Javier Lopez

Are the San Francisco Giants Playoff-Bound in 2014?

Sep 29, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) thanks the fans after the final game of the season at AT

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

After winning two World Series titles between 2010 and 2012, the San Francisco Giants entered the 2013 season with great expectations. Despite a nearly identical starting lineup and starting pitching rotation as in 2012, the Giants struggled to re-capture the magic in 2013 that they experienced in 2012.

The Giants finished the 2013 season with a 76-86 record, which was third in the NL West. They had to deal with some injuries to key players, poor defense, fatigue, and inconsistent starting pitching.

The Giants have addressed some of these issues so far in the offseason, and they hope that the corresponding roster moves that they’ve made will propel them to the playoffs in 2014. Let’s examine these moves and determine if these changes will lead to a playoff berth.

First of all, Brian Sabean made it a priority to re-sign Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum before the 2013 season was over. He didn’t want them to test free agency and potentially sign with another team.

Sabean was able to re-sign Pence to a five-year, $90 million contract. In 2013, Pence hit .283 with 27 home runs and 99 RBI, and he played in all 162 games. He also stole 22 bases, had a .339 OBP, and a .483 slugging percentage.

Off the field, he is the heart and soul of this Giants team. He has an incredible work ethic, he plays with a lot of heart, he hustles no matter what the score is, and he’s a great teammate. Pence made it perfectly clear that he wanted to stay a Giant, and he said that he understood the responsibility that comes with such a large contract.

Jul 13, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) is congratulated by starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) after a diving catch during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After re-signing Pence, Sabean then re-signed Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal. This was a controversial signing. Although Lincecum has been a longtime fan favorite, he hasn’t pitched like a two-time Cy Young Award winner in the past couple seasons.

In 2012, he had a 5.18 ERA in 186 innings, and in 2013, he had a 4.37 ERA in 197.2 innings. Lincecum has struggled with his command, and he’s had to evolve as a pitcher in order to stay relevant and serviceable. He did throw a no-hitter last season though, and he showed elements of brilliance in the second half of the season. Despite his struggles, he will be a key part of the starting pitching rotation in 2014.

The Giants also re-signed fan favorite Ryan Vogelsong, who will be the fifth pitcher in the starting rotation. After not picking up his $6.5 million contract option for 2014, the Giants signed Vogelsong to a one-year, $5 million contract.

The Giants also brought back left-handed specialist Javier Lopez and signed him to a three-year, $13 million contract. This was a key signing, because his ability to strike out left-handed batters is unique and extremely valuable.

The Giants also signed some new faces this offseason. The Giants desperately needed another starting pitcher, so they signed Tim Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal. Hudson, a 14-year veteran starting pitcher, had a 3.97 ERA, struck out 95, and walked 36 in 131.1 innings in 21 starts last season. Hudson suffered a gruesome ankle injury in July 2013, which cut his season short. He has recovered well and is expected to be ready to pitch by spring training.

Another significant addition to the Giants is Michael Morse, who is expected to be the Giants’ everyday left fielder. The Giants signed Morse to a one-year, $6 million deal plus incentives based on plate appearances, which could lead to $3 million more.

Last season, he struggled at the plate because of a wrist injury, but he had his best season in 2011 with the Nationals when he hit .303 with 31 home runs, 95 RBI, and he had a .360 OBP and a .550 slugging percentage. Morse brings some much-needed right-handed power to the Giants.

Given all these additions and signings, the Giants will enter the 2014 season with a more complete roster. Their starting lineup in 2014 will most likely be: Pagan CF, Scutaro 2B, Belt 1B, Posey C, Pence RF, Sandoval 3B, Morse LF, Crawford SS, and the pitcher’s spot.

Oct 22, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro (19), catcher Buster Posey (28), and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (second from right) celebrate after all scored on a two-RBI double by right fielder Hunter Pence (not pictured) as first baseman Brandon Belt (far right) looks on during the third inning of game seven of the 2012 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT

If everyone remains healthy, which is key for the Giants, then this lineup could definitely propel the Giants to another NL West title or at least another playoff berth. This lineup is well-balanced and has speed, power, and versatility.

