Giants to keep pedal down as they enter Meetings

San Francisco navigating free agency to preserve championship ballclub

By Chris Haft / 11/29/12 4:19 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO -- A glitch occurred during the downtown parade celebrating the Giants' World Series triumph when the vintage Rolls Royce bearing manager Bruce Bochy and the championship trophy stalled short of the route's finish.
That provided a fitting image for the Giants' offseason. Expect general manager Brian Sabean and his staff to do all they can to ensure that San Francisco's success won't grind to a halt. Their efforts will be magnified when baseball's Winter Meetings begin Monday in Nashville.
Free agency has forced the Giants to scramble to preserve the roster that delivered the franchise's second Series triumph in three years. A pair of key performers remains unsigned: second baseman Marco Scutaro, the Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series who stroked the go-ahead single in the 10th inning of San Francisco's Series-clinching Game 4 triumph, and center fielder Angel Pagan, who developed into a catalyst at the leadoff spot late in the season.
Scutaro seemed destined to return to the Giants, but the 37-year-old is apparently considering all his options. Pagan's contractual value should crystallize in the wake of B.J. Upton's five-year, $75.25 million deal with Atlanta. Three years older than Upton, 28, and lacking his power, Pagan probably won't receive identical offers. But he should command similar ones. It's believed that the Giants, still stinging from the five-year, $60 million package they gave Aaron Rowand, are balking at extending Pagan a four-year contract.
Having engineered a series of effective acquisitions since last year's Meetings (Pagan, Scutaro, Melky Cabrera, Ryan Theriot, George Kontos, Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias, Hunter Pence, Jose Mijares), Sabean maintained his adeptness at shifting gears. He won't waste his time idling in Nashville.
Club needs
Left field: Blanco flashed his defensive excellence this season and proved that he can thrive offensively in short bursts. But the Giants would prefer an everyday presence in this spot, much as Cabrera was before he absorbed his 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone.
Pitching depth: With relatively few Major League-ready reinforcements in the farm system, the Giants could use a versatile arm or two in case they need an emergency starter and to bolster the back end of the bullpen. The latter area is a definite priority, given Brian Wilson's uncertain roster status and health and since Guillermo Mota's return is iffy, at best.
Who they can or need to trade
Brandon Belt: Don't misinterpret this. The Giants aren't actively shopping Belt and would be happy to open the 2013 season with him at first base. But they may listen to offers for him if they have a chance to include him in a trade to address multiple or difficult-to-fill needs.
Santiago Casilla: Assuming the Giants tender him a contract, they might avoid giving Casilla the raise he'll be due in salary arbitration by sending him to a team needing a live arm. Casilla, Bochy's first choice to replace Wilson as the closer, was removed from the role in July but still saved a team-high 25 games, limited opponents to a .224 batting average and led the club with 73 appearances.
Top prospects
Plenty of curiosity continues to surround center fielder Gary Brown, San Francisco's No. 1 pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and No. 1 prospect, as ranked by The Giants have allowed Brown to steep in the system, advancing him one level per year. Having spent this season at Double-A Richmond, Brown is poised to take the final steps in his development.
The Giants remain upbeat about infielder Joe Panik and catcher Andrew Susac, their top two selections in the 2011 Draft. Infielder Nick Noonan, who has spent six seasons in the organization, was added to the 40-man roster and will receive another chance to capture attention in Spring Training.
Intriguing right-handers Jake Dunning and Chris Heston joined the 40-man roster after strong performances this year at Richmond. And don't forget about right-hander Brett Bochy, son of the big league skipper, who posted impressive numbers in 41 games at Richmond (7-3, 2.53 ERA, 69 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings, a .161 opponents' batting average and a 0.88 WHIP).
Rule 5 Draft
With 35 players on the 40-man roster, the Giants currently have plenty of room to accommodate a Rule 5 selection. But though they typically make a pick in the draft's Major League portion, they haven't found anybody in recent memory who has contributed significantly.
Big contracts they might unload
Barry Zito has been a fixture on this list for years, but his value soared in 2012 as the team won his final 14 starts -- 11 in the regular season and three in the postseason. Still, the Giants owe the left-hander $20 million in 2013, which is the final unconditional year of his seven-year, $126 million deal (it includes an $18 million club option for 2014 with a $7 million buyout). Nothing will happen at the Winter Meetings regarding Zito, but the Giants may try to send him to a pitching-hungry contender by next year's Trade Deadline if they underperform. The same goes for right-hander Tim Lincecum, who's slated to earn $22.25 million next year before he makes his likely foray into free agency.

Arbitration-eligible: RF Pence ($10.4 million in 2012), RHP Wilson ($8.5 million), C Buster Posey ($615,000), RHP Casilla ($2.2 million), RHP Sergio Romo ($1.575 million), LHP Mijares ($925,000), RHP Clay Hensley ($750,000), OF Blanco ($516,000), INF Arias ($500,000).
Non-tender candidates: Wilson, Hensley
Payroll summation: Casual fans believe that the Giants could increase their payroll exorbitantly, given the club's on-field success and the 165 consecutive regular-season sellouts at AT&T Park. But the franchise still owes $20 million per year on the debt service for the park's construction. Nevertheless, the Giants should be able to handle an increase of at least $10 million from 2012's $130 million payroll.