Michael Morse

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.

San Francisco Giants: Is Michael Morse The Answer?

Sep 20, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles right fielder Michael Morse (38) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

The San Francisco Giants have finally found their everyday left fielder. The Giants agreed to terms with Michael Morse on a one-year contract worth $6 million plus incentives based on plate appearances, which could lead to $3 million more. Morse has played nine seasons in MLB for the Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles. Morse, who will be 32 on Opening Day next season, is expected to be the starting left fielder for the Giants, but he can also play right field, first base, and even some third base.

Last season, he struggled at the plate because of a wrist injury as he hit .215, had a .270 OBP, and a .381 slugging percentage. He did have 13 home runs and 27 RBI though in 88 games. The Giants are hoping that he can re-create the great production he had in the 2011 season with the Nationals when he hit .303 with 31 home runs, 95 RBI, and he had a .360 OBP and a .550 slugging percentage.

“For me, I thought he was our best option and it’s certainly what I wanted,” Bruce Bochy said. “I’ve always liked him. He’s a threat up there.”

Morse brings many things to the Giants that they severely lacked last season. First of all, the Giants needed a left fielder with right-handed power. One of Morse’s strongest qualities is his immense power. Last season, the Giants had some of the worst production from left field in all of MLB. Giants’ left fielders hit just five home runs last season, the fewest in the majors, and had a collective .651 OPS, the lowest of any position for the Giants.

AT&T Park is known as the ballpark where power goes to die. However, Bochy believes that Morse will be able to translate his power to the confines of AT&T Park, even to the more daunting right field side.

Another quality that Morse brings to the Giants is his versatility. He’s not known for his defensive prowess, but his ability to play multiple positions will prove to be advantageous for the Giants. He was drafted as a shortstop, and, as mentioned before, he can play both corner outfield spots, first base, and third base. Bochy has said that Morse will be in the starting lineup every day, mostly at left field, but also sometimes at one of those other positions.

Lastly, Bochy believes that Morse will be a great fit in the clubhouse. Bochy knows Morse already, because he coached him on a traveling All-Star team in Taiwan in 2011. Bochy commended Morse’s impressive work ethic and energetic personality. He seems like a Hunter Pence-esque type of presence in the clubhouse and on the field, mostly because of his quirkiness and awkwardness.

Aug 4, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Seattle Mariners right fielder Michael Morse (38) doubles in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants have a history of acquiring players who are coming off of a poor year, production-wise, and getting fairly good production from them the next year. The Giants saw this pattern when they acquired Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, and Pat Burrell in 2010. They’re hoping to receive this same type of result with Morse.

“He’s a great for us and what we need — a right-handed bat with power,” Bochy said. “I guess you could make a comparable to when we acquired Pat Burrell in 2010. When this guy is healthy, and he is now, he can do some damage. It’s well worth any risk to bring him aboard.”

The Giants will have many options in terms of their batting order. Bochy said that he likes putting Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Pence, and Pablo Sandoval in the number three through six spots in the batting order, but this might change with the addition of Morse. Bochy said that Morse could possibly hit fifth, sixth, or seventh. He likes keeping Belt in the three-hole, but depending on pitching matchups and who is hitting well at a given time, the lineup could change day-to-day.

The Giants will have a starting lineup that will look something like: Pagan CF, Scutaro 2B, Belt 1B, Posey C, Pence RF, Sandoval 3B, Morse LF, Crawford SS, and the pitcher’s spot. If everyone is healthy, this is a pretty strong lineup. The Giants will certainly have more power than they had last year with the addition of Morse, and they will have a good balance of speed, power, opposite-field hitting, etc.

In addition to a better starting lineup, another great part of the Morse signing is that it allows Gregor Blanco to come off the bench. Blanco was over-exposed last season because he had to play an everyday role. Blanco was supposed to platoon with Andres Torres, but when Pagan went down with his hamstring injury, Blanco was forced to start every day, which affected his offense.

Blanco will most likely be the Giants’ fourth outfielder and come into games as a defensive replacement in the late innnings for Morse. Since he can play all four outfield spots, he will earn some spot starts too, in order to give a rest day to any of the outfielders. This is the best role for Blanco, and he will be a valuable player off the bench for the Giants this upcoming season.

Morse has been labeled as injury-prone, but if he can play the majority of next season, he will be an excellent fit for this Giants team. As Bochy said, Morse will prove to be worth the risk. He provides some much-needed power, versatility, and a strong work ethic. If healthy, Morse could be the answer to many of the Giants’ problems from last season.