After a second lackluster attempt to try to repeat as World Champions in the last three seasons, the San Francisco Giants face a number of tough decisions as they try to prove to the world that the 2013 season was a fluke. The two decisions that will be most under the microscope as this season comes to an end will be what should the Giants do with a couple of fan favorites; SP Tim Lincecum and RF Hunter Pence.
When the Giants obtained Hunter Pence at the 2012 trade deadline, he struggled mightily, posting a .219/.287/.384 (in 248 AB) slash line as the Giants battled down the stretch, eventually making the playoffs. He didn’t provide much offensively in the playoffs either, but became a major spark for the Giants with his pre-game pep talks and stellar defense in RF. Pence flipped the script in 2013, posting an impressive stat line of .289/.340/.474 (through 9/11/13) while again providing great defense in a tough RF at AT&T Park. Pence possesses a rare combination of power and speed that the Giants have been searching for, as he posted their first 20/20 season since Barry Bonds in 1998. At 30 years old, Pence should still have some prime years remaining, and has the skill set that typically ages well. Pence has made it known that he wants to stay in San Francisco, but at the same time he would be stupid not to at least test the market in what could be his final multi-year payday. The Giants should definitely offer him the MLB qualifying offer of 1-year, $14.1 million dollars to ensure they receive draft pick compensation should he decide to go elsewhere. I believe the Giants should sign him to a contract in the area of 4-years, $60 Million dollars, which will take him through his age-34 season when power-hitting, corner players usually begin to fade. Remember, Pence is a guy who literally plays everyday, and that is extremely valuable when constructing a roster. I could see him getting offers on the open market as high as 5-years, $90 million, so he will have a tough choice to make.
Tim Lincecum, 29, is a totally different animal in the fact that it appears that his best baseball is behind him. Here is how his ERA and WHIP have fared over the past 3-seasons:
2011: 2.74 ERA 1.20 WHIP
2012: 5.18 ERA 1.46 WHIP
2013: 4.40 ERA 1.32 WHIP
In recent years, Tim has seen his 95-MPH fastball turn into a 90-MPH fastball with below average command. The drop in velocity suggests that either Timmy is wearing down after logging over 1,400 MLB innings on his 5’10”, 165 pound frame, or he could possibly be pitching around an arm injury which would explain the recent spotty command. While his off-speed pitches have remained above average, his hits per 9 innings has jumped from 7.3 in 2011, to 8.4 in 2013. Hitters are simply sitting on his fastball and waiting for a mistake. According to Fangraphs, hitters are hitting an astounding .303 off Lincecum’s fastballs in 2013, compared to just .226 in 2011. Since Timmy still misses enough bats (8.8 K/9), I would offer him the $14.1 million qualifying offer. At this point I would only feel comfortable with a 1-year deal. If he walks at least the Giants will obtain a draft pick and free up $20+ million dollars of cap room. I could see Lincecum getting an offer in the area of 3-years, $36 million to be a starting pitcher in his hometown of Seattle. I also imagine teams will pursue him to be a 100+ inning super-reliever after seeing the success he had in that role during the 2012 playoffs.
Should the Giants obtain both Lincecum and Pence, their job is still far from complete. They have a crater-sized hole in LF (formerly known as the Blanco-Torres platoon) where Nelson Cruz (.269/.330/.511 in 2013), or even better, Shin-Soo Choo (.291/.425/.471) would be awesome fits. The Giants could also choose to move Belt to LF and pursue a power-hitting 1B. Hector Sanchez looks like he will be a solid back-up catcher next year, and will be a major upgrade over the automatic out that was Guillermo Quiroz. Despite pitching poorly for most of the season, I expect Sabean to pick up the 2014 team option on SP Ryan Vogelsong, hoping that a full off-season of rest will lead to a return in his velocity. I believe there is a good chance Petit becomes the 5th starter next year, so resigning Gaudin becomes a priority as a long-man in the pen and safety net for the rotation should Petit fail. The Giants could also sign a veteran SP to a short-term deal to add much needed depth to the rotation and serve as a place holder until prospect starters Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar, Clayton Blackburn, and Chris Stratton are ready. Getting a healthy Affeldt back, along with the emergence of flame-thrower, Heath Hembre, should be enough to get the pen back to where it needs to be.