The starting pitching rotation will be something like: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, and Vogelsong. Cain was uncharacteristically inconsistent last season, but given his history of dominance and his work ethic, it seems as if he’ll bounce back and have another stellar season in 2014. Bumgarner was the ace of the pitching staff last season, and he’s one of the best, most intriguing pitchers in MLB.

Hudson is getting older, but he’s a veteran and will benefit from pitching in the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. Lincecum and Vogelsong are both question marks going into next season, in terms of production.

The success of the starting pitchers will determine the Giants’ season and if they’ll make the playoffs in 2014. It’s somewhat unclear how some of the pitchers will perform next season, but Giants fans should be hopeful that the extra rest this offseason will help the starting pitchers perform better.

Oddly, not making the playoffs in 2013 was a blessing in disguise for the Giants. After playing so many playoff games in 2010 and 2012 (especially having so many potential elimination games in 2012), the Giants clearly and understandably looked fatigued at several points in 2013.

This certainly explains Cain’s struggles and some of the injuries that occurred to players who participated in the World Baseball Classic before the 2013 season. Posey even said he was going to condition differently during this offseason because his legs felt sore and tired at the end of the 2013 season.

At this point, the 2014 Giants’ team can only be judged on paper. Obviously, health is key to the Giants’ success, but, if key players remain healthy, it seems as if the Giants will have a great shot at making the playoffs in 2014.

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What Areas Do the San Francisco Giants Need to Address This Offseason?

Jun 14, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco (7) is greeted at the dugout by team mate left fielder Andres Torres (56) after a lead off home run against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

After winning two World Series in the past three years, the San Francisco Giants have failed to live up to expectations this season. They have struggled all season, and they have several areas of concern that they will need to address in the offseason.

The primary concern for the Giants this offseason is to find a serviceable left fielder. Last offseason, this was one of the Giants’ biggest areas of need as well. Going into this season, the Giants decided to go with a left field platoon involving Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres.

When Angel Pagan got injured, Blanco and Torres had to share not only the left field duties, but also the center field duties. This, unfortunately, exposed each player’s weakness. These two players were meant to platoon, because they’re not everyday players. Blanco is fantastic defensively, but he hasn’t proved that he can be consistent offensively. Torres was weak defensively in left field but looked much more comfortable when he played in center field. He also was inconsistent offensively.

If Angel Pagan hadn’t gotten injured and had played in more games this season, maybe the left field platoon would’ve worked. However, the Giants are going to need to bring more of a consistent offensive presence into left field. Blanco could still be used as a defensive replacement, spot starter, or pinch runner or hitter, but the Giants need to find a left fielder who is fairly solid both defensively and offensively, and, ideally, has some power.

The next area that the Giants need to address is depth. Entering this season, the Giants had a pretty solid starting lineup. However, they lacked some depth off the bench pretty much all season. Joaquin Arias is a great player to have on the roster, because he’s versatile and solid defensively. For next season, the Giants need more versatility off the bench than just Arias though.

Tony Abreu was injured most of the season, and Nick Noonan didn’t prove that he can hit consistenly at the major league level. The Giants need to add more depth in the middle infield, especially since Marco Scutaro has had back issues all season long and his dependability for next season is questionable. If the Giants could sign someone with some power off the bench, that would be especially helpful too.

Another important area that the Giants need to address is how many of their key free agents they will be able to re-sign. It should be their top priority to re-sign Hunter Pence because of his power, defense, speed, work ethic, passion, and veteran leadership.

Jul 13, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) is congratulated by starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) after a diving catch during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

If possible, the Giants should also re-sign Javier Lopez and Tim Lincecum, because they are both key elements to this team for different reasons. Lopez is, arguably, the best lefty specialist in all of MLB, and he has become more valuable to this team than Jeremy Affeldt is.

Lincecum has been a fan favorite for a long time, and he’s shown this season that he has evolved as a pitcher. At the right price, the Giants should definitely make a push to re-sign Lincecum.

The Giants should also solidy who will make up their bullpen next year. The Giants saw some promising relief pitchers come up this year from Fresno including Jake Dunning, Sandy Rosario, and Heath Hembree. Some of these decisions will be dependent on if they are able to bring Lopez back, but, otherwise, Giants management will have to decide if they want to bring back George Kontos, Jean Machi, etc.

