. The Giants clearly cannot regress from the offense they currently have and losing him would be a clear regression, as we would not have a replacement plus getting a similar replacement would be hard to execute as there are not that many on the market, with Choo probably the closest but probably most hotly pursued as well, and probably would cost more money to boot. Better the devil you know, as the saying goes.
On top of that, the Giants fanbase is already upset about the offense and losing a big gun like his would only feed into that perception. So he must be signed and yet hopefully for not a crazy amount. One can only hope.
This is clearly a big concern because we only have two pitchers signed there: Cain and Bumgarner. But what a pair! And after not pitching like himself for over a year since his Perfecto (DOM in 40's which is good but not great), Cain has run off a string of 7 DOM (and 5 PQS to boot) out of 8 starts, with no DIS start. And Bumgarner has already reached such heights. They will be a pair to behold next season, probably even better than Lincecum/Cain because Cain was still not the stud he is today. Still, the Giants has clearly had an M.O. in winning their two championships, and that is pitching, pitching, pitching.
I think we are going to be fine in 2014.
Gaudin we should be able to sign to a deal much like Vogelsong's, I can't imagine him wanting to leave, though you never know, and that would put a big crimp in my plans. He had a 58% DOM this season, which is as good as the Giants rotation has been in prior years, even with Zito in there bringing down the average. I think he would be fine in the 4/5 slot.
Vogelsong I would just pick up his contract option for $6.5M. If we dicker with him to get a lower salary, due to his troubles this season, he could just bolt or be bothered by that penny-ante move. He more than earned his full contract value with what he did in 2011 and 2012. I would cut him some slack.
His poor pitching in his last three starts does give me some pause, but his 3 DOM starts out of 4 that he did after returning is what I chose to focus on. You can't luck into DOM starts, but you can do poorly if some other factors are bothering you. That is what I think is happening with him. Even if he is done as a starter, he could then be put into bullpen as the long relief guy or even a setup spot, he has the gravitas to handle either, even his poor starts in recent games, he did well for 3-4 innings before imploding. We can still wring value out of him should he not be able to start. And I think Petit would be fine in replacing him and pitching in a 4/5 slot with Gaudin.
The issue is #3. I still think that Lincecum can be a fine middle rotation guy. He's been making adjustments - like finally studying hitters before games with Posey and improving his stamina in the off-season - and if it were my druthers, I would rather sign him to a 1-2 year deal for QO (roughly $14M estimate I've been seeing around) and be there to find out whether he comes out of his cocoon as a reborn pitcher or if he's ready to be a reliever. Either way, his great performances for us previously has earned him that in my eyes, and Petit would be a fine replacement if Lincecum proves to be a reliever.
However, if his agents want more than that, and another team is willing to give him that, good for him, I'm OK with moving on.
If we are without him, whether due to signing elsewhere or poor performance, I think we'll be fine in 2014 as I see this being a lot like 2010. Instead of Lincecum/Cain up top, we have Bumgarner/Cain. That's a push at minimum, but Bumgarner had a lull again in August, else he would have had a monster 90%+ DOM season, and if he can avoid that next year...
Now, I know people have a problem with Vogelsong/Gaudin, but remember that in 2010, the next pair was Sanchez/Zito. I think that Vogelsong/Gaudin can do as well, if not better than Sanchez/Zito. I think those quartets are comparable because of how inconsistent both Sanchez and Zito were as starters.
Lastly, we had Wellemeyer in the #5 spot. In 2014, that could be Lincecum, who should be better, but I think Petit could be better too. Then there is Surkamp and Kickham up next, plus Escobar or Crick could be ready by mid-season, much like Bumgarner was ready by mid-season. In addition to the latest reclamation project that the Giants take on for 2014 (the Giants seems to have turned things up here a notch or two after Barr came in and, perhaps, freed Tidrow to do more assessment of fringe pitchers who might benefit from the Giants coaching; not that there were not finds before, but it seems improved to me). And, with the surplus of plus arms we have in the farm system, should Sabean needs to spring for a pitching improvement mid-season, we should have the ammo to get somebody OK enough to hold a mid-rotation spot for us, similar to how the Dodgers picked up Nolasco this season.
