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Giants feel no pressure to upgrade left field

Giants feel no pressure to upgrade left field

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Giants feel no pressure to upgrade left field

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Giants' trade talks for a left fielder so far have amounted to wasted breath. But that hasn't caused general manager Brian Sabean to hold his breath.

The club's architect sounded fully prepared to enter the season with Gregor Blanco and a homegrown, right-handed-batting complement -- likely Juan Perez -- sharing left field, which was a disappointing source of offense last season.

Sabean reasoned that if the hitters surrounding Blanco or Perez increase their production, left field will become less troublesome offensively.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," Sabean said Monday as the first day of baseball's Winter Meetings drew to a close. "I don't have any pressure from ownership. I don't have pressure from [president] Larry [Baer]. ... While you can always look to improve the roster and look to improve the team as a whole, some of that [concern] will go away, no matter who we have in left field, with guys playing better and guys having better years."

Disappointment was distributed along the batting order. Marco Scutaro hit a hollow .297, driving in 31 runs. Buster Posey (.294, 15 homers, 72 RBIs) fell short of his 2012 Most Valuable Player standard (.336, 24, 103). Angel Pagan's hamstring injury scuttled his season. Pablo Sandoval's totals (.278, 14 homers, 79 RBIs) remained stagnant.

"We'd rather look at 2013 as a flat tire," Sabean said.

The fact remained that left field was a leaky valve. The Giants' contingent playing that spot finished last in the Major Leagues in runs, homers and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Thus, Sabean and his assistants continued their search for an upgrade, mostly by pursuing trades.

"We're involved in very little free-agent talk and we're trying to explore our everyday left-field options, which at this point aren't coming to fruition," Sabean said.

An attractive alternative in the trade market would seem to be Brett Gardner of the Yankees, who might be trying to trade an outfielder after signing free agents Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Gardner, 30, is a somewhat more productive version of Blanco. He led the American League in stolen bases with 49 in 2011 and in triples with 10 this year. With eight home runs and 52 RBIs in 145 games last season, Gardner's no slugger, but he mustered a personal-best .416 slugging percentage. Like Blanco, Gardner can play center field as well as left and is a highly respected defender.

Gardner's also affordable. He's entering his final year of salary arbitration and is projected to earn between $4 million and $5 million in 2014. But the Giants might struggle to match up in a trade with the Yankees, who need a second baseman (to replace Robinson Cano ), a third baseman (in case Alex Rodriguez is suspended for alleged violations of baseball's drug policy) and young starting pitching (the Giants won't part with anyone in their big league rotation, and their best prospects are still a year or more from the Majors).

Another problem: Gardner's eligible for free agency after next season. If the Giants obtained him, they'd want some sort of guarantee that they could retain him for a while.

According to various reports, Philadelphia's Domonic Brown, who batted .272 with 27 home runs last year, and the Angels' Mark Trumbo, who amassed 34 homers and 100 RBIs, are subjects of trade talks. But those same reports did not cite the Giants as a potential suitor for either player. The Giants likely would have to dip into their stable of attractive pitching prospects -- Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Edwin Escobar and Chris Stratton, among others -- to form an attractive package for either slugger.

Miami's Justin Ruggiano is another intriguing possibility. He finished with 18 homers and 50 RBIs last season. Yet his .694 OPS barely exceeded Blanco's .690.

A pair of legitimate middle-of-the-order hitters, Toronto's Jose Bautista and Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, aren't on the trade market, despite occasional rumors to the contrary. Also off-limits to the Giants are free agents Nelson Cruz and Shin-Soo Choo, who received qualifying offers from their former teams and would force the club signing him to forfeit a high selection in next June's First-Year Player Draft. Moreover, Choo wants big money -- a contract approximating Washington's seven-year, $126 million deal with Jayson Werth.

Some potential acquisitions are either too old or too infirm and thus too risky.

It has been speculated that the Yankees might be willing to part with Ichiro Suzuki, who has 2,742 career hits but is 40 years old.

Free agent Corey Hart averaged 29 homers and 83 RBIs per year from 2010-12 but endured a pair of knee surgeries last season.

Free agent Michael Morse frequently has been linked to the Giants, but injuries have hampered him since he hit .303 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs for Washington in 2011.

Free agent Franklin Gutierrez, a 2010 Gold Glove winner as Seattle's center fielder, has begun to thrive offensively. He compiled OPS+ figures, which consider ballpark factors, of 105 in 2012 and 117 last season. But various injuries limited him to 81 games over those two seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported that Jeff Francoeur hopes to make a comeback after undergoing Lasik eye surgery and deciding to use a lighter bat. Francoeur hit .194 in 22 games with the Giants.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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