The San Francisco Giants had won two of the last three World Series titles going into 2013, and they might very well have had a shot at a three-peat if Buster Posey hadn’t gotten injured in 2011. Things came crashing down last season. Center fielder Angel Pagan was injured in late May and the club just didn’t have the depth to recover. After the Pagan injury, the Giants went into a tailspin.
By season’s end, the Giants were 76-86, 16 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. They finished 18th in the overall standings, 21st in runs scored, and 19th in runs allowed. As general manager Brian Sabean said after the season, the window had slammed shut on the Giants.
They entered the offseason clearly needing to improve a team that had become mediocre at best. Did they do enough this winter to get back into contention?
On paper, it’s hard to make the case that the Giants have done enough. The Dodgers, Washington Nationals, and St. Louis Cardinals appear to be the class of the National League. The Giants seem stuck somewhere in the next tier with the rest of the National League. They look worse than the Dodgers, and it’s hard to see how they’re better than Arizona, San Diego, or Colorado. The Giants finished two games ahead of Colorado, dead-even with San Diego, and five games behind Arizona last year. What did they do this winter to move the needle?
Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles recently wrote:
So I resolve to hate more Giants moves and transactions. Only if they deserve it, of course… It’s okay to be critical again. It probably was the whole time, but I got soft. Look at me, my griping abs are all mushy. My complaining jowls are jiggly. My unfettered rage is saggy and gross-looking…I don’t think it will be particularly difficult to get there if the Vogelsong/Lincecum deals backfire. Because those are deals I was okay with, and they cost the Giants opportunities to get different, possibly preferable players. If those don’t pan out, it’s not going to be hard to get grumbly again.
If the Giants aren’t good again in 2014, then they obviously wouldn’t have done enough this winter. However, that type of hind-sight analysis isn’t very useful. The season doesn’t start until April, and the Giants winter shopping appears finished. So the bottom-line question is did Sabean do enough?
Sabean re-signed Hunter Pence to a five-year, $90 million deal, which made sense because it wouldn’t have been ideal for a team that struggled offensively to lose one of its best offensive players. He re-signed Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract, which was more arguable given Lincecum’s struggles as a starter over the last two seasons. After adding Tim Hudson via free agency, Sabean re-signed Ryan Vogelsong to a one-year, $5 million deal after turning down a $6.5 million option on Vogey earlier in the winter. In the end, four-fifths of a rotation that finished with the third-worst rotation ERA in the National League was coming back.
Sabean’s other moves were to re-sign left-handed specialist Javier Lopez and acquire new left fielder Michael Morse on a one-year, $6 million contract. If healthy, Morse should provide more offense than incumbent starter Gregor Blanco, but he’ll weaken a defense that finished 19th in defensive efficiency last season.
It’s hard for me to look at the sum of those moves and conclude that the Giants did enough to make up 16 games on the Dodgers or at least get back in the Wild Card race. When you’ve had a taste of two championships in three seasons, running it back with virtually the same team that just went 76-86 doesn’t seem good enough.
Then again, when Sabean acquired Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan to augment a terrible lineup after the 2011 season, I didn’t think he did enough that winter. Cabrera, Pagan, and a healthy Posey carried the Giants to another World Series despite my offseason griping.
When Pagan went down last year, the Giants were 27-22. They went 17-12 after he returned on August 30. Perhaps Sabean decided that the window hadn’t really shut—that if the club could keep Pagan healthy, replace Zito in the rotation with someone better like Hudson, get more offense in left field, get Pablo Sandoval in shape, and get bounce-back years from Lincecum and Vogelsong, they could compete again.
Maybe that logic is correct. However, counting on fully healthy and effective seasons from so many question marks is risky business. When you’ve won as much as the Giants have recently, you’d like to go into the season with more perceived certainty—even if just about everything in baseball is unpredictable and unknowable.
In the end, the Giants should have done more this winter. On paper, it doesn’t appear that they did enough. In September, this column could force me to eat crow. Still, a lot will have to go right for the Giants in 2014 to make this past winter a success for Sabean.