As a result, I think we are fine with our starting rotation situation assuming we sign Gaudin and keep Petit (not sure of his status) plus pick up Vogelsong's option, no matter what happens with Lincecum. I would prefer re-signing Lincecum, but would be OK with moving on as well.
People want to upgrade the lineup by resigning Pence and getting a good hitter in LF, replacing Blanco and Torres. I don't think that the Giants need another hitter, they have plenty of hitters, they need to stay healthy enough. As noted above, half the lineup suffered injuries and were either out or unproductive for a long time.
Of course, as I noted above, I would prefer to move Belt to LF for 2014, leaving 1B as the spot that we could get a free agent addition. I don't really like any of the options at 1B, Napoli is probably the best option there, and the options for LF, really boils down to two guys who are going to get a boatload of money, which is something the Giants don't really have to give unless the budget goes up by a lot.
OK, looking at Napoli, he could be a nice option to have at 1B. He didn't play catcher at all in 2013, but last did it in 2012, meaning to me that while he is defensively not that great there, he should be OK in a pinch. Particularly since his defensive metrics prior to that was around average (i.e. 0.0). He will only be 32 YO next season. And he was only signed to a $5M contract by Boston last season and since he hit around the same as he did in 2012, probably will get something like that for 2014. And looking at his stats, though hitting at good hitter's home parks for some of his years, he's always had hit better on the road, really well.
So, if we were to get someone, I would want to get Napoli to play 1B, with Belt moved to LF. Napoli could take some of the starts at C as well, maybe giving Posey even more starts at 1B. And at around $5M, I don't think he'll break the budget, even if we gave him a 2-3 year contract. We could even possibly just keep Hanchez in AAA next season and have him both work on being capable of being starting MLB catcher, while he also competes with Susac in AAA who is also trying to snag that role too as well.
But otherwise, I don't think much needs to be done and I would be fine with keeping the current lineup virtually intact, with the only tweak being Belt in LF and some sort of arrangement at 1B, most probably including Pill or perhaps a cheapo 1B FA signing, like Huff in 2010. I think Pill and/or FA at 1B should outhhit what Blanco/Torres did in LF (.259/.316/.335/.651) and Pagan would improve on what we got from CF this season (.250/.315/.336/.651).
The argument for improving the offense is the offensive blackout that happened in the middle of the season. That, I think, is the result of injuries to Pagan, Scutaro, Crawford, and Sandoval, and the lingering effects of those injuries that lasted for a couple of months.
Some have also pointed out the pitching as a factor, but while the pitching has been inconsistent this season, they were not that bad. The pitching had ERA's by month of 3.62 in April, then 4.59, 3.86, 4.43, 4.09 and 3.21 so far this month. They were good to middling for the most part, and certainly were not to blame for the horrific losing in June and July. It was the offense for sure, I believe.
The offense started off with 4.51 until Pagan's injury. That's not quite the 4.97 they had in Sept 2012, but Posey wasn't hitting for much either, nor Pagan and the Giants still averaged 4.51 runs scored. Then came the succession of injuries, Pagan, Scutaro, Crawford, Sandoval. And while the latter three has played much of the season, as noted, all of them had suffered long periods of poor hitting in the recovery from the injuries. Plus there was the Hanchez injury that hung over the season (see Posey above) and Pagan's injury forcing more usage of Blanco and Torres than ideal.
That was reason why the Giants lost so many games in those two months. They averaged only 3.33 RS from Pagan's injury to end of June, 3.12 RS in July, even worse, and still only 3.34 in August. That is what killed our season. The pitching was average to good at times. It was this poor offense that killed our playoff chances.
