SAN FRANCISCO -- Though Giants general manager Brian Sabean completed what he called the "heavy lifting" of free agency well before open bidding begins, he still must use some muscle to shape the club's roster into a potential winner.
Sabean accomplished two of his top offseason goals by signing right fielder Hunter Pence (five years, $90 million) and right-hander Tim Lincecum (two years, $35 million) before the pair of potential free agents could entertain offers from other teams. Critics accused the Giants of overpaying for both players, but those familiar with the club could almost hear Sabean repeat one of his signature lines: "That's the cost of doing business."
Sabean has plenty of business remaining as he attempts to revive the Giants, who followed up their 2012 World Series triumph with a 76-86 finish that ended their streak of four consecutive winning seasons.
They intend to improve the starting rotation, which ranked 13th in the National League with a 4.37 ERA. San Francisco could retain right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who'll become a free agent if his $6.5 million club option isn't exercised. But even if the Giants keep Vogelsong, they'll likely try to acquire another veteran free agent -- such as Dan Haren, Bronson Arroyo or Matt Garza -- to provide depth and consistency.
Holding onto Javier Lopez, one of the Majors' top left-handed relievers, is another top priority. The Giants prevented Lopez from entering free agency by signing him to a two-year extension after the 2011 season and avoided arbitration with him before that, so the sides have a history of finding common ground. Moreover, Lopez wants to remain in San Francisco. But if he is to maximize his earning potential after making $4.25 million this year, shopping himself around might be his best option.
Right-hander Chad Gaudin is another of the Giants' free agents whose viability they're pondering. Gaudin excelled as a reliever and starter until carpal tunnel syndrome disrupted his season.
The Giants received scant offensive production from their left fielders, and the lack of depth that weakened the club's rotation also plagued the bench. These two shortcomings are related. When center fielder Angel Pagan was sidelined in late May, the weaknesses of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres were exposed when they occupied left and center fields. Besides looking for a capable outfielder, Sabean may seek a veteran handyman or two to fill in as an outfielder and complement utilityman Joaquin Arias, particularly if Tony Abreu, who performed better toward the end of the season, doesn't stick around.
Expect the Giants to signal their intentions quickly. They've already shown with Pence and Lincecum that they're willing to spend. Sabean doesn't like to be used to drive up a free agents' price, so he prefers to deal only with players who are serious about coming to San Francisco. Though certain needs in the free-agent market can be filled relatively late in the offseason, Sabean typically acts fast to make the acquisitions he wants.
The chances of signing Vogelsong and Lopez appear to be 50-50 before the Major Leagues' exclusivity period for negotiations ends five days after the World Series. By then, Sabean would prefer to have determined the fate of the Giants' own free agents so he can devote himself to trade talks and other free agents.
Eligible free agents: RHP Gaudin, LHP Lopez, OF Torres, RHP Vogelsong ($6.5 million club option with $300,000 buyout), LHP Barry Zito ($18 million club option with $7.5 million buyout).
Areas of need
Starting pitching: With Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants don't need an ace. But to help themselves avoid enduring another collective slump, San Francisco could use one or two steady middle-of-the-rotation performers, particularly if Lincecum and Vogelsong (if he's retained) struggle again.
Left field: The Giants can fill this spot in multiple ways. They could acquire a first baseman and move Brandon Belt to left. They could obtain a center fielder and put Pagan in left. Or they simply can get a left fielder, though they'll have to overpay (again) because most position players have a phobia about hitting at AT&T Park.
Bench: The Giants knew they were in trouble when they had to resort to using rookies such as Nick Noonan, Kensuke Tanaka and Juan Perez. All had respectable skills, but none possessed the experience to function as pinch-hittters or late-inning defenders except Perez. Arias fits this description, but manager Bruce Bochy needs reserves who fit a substitute's profile more closely.
This figure is sure to rise from last season's total of approximately $137 million. The Giants have financial room, with Zito's seven-year, $126 million contract off the books and Lincecum taking essentially a $5 million pay cut. But seven-figure raises for Pence, Pagan, Bumgarner, Sergio Romo and Pablo Sandoval consume much of the savings.