Giants setting sights on left fielder as Meetings near
General manager Sabean acknowledges chances of big free-agent signing slim
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' efforts to improve their roster won't cease. But their rate of player moves appears destined to decelerate.
Finding an offensively productive left fielder has become San Francisco's top priority as the club prepares for the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., from Monday-Thursday. Giants general manager Brian Sabean senses that filling this need won't be as simple as replenishing the starting rotation, which the team accomplished by retaining Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong and adding free-agent right-hander Tim Hudson.
"Left field," Sabean said recently, "is going to be challenging. ... I think it's going to have to play out over time."
The Giants realize that they must improve their offensive potential in left field somehow. Their 2013 contingent at that position ranked last in the Major Leagues in runs (56), homers (five) and OPS (.651). The Major League averages in those respective categories were 82, 19 and .735. The shortfall contributed to the Giants' decline in scoring from 718 runs in the World Series-winning 2012 season to 629.
Typically, the Giants would seek help by exploring the list of free agents. But extremely few players on the open market intrigue them. The presence of three Giants castoffs among the available free agents -- Rajai Davis, Jeff Francoeur and Andres Torres -- reflects the paucity of legitimate candidates.
"It's not a particularly deep list in the free-agent market," Sabean said. "Almost nonexistent."
The group of free agents who received one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers from their previous clubs includes performers who, under ordinary circumstances, might interest the Giants: outfielders Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz and Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Kendrys Morales.
But Beltran, who finished the 2011 season with the Giants after being acquired from the Mets for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, has shown no inclination to want to return to San Francisco. Cruz would be followed by the cloud of a suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. Choo and Ellsbury, center fielders whose arrival likely would prompt Angel Pagan to move to left, are believed to be out of the Giants' price range.
"Anything's possible, but it's probably doubtful," Sabean said regarding the prospect of securing either player.
Moreover, signing anybody who received a qualifying offer would require the Giants to forfeit a top Draft choice, which they're extremely reluctant to do.
Trading for an outfielder might seem viable for the Giants, particularly since they've succeeded in this realm. During the 2011-12 offseason, they acquired Melky Cabrera and Pagan, both of whom helped revitalize the offense. But Sabean indicated the Giants might have to settle for obtaining a right-handed-batting complement to left-handed-swinging Gregor Blanco -- unlike the 2012 season, when Pagan and Cabrera (before his suspension for a positive PED test) played every day.
Right-handed-batting outfielders who have been mentioned in trade speculation include Chris Denorfia of the Padres, Justin Ruggiano of the Marlins and Josh Willingham of the Twins. But the Padres would seem unlikely to deal Denorfia to an division rival such as the Giants.
Acquiring a first baseman through trade or free agency and moving Brandon Belt to left field remains within the realm of possibility. In this scenario, Texas' Mitch Moreland would appear to be a an ideal fit. But the Rangers are reportedly leaning toward keeping Moreland, despite their recent acquisition of Prince Fielder.
Sabean has said that the Giants also hope to upgrade their bullpen, though closer Sergio Romo is entrenched in his role and left-hander Javier Lopez signed a three-year extension after flirting with other clubs in free agency. With some exceptions, however, relievers usually are among the last players to find homes, giving the Giants time to shop around.
Payroll constraints aren't an issue for the Giants, despite their combined commitment of $168.5 million to right fielder Hunter Pence, Lincecum, Hudson, Vogelsong and Lopez.
"We have plenty of money to spend," Sabean said.