Sabean addresses Giants' needs
San Francisco GM points to productive hitter, bullpen help
SAN FRANCISCO -- Adding a productive hitter and bolstering the bullpen will be the Giants' top priorities entering the offseason, general manager Brian Sabean said Monday.The Giants ranked last in the Major Leagues in home runs and next-to-last in the National League in scoring, emphasizing their need for offensive help. Brian Wilson tied for second in the league with 41 saves, but too often San Francisco's setup relievers were unable to deliver Wilson a ninth-inning lead. These factors hastened the Giants' fourth straight sub-.500 season. But, should the Giants strengthen themselves in these areas, Sabean said in his annual season-ending address, "I think we can play winning baseball." Sabean acknowledged that finding a hitter will be a major challenge. So, although a third baseman would be the best fit for the Giants, who conceivably have no outfield openings and project Pablo Sandoval as next year's Opening Day first baseman, Sabean didn't rule out obtaining a first baseman or a corner outfielder to help the offense. Securing a hitter suitable for the cleanup spot could benefit the rest of the lineup, since catcher Bengie Molina, who hit fourth this season while admitting he's not suited for the role, and center fielder Aaron Rowand, who slumped in the second half, could occupy more comfortable spots in the order. Sabean expressed doubts about acquiring a hitter through free agency, where the big names include first baseman/outfielder Adam Dunn, left fielder Manny Ramirez, first baseman Mark Teixeira and third basemen Casey Blake, Hank Blalock and Joe Crede. Blake's the most attractive free-agent third baseman, but he's 35. An intriguing free-agent bargain could be outfielder Juan Rivera, who hit only .246 this year for the Angels but amassed 12 home runs and 45 RBIs in 256 at-bats. "There aren't that many difference-makers as free agents go," Sabean said. "We'll be involved in that area, but I'm not going to hang our hat or all our hopes on getting that type of player. And it may be a combination of players." Sabean indicated that trading would be a likelier method for landing a hitter, though he intends to avoid players who'll become eligible for free agency after 2009. Cincinnati's Edwin Encarnacion (.251, 26 homers, 68 RBIs) and Colorado's Garrett Atkins (.286, 21, 99) could be available. Atkins hit .342 at hitter-friendly Coors Field, compared to .235 on the road, yet he managed to hit 12 of his homers away from home. The Giants probably would have to part with a pitcher in any deal, although Sabean was reminded last December of the difficulty of securing a hitter under any circumstances when he agonized over swapping Tim Lincecum for Toronto's Alex Rios. Matt Cain's name already has been bandied about in rumors, but when asked if Cain and Lincecum were untouchable, Sabean said, "In my mind, they are." Sabean said the Giants would search for relief help among the group of free agents, which includes several competent setup artists, including Jeremy Affeldt, Joe Beimel, Bob Howry, Will Ohman and David Weathers. Sabean explained how the Giants' two biggest shortcomings formed an unfortunate combination.
"When you're challenged to score three or four runs a game, it's very difficult for the starter not to try to do more than his own. I think that's one of the reasons you saw some of our starters have losing records. And ... we didn't finish off by the time we got to the closer."While the Giants are excited about Sandoval, who hit .345 in 41 games, Emmanuel Burriss, the presumptive shortstop for 2009, and Fred Lewis, who emerged as the primary left fielder in his first full Major League season, they can't be expected to improve automatically. The significance of the Giants' one-victory improvement this year to a 72-90 finish, Sabean said, is something "we're going to find out next year, because there's expectation now on these kids that have performed." Right fielder Randy Winn, who led the Giants in multiple categories, including games (155), batting average (.306) and stolen bases (25), observed that improvement from this season's top rookies can't be assumed. "There have definitely been some bright spots this year," Winn said. "But as a guy who's been around and seen this before, for the young guys who came up this year, it's about [continuing] to get better. I've seen guys come up and play well for a month or the second half of a season" -- and that's it. Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who accompanied Sabean to Monday's news conference, expressed confidence that the club's youngsters will continue to blossom.
"They're not just happy to be here," Bochy said. "I like the way they play the game and play to win. Their approach to the game is not just trying to survive and stay in the Major Leagues."Other issues Sabean addressed included: Second base. He said the organization is "pulling for" Kevin Frandsen to overcome his injured left Achilles and claim the spot. But Sabean indicated that Frandsen must prove he can hit proficiently. "We're going to need as much offense as we can get from every position," Sabean said. "And as Boch can tell you, [Frandsen's] probably limited to a couple of places in the [batting] order." Eugenio Velez remains a possibility, as Sabean praised his defensive improvement and his offensive surge which followed. The coaching staff. Everybody already is under contract through 2009, except for first-base coach Roberto Kelly and third-base coach Tim Flannery, who will be re-signed. Nate Schierholtz, whose path to a regular role in the outfield appears blocked. "I don't think I know enough about him," Sabean said, referring to Schierholtz's 19 games for the Giants this year. Although Schierholtz is likely to make the team because he's out of Minor League options and has nothing to prove at Triple-A, Sabean added: "He's going to have to have a good Spring Training and we're going to have to figure out what's in our best interest -- where he plays and how much." The possibility of re-signing Rich Aurilia, who hit .283 and can play every infield position. Sabean said the Giants might explore re-signing the popular veteran, although "that decision would come later than sooner" in the offseason. Sabean believed that several teams will pursue Aurilia, who he called a "tremendous asset" to plug holes.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.