They will also have to figure out their starting pitching rotation. Although Matt Cain has struggled this year, he’s still one of the aces of this pitching staff, along with the consistent, reliable Madison Bumgarner. It’s unclear if Lincecum will come back, and the Giants will also have to decide if they pick up Ryan Vogelsong’s team option for next season, which they probably will.

After that, they have to decide who else will start. The Giants will most certainly not be picking up Barry Zito’s team option for next season. They will have to decide if Chad Gaudin should start or come out of the bullpen, if Yusmeiro Petit should start, or if someone else like Eric Surkamp should start.

Although this has been a disappointing season for the Giants, they should have a pretty good idea what they need to improve on in the offseason. Hopefully during the offseason, the Giants get some serious rest too. Fatigue has seemed to be a big issue this season for many Giants players. If they’re able to get the rest that they need after two long seasons in three years and if they’re able to address the areas of need that were mentioned before, the Giants could easily be a playoff contender again next season.

San Francisco Giants Midseason Grades: Offense, Defense and Pitching

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

Jul 13, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) celebrates with teammates after throwing a no hitter against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. The Giants won 9-0. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 season for the San Francisco Giants has certainly been a disappointment. After winning two World Series titles in three years, the Giants have looked tired this season and are now struggling just to get back to being a .500 team. Going into the All-Star break, the Giants have a 43-51 record, which puts them six and a half games back from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West standings.

One word to sum up the Giants’ season so far: inconsistent. Sometimes, this team looks unstoppable. When the Giants do what got them two World Series titles in the past three years, such as stellar starting pitching, perfect defense, and timely hitting, then they can win a lot of games.

Other times, this team’s effort is laughable. It all starts with the starting pitcher. If the starter gets off to a rough start and gives up some runs, it puts more pressure on the offense and defense, and many times, the Giants can’t recover.

The All-Star break couldn’t come soon enough for the Giants. They could use a break from the long road trips and the mental grind of the game.

Here are the Giants’ midseason grades:

San Francisco Giants: Should They Be Sellers at the Trade Deadline?

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

Jun 17, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito (75) hands the ball to manager Bruce Bochy (15) after being taken against the San Diego Padres during the sixth inning at AT

The San Francisco Giants are in a dangerous slump.

In the month of June, they had a 10-16 record. Since June 15th, the Giants have a 5-18 record. As of today, they are a season-high nine games below .500 with a record of 40-49.

They have been plagued by injuries, inconsistent pitching and poor situational hitting. All of these issues have caused fans to question if the Giants need to be active at the trade deadline.

If the Giants want to be buyers at the trade deadline, they could look to acquire a starting pitcher, a relief pitcher, and a veteran outfielder. However, the Giants haven’t been playing well enough to be able to score a deal (other teams could be wary of the Giants’ struggles or raise the price due to San Francisco’s desperation). In addition to that, the Giants are wary about giving up top prospects and getting just a rental player or a player who won’t make much impact on the team in return.

“We have to ride it out. The team has to play better for us to move forward,” Brian Sabean said. “If we don’t start playing better — the team at hand, especially the lineup itself — there’s not enough help in the world that’s going to turn us around from this.

The Giants also have a lot of areas to be addressed, and they can’t all be fixed via trade.

“You get a little leaky, and you can fill one hole, but if it gets to be too many, you’re asking too much there,” Bruce Bochy said. “It’s gonna come back to these guys getting back to the players they are and executing.”

Hank Schulman, the Giants beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, suggests that if the Giants have a bad homestand, they should concede the season now and be sellers, in order to at least acquire prospects for the future. If the Giants do well on this homestand, then he believes that the Giants should become buyers and make a serious run to win the NL West.

He also suggests that if the Giants decide to be sellers, they should try to trade Javier Lopez, Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum, because they will all be free agents after this season. Also, the Giants could possibly get some quality prospects in return, especially from Lopez and Pence.

So, should the Giants be sellers at the trade deadline? Should they essentially try to acquire talent for the future?

The simple answer is no. First of all, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played. The Giants have 73 games left, and a lot of things can change in 73 games. The All-Star break is in a week, and it might be just the physical and mental break the Giants need.

