Editor's note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the San Francisco Giants.
2013 record: 76-86
Finish: Tied for third place, NL West
2013 final payroll: $141.3 million (7th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $157.8 million (7th of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason rank: 16th
Giants in six words: With Posey, all things are possible
The Giants seem to have done that rare thing where you go to the grocery store with two things on your shopping list and leave the store with those two things. They didn’t get wooed by a fancy new flavor of chips. They didn’t throw in a candy bar at the last minute while waiting in line. Unless you count that minor-league contract they gave Dontrelle Willis.
The Giants needed to help their starting pitching and they needed a powerful boost for the outfield. They got those two things – they’re hoping, at least – in Tim Hudson and Mike Morse.
Terribly exciting? Not exactly. But the Giants aren’t a team in need of revising the entire franchise. They’re a team needing to plug some holes because many of the pieces that helped win a World Series in 2012 are still there.
[Also: No. 17 Indians: Playoff repeat seems like a long shot ]
Both additions come with risk. Hudson, 38, is coming off a season that ended early when he fractured his ankle covering first base. Still, he’s had a remarkably consistent career, still keeping his ERA under 4.00 as his age crept up. He was at 3.97 last year, up from 3.22 in 2011. The Giants aren’t expecting Hudson to be their ace. At best, he’s their third starter behind Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain if Tim Lincecum continues to digress.
Meanwhile, Morse only hit .215 in an injury-plagued season with the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles. He’s 31 and nicknamed "The Beast" because he’s 6-foot-5 and he can hit baseballs very far. In 2011, Morse hit .303/.360/.550 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs. So the potential is there for him to be dangerous, he’s just not arriving with a lot of recent success.
If the Giants have seemed quiet since December, it’s because they did a lot of their offseason work early, and most of it was re-signing players they already had. Hunter Pence agreed to a five-year, $90 million extension on the last weekend of the season, a deal that seems great for the Giants considering the money that was thrown at Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason.
Along with perennial MVP candidate Buster Posey and the improving Brandon Belt (4.4 WAR last season), Pence should keep the middle of the Giants lineup solid. Even more so if slimmed-down third baseman Pablo Sandoval steps it up in his contract year.
San Francisco also re-upped with former Cy Young winner Lincecum for two years and $35 million. It’s riskier than the Pence deal, considering Lincecum’s decline. In fact, it’s surprising he stayed in San Francisco because many expected him to leave. Lincecum looked better at some points in 2013. He threw a no-hitter, after all. But his strikeouts and velocity were still down, and he’s clearly not the ace he once was. The Giants only need Lincecum to be a third or fourth starter (anything better is a bonus), but they’re paying him like he’s an ace.
The Giants extended lefty relief pitcher Javier Lopez (1.83 ERA in 69 games last season), who has been a solid bullpen component for them the past four seasons. They’ll pay him $13 million for three more seasons. The Giants also gave another year and $5 million to No. 5 starter Ryan Vogelsong, who like many Giants was great in 2012 but had a rough 2013.
Looking outside the franchise, the Giants grabbed one more pitcher, David Huff, in a trade last week with the New York Yankees. He had a 4.67 ERA last season in 11 games, two of which were starts. The Yankees designated Huff for assignment after they signed Masahiro Tanaka. The Giants only swapped “cash considerations.”
There’s about as much risk there as there is with Willis, the ex-Cy Young runner-up, World Series champ and Rookie of the Year. Should he rekindle some magic in the Bay Area and his minor-league deal sends him back to the big leagues? Wonderful. After last season, the Giants could use some good fortune.
We can look at the Giants on paper and think they’ve got a good shot to win again this season. Of course, we said the same last year before their season as reigning champs turned into a disaster of injuries and underwhelming performances.
The pitching staff – long considered the Giants’ strength – posted a 4.00 ERA in 2013. That’s with Bumgarner’s 2.77 ERA. This year’s Giants are essentially hoping that Lincecum and Vogelsong get it together, and Hudson is much better than the now-departed Barry Zito. That last part is a good bet. The first two? Totally up in the air.
Even with Morse, the Giants need help in the outfield. Given Morse’s history – lots of injuries and only 88 games last season – it’s hard to expect he’ll repeat his career year of 2011 just because it’s the best possible scenario for his new team. Most likely, he’s a platoon player who hits 15 homers.
While Pence is solid in right field, center fielder Angel Pagan needs to stay healthy and return to 2012 form. He’s not a high-ceiling player to begin with, more of a spark plug, so getting the most out of Pagan is crucial.
Really, that’s the case for all the Giants. They didn’t win two World Series in the past three seasons because they were the team with the most raw talent. They had wonderful pitching, a couple of great hitters (hi, Buster Posey) and a number of guys who they squeezed the best out of.
While the Giants try to figure out how to avoid another 2013, the rest of the NL West is getting better. The Los Angeles Dodgers, of course, are willing to spend any amount of money to win. The San Diego Padres are being pegged as a sleeper team, and the Arizona Diamondbacks have improved after their surprising second place finish in 2013.
Can Hudson, Morse, a skinnier Sandoval and a hopefully better Lincecum turn a team that was 10 games under .500 into a winner again? Seems like a lot to ask. But then again, the Giants have been counted out before and reached the peak of the game.
There’s no mega prospect coming soon. Pitcher Kyle Crick is San Francisco’s top prospect, but he’s still got a ways to go. He was only in Single-A last season, but he compares favorably to Matt Cain. We considered Pablo Sandoval’s brothers/trainers as the Giants “savior,” but everybody knows there’s only one answer here: Buster Posey. Sure, the pitching is mighty important to the Giants, but since his rookie season, when the Giants won the World Series, Posey has been associated with winning in San Francisco. He’s posted the highest WAR on the team the past two seasons. He’ll be 27 at season’s start. He’s still young, but he’s already the heartbeat of this squad.
Two thousand and ten
Then twenty-twelve. It’s their year.
If the pattern holds
No. 17 Indians
No. 18 Blue Jays
No. 19 Mariners
No. 20 Phillies
No. 21 Orioles
No. 22 Padres
No. 23 Rockies
No. 24 Marlins
No. 25 Brewers
No. 26 White Sox
No. 27 Mets
No. 28 Twins
No. 29 Cubs
No. 30 Astros