So all the losses were from the offense mostly, the pitching while up and down, we would have had winning records most months scoring 4.5 runs per game. Even a 4.0 RS average would have probably kept us near .500 at least.
Some have also pointed out the defense as a problem area. And the defense has really hurt them mostly in the early season, in terms of errors and unearned runs, when they had 13 unearned runs in April and 11 in May, it has been single digits since. Otherwise, their defensive metrics are pretty much average. Their Defensive Efficiency, while below average, is not close to the bottom of the league either. And their advanced defensive metrics basically place them at average defensively, not gaining much but not losing much either, overall.
No, it was clearly the offense that caused that black hole of losing in June and July that sunk our season - I know, no brainer, but some pointed out other avenues and I felt I should address them. And it was all those injuries that killed the offense, plus the fact that Posey never ignited his hitting, as he had in previous years in the June/July period and kept going for the season. Look at the results month by month, see how many names were either injured players (or recovering) or players getting starts because a starter was injured or needed rest.
In June, these players scuffled:
- Torres: .259/.305/.353/.658 (23 starts)
- Hanchez: .294/.333/.294/.627
- Crawford: .238/.286/.262/.548
- Sandoval: .194/.237/.194/.431 (only 10 starts)
- Quiroz: .200/.200/.200/.400 (4 starts)
- Francouer: .179/.200/.205/.405 (9 starts)
- Blanco: .169/.270/.208/.477 (17 starts)
- Quiroz: .188/.229/.313/.541 (7 starts)
- Tanaka: .267/.353/.267/.620 (7 starts)
- Abreu: .205/.238/.308/.546 (6 starts)
- Torres: .208/.283/.283/.566 (14 starts)
- Posey: .265/.319/.398/.716
- Sandoval: .272/.346/.424/.770 (was the highest hitting regular for month! No wonder the month sucked offensively!)
- Torres: .207/.258/.207/.465 (6 starts)
- Francoeur: .217/.217/.261/.478 (6 starts)
- Kieschnick: .206/.299/.235/.534 (19 starts)
- Scutaro: .229/.286/.281/.507
- Crawford: .224/.269/.357/.626
- Blanco: .226/.309/.321/.630
- Posey: .284/.353/.318/.671 (barely any power)
- Sandoval: .255/.336/.347/.683
The injuries list is reflected in these lists by either the name of the injured player coming back to hit poorly or by names of players forced into action because of the injured player being out still. I think it is pretty clear that the offense sunk because of all the injuries that affected half the lineup for 2-4 months of the season. The dominoes fell big time here.
I think 2014 can be an improvement over that. Pagan should be healthy for the most part. I see him being a Durham type who plays most games but miss significant number of games. That would be a great improvement at leadoff over the poor results from Pagan and Blanco in that spot until Pagan returned healthy. I think Scutaro will be around his career numbers - he actually is around it even this season of injuries, very high OBP, so I don't see why he can't next season, he has a good bat.
Belt looks like he's gripping the #3 spot and will hold onto it next season. I think he can only get better, I don't expect a regression since what he did this year was not built on spotty performances, he had just two really bad spells, first couple of weeks, then a couple weeks in late July, but otherwise he has been one of our best hitters, he saved the season from being even worse and was one of the bright spots among the blight we experienced with the offense this season.
Posey should be better in cleanup, he hit well in the first half but his stamina petered out after June. This should be fixed next season, with Hanchez back, and particularly if they go for the Napoli signing and part-time catcher duties plan. That should give Posey a lot more rest and start the process of transitioning him to another position in 2015.
Pence will be batting 5th and he is what he is, a hitter who has no idea what's going on at the plate, but just has the gift: go up, swing hard, good things happen. That gets him to 20-25 homers per season and around 100 RBIs and both are good.