Second, the Giants have shown that they like being underestimated and and are able to come back from adversity. In 2010, the Giants were trailing the San Diego Padres in the NL West for much of the season, and they didn’t clinch the NL West title until the very last day of the season. In 2012, the Giants were on the brink of elimination in two straight series, and they ultimately won the World Series.

The Giants have been in tough situations before, and they’ve shown time and time again that they can always come back. The Giants have won two World Series titles in three years for a reason.

“This is a club that’s always been resilient,” Bochy said. “They’ve had the ability to bounce back from tough losses, streaks. They’ve been down before. They find a way to get it done. I don’t think that they’re doubting themselves that it will happen.”

Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Members of the San Francisco Giants celebrate on the field after game four of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The Giants won 4-3 to sweep the series. Mandatory Credit: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Third, the Giants are a loyal organization. They’re going to stick by their players, win or lose. This is essentially, minus a few injured players, the same team that won the World Series last season. The Giants organization believes in this group of guys.

“These are our guys, though,” Bochy said. “These guys have done a lot of good things here. You know [the slump] feels like it’s been forever, but it’s been maybe three weeks. It’s getting long, but still, they are our guys and we’re going to stay behind them.”

Lastly, the team still believes in each other, it’s still as confident as ever, and it’s still working hard. The players believe as much today as they did at the beginning of the season that they can win another World Series this year. That seems like a tough task now, but it can still be done.

“They’re fighting. I know when you go through something like this and you don’t score a lot of runs, you look flat,” Bochy said. “But they’re doing the work, they’re doing all we’re asking. It’s all we can do, just keep coming out here every day and keep believing that you’re going to come out of this thing.”

If the right deal presents itself, Sabean has said that he’s not afraid to make a deal. He’s not going to make a trade just to make a trade, though. He has had success in the past bringing in players at the trade deadline that make a difference in the second half of the season.

In 2010, Sabean signed Pat Burrell to a minor league deal, acquired Cody Ross off of waivers and traded for Lopez and Ramon Ramirez. In 2012, Sabean traded for Pence and Marco Scutaro.

Will he decide to sell instead of buy this season, though?

“You know, who knows,” Sabean said about the Giants possibly selling at the trade deadline. “I think you’re going to have an open mind going forward to whatever’s in best interests of the organization, the present and future.”

The Giants should not be sellers at the trade deadline. Even though they’re in a potentially disastrous downward spiral right now, they shouldn’t sell some of their most valuable assets, in order to acquire talent for the future.

The season is far from over. A comeback at this point might be tough, but the Giants are reigning World Champions for a reason.

San Francisco Giants: 3 Players They Should Pursue at the Trade Deadline

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

June 2, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Nick Noonan (left) catcher Buster Posey (center) and relief pitcher Sergio Romo (right) celebrate with teammates after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. San Francisco defeated St. Louis 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Out of 15 National League teams, the San Francisco Giants currently rank 13th with a 4.47 ERA for their starters. This is hard to believe given the fact that the Giants have won two World Series titles in the past three seasons behind dominant starting pitching.

Matt Cain struggled in the beginning of the season, Tim Lincecum has been inconsistent, and Barry Zito has a 10.41 ERA on the road. Because of their struggles, many analysts and fans have suggested that the Giants acquire a starting pitcher.

By adding another starting pitcher, the Giants could move Chad Gaudin back into his role as a reliever, which would strengthen the struggling bullpen. In addition, when Ryan Vogelsong comes back from injury, the Giants could also consider moving Lincecum to the bullpen. According to a club source, the Giants would convert Lincecum into a late-inning reliever “in a heartbeat,” and Lincecum said he is open to that change as well.

On the other hand, Bruce Bochy has said the Giants need the most help in the bullpen. If the Giants acquire a relief pitcher, they could continue to use Gaudin as a starter until Vogelsong comes back, and then when Vogelsong is healthy again, the Giants could move Gaudin back into his long reliever role.

The Giants also need a veteran outfielder, with Angel Pagan expected to be out until September, at the earliest. Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres, and Juan Perez are currently filling the void at center field and left field, but they’re collectively not providing enough offense to make up for Pagan’s energy and production in the leadoff spot.

Here are three players that the Giants could acquire at the trade deadline that would fill these needs: