After winning their third World Series Championship in five seasons a week ago, celebration time has wound down for the front office and Brian Sabean as they have multiple big decisions ahead of them.
First of all though, I wanted to just say a couple of final words about the World Series. It was an incredible battle between the Royals and Giants, coming down to the final out of Game 7 with the tying run just 90 feet away, but the Giants' grit and experience paid off as Pablo Sandoval (fittingly after the
postseason he just put up and quite possibly playing his last game in the orange and black) reeled in the Salvador Perez foul pop-up to end another epic run by San Francisco. The Giants, underdogs in every postseason series they played in this October, just don't wilt under the pressure of the big stage, and actually seem to thrive on it. It also helps when you have one of the best pitchers in postseason history basically win three games for you in one series. They've had a lot of change-over from the 2010 championship team, but 2014's squad was eerily similar to that which won it all in 2012 (sans the starting pitching, second base and left field). What was most impressive for me though, was the way this team just kept finding ways to win despite dealing with a multitude of injuries. The Giants didn't have a deep bench this year and had to deal with replacing Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and even Michael Morse down the stretch and most of October. They also didn't have the strongest starting pitching staff in the playoffs (without their #2 Matt Cain), as Madison Bumgarner was the only one to post an ERA under 5. That's just a testament as to how good of a job Bruce Bochy does with this team and why he's become a sure-fire Hall-of-Fame skipper.
2014 was basically a tale of 3 seasons for the Giants. They had that
epic start in which they were 20+ games over .500 in early June. Then
they had the meltdown in the middle of the season as guys started
dropping, barely battling their way into that last wild card
spot. Part three was the historical October run, in which the San
Francisco Giants became a modern day dynasty. However, as exhilarating and nerve-racking that October was, we've entered into November, and while the players may take some more personal time before they start training for 2015, the front-office has no such luxury. The Giants have been able to hoist the World Series trophy in three of the last five seasons, but they've yet to put together back-to-back winning seasons during that span. After 2010's run, they dealt with the Buster Posey injury and a meltdown in 2011. Then in 2013, they dealt with a ton of injuries and wound up 10 games below .500 at the end of the year. Now their goal has to be avoiding that post-World Series let down that they've gone through those last two times, and that all starts now as they begin to piece their roster together for next year. Luckily, they don't have a huge number of players entering free agency, but the ones that are have been extremely important to this team's success, and will be very tough to replace should they depart.
Obviously, the first name that pops up is Pablo Sandoval, who the Giants did extend the qualifying $15.3M offer to on Monday. For most of the year, I was thinking this was going to be it for Panda in San Francisco. Although he turned it on in the second half, his numbers at the end of the year weren't particularly
outstanding. However, you factor in what he did in October, and recall what he did in October 2012, and you start to see just how valuable he is when he needs to be. The lack of free agent third basemen makes Pablo an extremely hot commodity this winter though, so there will probably be a handful of teams that will be willing to overpay to get the postseason hero onto their roster. If I'm Sabean, I would be trying to get Pablo to bite on a shorter-term deal even if they had to overpay him in that span. Heck, I'd give him $20M a year for three seasons if he'd take it, maybe even four. I just know there will be some American League team offering him 5 or 6 years knowing they can DH him towards the back-end of the deal though and that's a little risky for a guy who's notoriously overweight and relatively injury prone, even if he is just 28. That being said, despite the weight issues, his defense at third base this seasons was probably in the top-5 at the position in all of baseball so he's not just a DH waiting to happen.
As to how valuable he is for the Giants to retain, they have to figure out what's out there should they need to replace him, and who they have in house in case they can't. They don't really have a back-up plan to Pablo in-house, and their is no equal at the position on the free-agent market. The one scenario that has been mentioned (albeit not by Sabean, Bochy or anyone of merit in the organization) in the event Pablo does depart and they aren't able to replace him would be to move Buster Posey out to third base and plug impressive rookie Andrew Sussac into the full-time catcher role. At some point in the next few seasons, the Giants will be moving Buster out from behind the plate, and logic has it being either to third or first base. He hasn't played third at the professional level yet, but has collegiate experience everywhere in the infield and has plenty enough baseball skills to adapt to a new a position. The thing is, I don't think they'd be ready to head into 2015 with Buster as their starting third basemen quite yet. The one guy out there who is semi intriguing should Pablo leave is Chase Headley. He had a couple of off-years offensively after a breakout in 2012, but would probably provide similar offensive stats as to what Pablo did this regular season, maybe with a slightly lower average while providing a solid glove at third.
Although he's the most important, Pablo isn't the only key Giant hitting free agency though. They'll have decisions to make on Michael Morse, Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo and Ryan Vogelsong. They also have to
figure out just what they're going to do with Tim Lincecum, under contract for 2015 but jettisoned from the rotation in August and hardly heard from again the rest of the season and playoffs. The rotation is really going to be a focal point outside of third base, as they'll have at least one spot, maybe two to fill. Peavy was solid down the stretch but largely disappointing in October so my guess is the Giants will try and bring him back on their terms or not at all. I'm a big fan of Vogey and Romo's, but I could see both elsewhere in 2015. Morse is going to be an interesting one though. There are a bunch of mid-tiere outfielders out there this year so Morse likely won't have a bunch of big multi-year offers, but after a solid season and clutch postseason (when he played that is), he should have no trouble finding a 2 or 3 year offer at around $10M/per and the Giants need to figure out if they go that high for a guy who's very injury prone, or if they look elsewhere and maybe try and roll the dice on a player much like they did with Morse this year. My guess though, is the Giants don't really do anything in left until they figure out third base cause if they need to replace Pablo's bat, it may end up being in the form of a left fielder.