Sandoval would be 6th, and he is perfect for that spot now due to the inconsistencies of his performances (mostly due to injuries related to his poor conditioning, which he says he will fix this off-season and, while he didn't note it, it's his free agent season). The average 6th place hitter hit .245/.307/.395/.702 in the NL in 2013, so he does not have to do much nor his replacement when he is out, but if he's healthy and Panda-like, he should be driving in Belt, Posey, Pence regularly in 2014 and be a great boost over 2013, where he is only batting .273/.333/.407/.741, good for 6th if he duplicates that, at worse (hopefully).
That leaves Pill/Napoli and Crawford for 7/8. I would expect Bochy to continue to bat Crawford 8th until Scutaro is not capable anymore of getting on base. So not for a while, given how Marco controls the strike zone so well. But Crawford is used to it too, so hopefully can last another season there, he did do well in the #2 spot this season, and maybe can move there in 2015. Napoli/Pill/Hanchez would be great batting 7th, where the average hitter bats .250/.307/.382/.689, they should be capable of doing that and playing good enough defense at 1B.
The biggest injury possible scenario would be Sandoval getting injured again and scuffling. At this point, that's just what is. At that point, if the Giants did sign Napoli, they could move up the schedule of Posey playing 3B and have Napoli and Hanchez share catching duties. This could allow the Giants to leave Sandoval longer in the minors to rehab his bat, instead of rushing him back. It seems to take him two weeks to recalibrate his bat to pro pitching and kick in his power.
Depending on when in the season it happens, but seemingly mid-season every season, Duvall could be ready to at least get a taste of MLB pitching, as he should be in AAA playing 3B next season. Not as likely because all reports are of how large he is, but Villalona hit well enough in AA this season, and might advance to AAA, and he had claimed to continued to take BP at 3B to keep his skills up, as he hoped to play 3B in the majors.
Any injury in the OF would be covered by Blanco, perhaps in a platoon in LF with Pill, though if Pagan again, the Giants might call up a CF candidate to platoon with him. Behind him, we have a whole raft of OF prospects who show some degree of prospectability - Kieschnick, Peguero, Perez, Brown - and maybe one of them might separate themselves next season.
For middle infield, we have Ehire Adrianza whose age is finally catching up with the leagues he's playing in, and starting to show the bat command he showed in his first season when he was in a more age appropriate league where he had more of a fighting chance. He had a nice season in AAA and held his own in limited play so far in the majors. (Lots of exciting developments among the hitting prospects, him, Villalona, Duvall, Susac, Williamson, Arroyo). Then there is also Panik, who I expect to get promoted to AAA and should do better since AA is such a pitcher's league (for example, Adrianza was struggling there this season, but when promoted to AAA, started hitting well).
At catching, Hanchez is the first option there unless Napoli is signed. He probably could handle the starting chores OK enough, I think, but obviously we take a big hit versus Posey's bat. But any team losing their clean-up hitter will be up against that particular 8-ball. Also, Susac should be promoted to AAA for 2014 after doing well offensively and defensively in AA this season. He could be ready for testing in the majors by mid-season.
I think the Giants should be in great fighting shape for battling for a playoff spot in 2014. Pitching should be greatly improved, particularly with Cain looking like he's returning to his pre-Perfect Game performance level, he and Bumgarner would form one of the deadliest pairs of co-ace starters the game has seen, up there with the Koufax-Drysdale pairing or Braves Spahn and Sain then pray for rain (obviously they are not on par with the two Hall of Fame pairings, yet, but trying to show what type of impact they could have in today's game relative to other teams).
After that, as 2010 showed, we can take some inconsistency there in the rest of the rotation and still win. I think it is likely that we will have Vogelsong, Gaudin, and Petit fighting for spots. The loser might get the long relief role or even just a relief role. You also have Kickham, Surkamp, and perhaps even Escobar fighting for a rotation spot, he did great in AA this season, almost seemlessly rising from Advanced A and pitching exactly the same without skipping a step. Escobar is probably playing the Bumgarner role this season. Plus we might even sign Lincecum (with the owner dying, you might find the new owner wanting to make a big splash by going all in by signing Lincecum, so I'm not as sure we will sign him now, unless he really tanks in his last two starts and basically force him to accept the QO from the Giants as he won't get a higher offer).
