The San Francisco Giants approached baseball's recent Winter Meetings with a few goals in mind: re-sign Angel Pagan, re-sign Marco Scutaro, and try not to blow up the budget in the process.
Check, check, and check.
After signing Pagan to a four-year, $40-million deal and Scutaro to a three-year, $20-million deal, the Giants have finished most of their offseason heavy lifting. Aside from a few spots, nearly all of the roster is already set. The championship team of 2012 will return in 2013 largely intact, but will that be enough to propel the Giants to the postseason yet again? Is the roster strong enough as is to sustain another World Series run, or should the Giants have tried to upgrade certain positions?
The answer isn't cut and dry. While it's tempting to say the Giants should try to add a big bat like Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher to the middle of the lineup, it's important to remember the team operates under self-imposed budget restraints. They didn't want to significantly raise payroll, so higher priced free agents were never a realistic possibility. The Giants will likely add another hitter or two, but they won't be impact bats; instead, they'll shop for part-time players and bench help.
The biggest question mark remains left field where San Francisco seems committed to giving Gregor Blanco the lion's share of starts. While Blanco had his moments at the plate in '12, he's never shown enough consistency as a hitter to warrant an everyday job in the majors. The Giants, though, aren't going with Blanco because of his bat but rather his speed and defensive ability, which were on full display in the '12 postseason. The Giants' recipe for success in their last two championship seasons has been pitching, defense, and just enough hitting, and Blanco is the best defensive outfielder on the team. The concerns about his hitting are justified and it remains to be seen whether or not he'll be able to hold the job all season, but there are no questions about what Blanco brings to the team defensively.
And if Blanco struggles at the plate, the Giants may be counting on progression from three of their other hitters to cover for him: Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. Pence was a big disappointment with the bat, managing a .219/.287/.384 batting line with the Giants. He's shown himself to be a much better hitter throughout his career than those ugly numbers would suggest, and the Giants have to think he'll make the necessary adjustments to return to form. As for Belt and Crawford, they managed to adjust to major-league pitching after some initial struggles and should continue to get better as hitters. Belt especially will be counted on to be a middle of the order presence and pick up some of the slack left by the offensive void in left field.
The pitching staff, which has been the team's catalyst, also returns with roughly the same cast as last year. There were no holes to fill in the starting rotation, so the Giants didn't have to worry about committing any money there. They managed to re-sign Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year deal, bringing back an important bullpen piece. Brian Wilson remains unsigned but the Giants did just find without him last season, and Sergio Romo looked strong closing games in the playoffs and World Series. The Giants would probably like to sign another strong bullpen arm, but don't expect it to be a high-priced add. They'll likely search the bargain bin instead of committing money and years to some of the higher priced relievers.
So with basically the same team returning in 2013, have the Giants done enough? It's tempting to look back at the 2010 offseason when the Giants did largely the same thing, returning many of the same players that helped them win the World Series while adding minimal free agents. That led to a flawed 2011 team that likely would've missed the playoffs even if Buster Posey hadn't been injured. Are the Giants tempting fate by following the same plan this offseason?
I'm going to say no, tentatively. This is a different type of team than the 2010 version: they're younger, more athletic, and play a different kind of baseball. While many of the guys from '10 were in the twilight of their careers, this version of the Giants has a number of players who are either in their prime or just about to enter their prime. This is still a good team that didn't need a major overhaul to begin with, and while another bat in the middle of the lineup would've been nice, it wasn't an absolute necessity.
There's still plenty of time in the offseason to make a move, but chances are the roster today won't be much different than the roster that takes the field in April -- and that's okay. As it stands now, the 2013 Giants should be contenders again.
But still, if they'd like to go sign a power-hitting corner outfielder, I'm not going to complain.Dave Tobener has been a Giants fan longer than he's actually been alive...it's science. You can find him on Twitter @gggiants or his Giants blog www.GoldenGateGiants.com.