Sabean said that once he and Bochy meet with Neukom, which could happen later this week, "there will be some sharing and caring. But I can definitively say this: There are no contracts in place. There aren't any commitments to having any contracts in place. Bill has been true to his word and we have been fine with the repeated schedule that it was going to happen in due course, and, frankly, we are both still under contract. So things will take care of itself, but you also have to understand that in this case you have to have three parties agree: the organization, myself and Boch."
Nevertheless, Sabean and Bochy addressed a wide range of personnel issues and related topics that will affect whether the Giants continue to improve next season, including: the challenge of adding an accomplished hitter or two; the free-agent status of catcher Bengie Molina, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and right-hander Brad Penny; whether prospects Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are ready for the Major Leagues; and the impending payroll squeeze caused by salary arbitration cases with pitchers Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez, among others.
Sabean acknowledged the need to obtain a competent hitter who would help give the Giants "more consistency, at least one through five" in the batting order. Preferably, Sabean said, that hitter would be a selective type who could complement the free swingers currently dominating the lineup. "The team is going to have to take on a little different personality," said Sabean, who became GM on Sept. 30, 1996.
Sabean said that the payroll, which hovered around $85 million, won't change much next year. But don't expect the Giants to outbid all rivals for the sparse number of available free-agent sluggers, such as St. Louis' Matt Holliday and Boston's Jason Bay.
"We are going to be challenged in the market," Sabean said. "I can't mention names, but you know the names that are going to be out there. There's going to be huge action on them, including from their incumbent teams."
Sabean admitted that the Giants will "agonize" over the wisdom of trading one of their prized starting pitchers for a big hitter. He stopped just short of declaring All-Star right-hander Matt Cain completely off-limits.
"It's very difficult to get value back for a position player with that type of pitcher," Sabean said. Noting that Cain is under control for two more years, due to an option the Giants hold on his 2011 contract, Sabean theorized that virtually any hitter the Giants might get wouldn't have as favorable a contract. Besides, he added, teams tend to want more than a front-line pitcher for a middle-of-the-order hitter.
One way or another, management believes that the Giants must find a bat to sustain the momentum they launched this year and upgrade the offense that ranked 13th in runs scored, 14th in slugging percentage and last in on-base percentage among National League teams. "We need to ... show this group that we're trying to take it to the next level," Sabean said.
Re-signing Freddy Sanchez, who played only 25 games with the Giants after being obtained from Pittsburgh just before the Trade Deadline, appears to be part of that plan. Despite the shoulder and knee injuries that dogged Sanchez, Sabean sounded as if a deal to retain the 2006 NL batting champion "once his contract gets worked out" is a foregone conclusion.
Sabean expressed hopes of keeping Molina, who hit .265 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs. He also voiced doubts about being able to do so, since Molina could be the most sought-after free-agent catcher on the market. "There's going to be more than the Giants interested and there are going to be teams that may be able to offer more years or salary than [us]," Sabean said. "So it's a complicated issue, but he certainly did his part and he deserves due consideration."
Sabean called re-signing Penny a "possibility," pointing out that the pitcher chose the Giants over the Yankees and Twins after Boston designated him for assignment. But Penny could command an increase from his $5 million base salary, which might be more than the Giants can afford.
That's because Lincecum, Wilson and Jonathan Sanchez are arbitration-eligible for the first time and are thus guaranteed huge raises. Lincecum might even exceed the record $10 million awarded Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard through arbitration in 2008. Even if the Giants manage to gain cost control by signing Lincecum to a multiyear deal, the ace pitcher might receive eight figures annually or close to it. "Their party won't have any downside, believe me," Sabean said.
Both Sabean and Bochy were upbeat about Posey's development after barely more than one professional season. But Posey probably needs more experience before becoming an everyday catcher in the Majors. "It's probably the toughest place on the field to break in a younger player," Sabean said. Of course, whatever the Giants decide regarding Posey influences their efforts to re-sign Molina.
Sabean expressed skepticism about Bumgarner's readiness for the Majors. He pointed out that the left-hander just turned 20 and hasn't pitched at Triple-A, though he recorded a 1.80 ERA in four late-season appearances with the Giants. "Do I think he's a Major League pitcher? Stuff-wise, yes," Sabean said. "But it would be a big leap of faith to count on him or to forecast that he'll be in the rotation." Sabean also said the issue was better suited for a "roundtable discussion" with his staff.