The bullpen should be improved because I expect Hembree to force his way in and help shore up the set-up situation which has suffered from Romo getting promoted to closer. Romo, Casilla, Affeldt (also injured, also one of the WBC participants to suffer an injury), Lopez (assuming he signs with us), Hembree would be a strong core of five. Then you got Kontos (I expect a rebound year from him), Mijares, Rosario, Dunning, Kickham, maybe Bochy Jr or Law, fighting for that 6th spot. Then in the long-relief spot, I think Moscoso probably keeps that but could lose it to Petit, who might instead snag the 6th spot if he don't grab the long-relief, I don't think he needs more AAA seasoning. And you never know who the Giants will bring in to win a spot.
As I noted above, I think the offense should be improved enough to enable the team to win. As I tried to show, the starting pitching should be more like 2010 than 2013. The offense in early and late 2013 season scored roughly 4.5 runs on average. That would win a lot of games with 2010 type pitching.
As much as the scoring now is based on Pence's and Belt's hot hitting, so was the scoring in April and May based on someone's hot hitting, or in August and September last season. That's the ups and downs of a regular baseball season. If the players we have can just hit what their career numbers suggests, we have a good offense, as most of them are better than the average for their batting lineup position in NL:
- Pagan: .281/.334/.415/.749 (3 years) vs. .267/.334/.388/.722
- Scutaro: .294/.347/.395/.742 (4 years) vs. .263/.318/.393/.711
- Belt: .289/.361/.478/.839 (2013) vs. .279/.361/.461/.822
- Posey: .300/.374/.462/.836 (2013) vs. .275/.342/.455/.796
- Pence: .280/.336/.465/.800 (2008-12) vs. .261/.325/.418/.743
- Sandoval: .268/.323/.409/.732 (2010) vs. .250/.307/.295/.702
- Pill: .236/.277/.408/.685 (career) or .262/.288/.448/.736 (starter) vs. .250/.307/.382/.689
- Crawford: .244/.307/.351/.658 (career) vs. .239/.304/.350/.654 (.692 OPS this season)
And there are areas of probable improvements over the scenario above. Belt, I think will hit much better, though how much better, who knows. Posey should hit better than he did in 2013. Pence probably hits around the same, but numerous players have noted that it took them a year to figure out how to hit in AT&T, and Pence took off recently after about a year in the park, so he might provide some improvement. Sandoval when he got himself in shape hit .315/.357/.552/.909 in 2011. That would boost the offense up to 4.65 RS. Pill, who knows, but if they get Napoli, he has a .858 career OPS, that would push up the team's RS 0.17 runs. Lastly, Crawford has made some improvement each year, so I would think he would hit at least the .256/.318/.374/.692 that he hit this season. So at the high end, the offense could average almost 5 runs per game.
If the pitching can get back to the 3.8 RA range (they were at 3.6 RA in 2010; currently at 4.27 RA) and score 4.43, that's a 92 win season. At 4.0 RA, that's still 88 wins. Obviously, if the offense is better or the pitching better, that adds more wins. Plus, on top of that, Bochy has regularly added 4 extra wins per season in 1-run games, on average, during this managerial career.
Thus, I think the Giants don't need to go out and get improved offense to get back into the playoffs. They just need to stay mostly healthy, and hitters hitting their potential will help to make up for any losses due to injury, I think, as long as you don't lose half the lineup again. Obviously, getting someone like Napoli would greatly help, and at a relatively low cost (though I don't know how easy it will be to get him, Boston probably don't want to let him go, but the Giants offering him a transition plan to allow him to play significant time at catcher might get him to move). And the pitching, while not ideal, neither was their 2010 version and they were able to win with that.