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Vogelsong Signing Provides Troubling Clue to Giants Plan for 2014

It's not just that the San Francisco Giants re-signed fading starter Ryan Vogelsong. It's that General Manager Brian Sabean made it clear to the reporters who follow the Giants that the Vogelsong signing rounds out the 2014 starting rotation.

If that's true, the Giants will again be competing with the San Diego Padres to determine which team will finish in third place at the end of next September. Because, you see, last season the Padres and Giants tied for 3rd place in the NL West with matching 76-86 records, sixteen games out of 1st place.

So that sets up an exciting grudge match between the two second tier rivals throughout the 2014 season. Are you as fired up about that as I am?

In my last posting I expressed optimism and hope that the the Giants' brain trust would take the bold steps needed to compete in 2014. While the off-season clock has certainly not run out, San Francisco's plan for the next several years is slowly coming into focus– although you won't hear Brian Sabean or Larry Baer discuss it publicly.

Because the franchise blueprint appears to be to simply stall for time, tread water and try to appear somewhat competitive to the fans until a promising crop of starting pitchers works their way through the minor leagues. Which won't happen until late 2015 or 2016.

Chris StrattonKyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Edwin Escobar, and Ty Blach are a pack of talented young pitchers who are moving up the Giants minor league food chain and could all arrive over a two year period by 2016.

The good news with the emergence of that promising group is that the Giants starting rotation may be in great shape several years from now. Add to that, one or two of those prospects could end up as premium trading chips in the seemingly never ending task to increase San Francisco's run production.

The problem is getting from here all the way to there.

With Vogelsong's signing, and Sabean's accompanying statement that the 2014 starting rotation in now place, you begin to understand the Giants' front office is not going to spend the money needed to really compete in the National League West. They're more than happy to wait for the low-cost alternative to arrive: inexpensive home-grown players who are paid the MLB minimum salary and under club control for years.

Whenever that happens.

As a result, every 2014 starter other than Madison Bumgarner has question marks. And like the team's ownership, Giant fans will spend the entire 2014 season rooting for that starting staff with their fingers crossed.

Can Matt Cain bounce back from having a good statistical pitching year that still resulted in an 8-10 record? Will AT&T Park give Tim Hudson the edge he needs to pitch effectively again? As for Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, I have character space limitations at The Giants Cove that prevent me from listing their entire catalog of questions marks.

The other problem in slapping together a holding pattern team is pitching depth.

If a Giants starter goes down in 2014, the team's fall-off could be quick and precipitous. Right now Yusmeiro Petit and Mike Kickham are your likely starting pitcher back-ups. And that can't happen. If San Francisco is forced into a mid-season emergency trade for a starter, it would effectively derail Brian Sabean's annual "fix the team" project in July.

A year ago (December 17, 2012 to be precise) I wrote a piece explaining just why the Andres Torres signing would cripple the team's 2013 offense ("Andres Torres Signing Slams the Brakes on The Giants' 2013 Offense"). At the time many fans (and Giant blogs) were happy as pigs in wet slop. All you heard on Bay Area sports talk radio was, "Cool, we got Andres back!"

Believe me, it's not that I'm smarter or that I enjoy making negative predictions. I did something that is irrational in the universe of sports talk radio and the infosphere: I researched the numbers and the trends. Oh, and my five year old nephew read the Torres headline at the time and began uncontrollably crying.     

Torres was predictably terrible both offensively and defensively in the outfield. When Gregor Blanco got more playing time it became painfully clear he is not a starting MLB outfielder.

Sure there were also several injuries last season, but as I've pointed out many times every MLB team has injuries that test the team's depth, both on the 25 man roster and in the quality of their minor league system.

Trouble was, San Francisco had zero depth on the bench– Joaquin Arias, Brett Pill, Jeff Francoeur? Yikes! And the team's poorly managed pitching-heavy minor league talent pool was more wet than talented. Combine that with Brian Sabean's inability to make trades and the San Francisco Giants were doomed in 2013.

This year we have, essentially, the reverse of last year. Last year the team foolishly re-signed Torres, this year the team foolishly re-signed Vogelsong and Lincecum. Incredibly, some Giants fans are content with a front office that values player branding over player analysis.

And on we go.

In the next month or so General Manager Brian Sabean will likely sign a Corey Hart-type free agent or trade for a Mark Trumbo-type hitter to play left field, and I would love for one of those guys to be in the 2014 line-up. But it looks like too little too late.

Finding an actual everyday outfielder will improve last season's terrible run production, but a continued decline in team pitching will more than offset a bump in offense.

Meanwhile, it feels like every other contending team in baseball has made significant moves over the past month trying to improve. While the Giants front office sits back and watches.

I would like to think that San Francisco's front office and ownership will step up like a first class World Series Championship franchise and make a statement about winning in 2014 and making the post season. But for now get out your water wings, flap your arms and just try to stay afloat.

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