Winter Report Card: San Francisco Giants
With little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013.
San Francisco Giants
2013 results: 76-86 (.469), 4th place in NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Chad Gaudin*, LHP Jose Mijares*, CF Andres Torres*, LHP Barry Zito* (* = free agent, still unsigned)
Key arrivals: RHP Tim Hudson, OF Mike Morse
The Giants were busier than the above would suggest this offseason. In addition to signing free agents Hudson and Morse, they re-signed right fielder Hunter Pence (on the final weekend of the regular season), starters Tim Lincecum (on the eve of the World Series) and Ryan Vogelsong, and lefty matchup reliever Javier Lopez. Of those six contracts, of which only Pence's exceeds three years, only Lincecum's seems problematic.
Lincecum's ERA and walk rate improved in 2013, but his strikeout rate hit a career low, as did his fastball velocity, and his park-adjusted ERA+ remained among the worst in the majors at 76 (fifth worst among qualified pitchers in 2013). Yet, the Giants agreed to pay him $35 million over the next two years, which stands as the third-richest pitching contract this offseason, behind Ricky Nolasco's $49 million over four years and Clayton Kershaw's record-breaking $215 million extension (that's with the top five pitchers on the market still unsigned, but still).
The Giants did far better in inking Tim Hudson for $23 million over the same two years. Hudson is 38, has seen his ERA rise each of the last three seasons, and is coming off a broken ankle that required surgery. However, he has only posted an ERA+ below average in a qualifying season once in 15 years and should benefit from the move to the Giants' pitching-friendly ballpark. The 36-year-old Vogelsong, meanwhile, returns for just one year and $5 million looking to rebound from a season in which he got off to a lousy start then lost nearly three months to a broken finger. That's a worthwhile gamble given his strong showing in the previous two seasons.
Re-signing Lopez, also 36, was an easy decision given his dominance over the last four seasons (154 ERA+, just four home runs allowed in 186 innings, and lefties hitting just .168/.236/.238 against him over that span), even at $13 million over three years. The five-year, $90 million extension given to Pence, covering his age-31 to -35 seasons, looks even better in the wake of the seven-year, $130 million deal given to Shin-Soo Choo, who is nearly a year older than Pence, and the $153 million over seven years for the fragile Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as the four-year, $60 million deal the Mets gave to Curtis Granderson, who turns 33 in March.
As for Morse, he's a nice right-handed slugging complement to slap-hitting lefty speedster Gregor Blanco (or even 27-year-old minor league slugger Roger Kieschnick, also a left-handed hitter) in left field. The Giants are taking a reasonable $6 million, one-year gamble on the chance of Morse, a career .281/.334/.473 hitter, rebounding from a down season and taking over the position full time.
Unfinished business: none
Looking ahead toward the offseason in September, the Giants' biggest needs were in the starting rotation and left field and, potentially, replacing their departing free agents. They solved the last by re-signing four of those men, solved left field with Morse, and solved the rotation by signing three starters.
Preliminary Grade: A-Even if two of the three starting pitchers the Giants signed this offseason are returning members of last year's rotation coming off awful years, Tim Hudson was a nice, low-cost addition, and San Francisco can reasonably expect improvements from his spot in the rotation as well as from Vogelsong and Matt Cain. The Giants may not have made many major upgrades, but they targeted their needs with precision, made small improvements in left and the rotation with greater upside in both cases, and, with the exception of Lincecum's two-year deal, didn't overspend anywhere. Plus, Pablo Sandoval is in the Best Shape of His Life.