tim-lincecum.p1

The Giants’ Plan So Far: Bring Back the 2013 Losing Team

At some point the San Francisco Giants front office and ownership group must have had a major organizational debriefing meeting to deconstruct and analyze the 2013 season.

Maybe a two or three day confab in a secluded conference center to spend hours assessing what happened between the 2012 World Series Championship and finishing 16 games out of first place in the National League West in 2013.

That way the top people in the organization could all weigh in and the best and the brightest could collectively develop a well thought out, coherently detailed blueprint for a success in 2014.

Right?

I mean that's what professional organizations do when they stumble badly, when their planning and strategy tanked the previous year and they've had their posterior handed to them on a platter.

Well not so fast, bunky. This is the San Francisco Giants.

With the recent re-signing of Tim Lincecum to a ridiculous 2 year $35 million deal, all indications are that the Giants have no plan other than to reassemble the team that went 76-86 last season.

Lincecum's contract has little to do with winning in 2014– this is more about fan appeasement and marketing. The Giants will likely follow the Lincecum deal up with a couple of "cross-your-fingers and hope" player signings to further distract the fans.

Except San Francisco usually uses this tired formula only after they've won a World Series– not after they've lost 86 games.

In 2011 after winning the World Series they re-signed Aubrey Huff (2 years, $20 million), Pat Burrell (1 year, $1 million), and Cody Ross (1 year, $6.3 million).

They also signed a "cross-your-fingers" marginal player, who absolutely tanked. In this case it was Miguel Tejada– 1 year, $6.5 million. And he was terrible.

In 2013 after winning the World Series they re-signed Marco Scutaro (3 years, $20 million), Angel Pagan (4 years, $40 million) and Hunter Pence (1 year, $13.8 million).

They also signed a "cross-your-fingers" marginal player, who absolutely tanked. This time it was Andres Torres– 1 year, $2 million. And he was terrible.

So much for out-of-the-box creative thinking in the front office.

But the nasty frosting on this shaky cake is that the San Francisco Giants didn't just play poorly this past season– they were a triple threat in 2013.

This is a team that had failing grades in Pitching 1A, Hitting 1A, and Fielding 1A– the three most important classes in baseball school.

Giants hitters scored 62 fewer runs than their opponents last season and finished 21st out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored (629)– a sad average of 3.88 runs scored per game. San Francisco hitters were 29th in MLB home runs with 107; three Baltimore players hit a total of 112 homers.

The Giants pitching staff finished 12th out of 15 National League teams in WHIP (1.31), and 10th in K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio) with 2.41. Starters Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong went a combined 14-20 with a 1.41 WHIP.

And just about everyone chipped in to make the 107 errors that earned the Giants a 24th place finish out of 30 MLB teams in fielding (Baltimore made 54 errors, Tampa Bay made 59).

I mention Ryan Vogelsong because it's likely the Giants will also re-sign him simply because he comes cheap. Vogelsong has a $6.5 million club option for 2014 (or a $0.3 million buy out, which means re-signing him will actually cost the Giants $6.2m).

Just how badly has Vogelsong pitched since August 1, 2012?

Taking the last two months of the 2012 season, and the four months he pitched in 2013 (Vogelsong was injured for over two months), he tossed 158.2 innings and gave up 190 hits. His WHIP during that period is 1.55, with a 6.07 ERA. Ouch.

So what impresses the Giants' front office here? Vogelsong doesn't cost very much, especially compared to the $17.5 million a year San Francisco just shelled out to get Lincecum back and the $18 million a year they coughed up to get Hunter Pence back.

Obviously the off-season doesn't really begin until the a week or so after the 2013 World Series is completed. So there's still plenty of time for the San Francisco Giants to make the key moves they need to make before Spring Training 2014.

Here's what to look for:

> If the Giants don't re-sign Ryan Vogelsong that means they're serious about rehabilitating their starting pitching. Right now they have two quality starters, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. To win the National League West and succeed in the post season, San Francisco needs at least three top starters.

> Left field and first base need critical upgrades. Everyone is hoping Brandon Belt has turned the corner and will be a significant run producer in 2014. But it is mandatory that San Francisco get a #3/#4/#5 -type batter with actual power in left field. And pronto.

I'm guessing the only way to make this happen is through a significant trade– let's hope Brian Sabean is up to the task.

> The Giants' bench needs to improve dramatically. The 2013 bench was a disaster: pinch hitters had 236 ABs, hitting .212 with 25 RBI and 4 HRs. That means players like Tony Abreu, Brett Pill and Joaquin Arias won't get it done.

Here's the formula for a successful MLB bench:

You need five quality bench players on a winning Major League baseball team. It's not enough to simply have a 4th and 5th outfielder, plus two back-up infielders, and a back-up catcher.

A successful MLB team needs real offense from the bench all season long. Two players who hit with some power from each side of the plate, respectively. One player who can be a quality base runner late in a game. And quality defensive replacements in the infield and outfield, respectively. 

Any player that can take on more than one role on the bench is like gold (and should be paid in gold).

> Creative Management.

Both on the field management and franchise ownership.

We're talking Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals-type innovative and cutting edge creativity. Understanding the value of statistics not only to comprehend what's going on generally in baseball but to execute the everyday on-field strategies required to win.

And a winning franchise is not hesitant to bring up young, untested talented players and mentor them at the Major League level.

The philosophy of the San Francisco Giants has tended to be the tired, old school Dusty Baker-type "I'll go with my gut feeling and just see what happens" version of baseball. Unlike Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon who has a specific defensive strategy for virtually every American League batter his pitchers face. Every game, every day.

Baseball has changed in interesting and innovative ways over the past fifteen years. For the San Francisco Giants, it's time to decide to either step up or get out of the way.

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