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September 27, 2013
Sabean reflects on Giants' season, shares priorities for 2014

SAN FRANCISCO -- One of the lasting images of the Giants' 2013 season will be that of center fielder Angel Pagan sprinting around the bases at AT&T Park and diving headfirst into home for an inside-the-park home run to beat the Rockies on May 25.

When the dust settled, the Giants were 27-22 and tied for first place in the West. Pagan, though, would not play again for 84 games with a hamstring injury that required surgery. The Giants, meanwhile, spent one more day tied for first before entering a prolonged tailspin that scuttled their World Series title defense and left them battling the San Diego Padres for third place when the two teams met Friday to begin their final series of 2013.

It was one instance of what general manager Brian Sabean pointed to Friday when asked how a team that hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy last October fell so precipitously this season.

"I think it's pretty simple -- we didn't have enough depth," Sabean said during a news conference at AT&T Park. "Last year we seemingly were able to overcome injury and lack of performance. We didn't do that this year.

"We didn't get any kind of life raft help from the minor leagues, whether that was the fifth starter or what we went through in left or center. So lack of depth became an issue."

Following the organization's second World Series title in three seasons, the Giants made a point of keeping their roster mostly intact going into this year. Sabean, in a candid admission, said Friday he "might have been the most surprised person in the organization that we won (in 2012)" and said the strategy for this season was to "get one more year out of the group at hand in the window that we were in."

"But it's safe to say the window with the group at hand is closed," Sabean said. "We've got to create a new window immediately, and that's the task at hand."

The first priority this offseason, Sabean said, will be resigning his own free agents. The Giants have been in talks with right fielder Hunter Pence, who on Friday was named the recipient of the Willie Mac Award as the team's most inspirational player, and Sabean said the Giants intend to begin negotiations with starter Tim Lincecum soon. The Giants also hope to bring back reliever Javier Lopez.

Regardless of what happens with Lincecum, Sabean said, the Giants will look to add a starting pitcher this winter. Only two members of this year's opening day rotation -- Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner -- are certain to return next season, and Sabean said there has been no decision on picking up Ryan Vogelsong's $6.5 million option for 2014.

It doesn't sound like that arm will come from the minors. Sabean said he's "encouraged" by the young pitching in the Giants' system, but those prospects likely won't be major-league ready until 2015. A lack of depth at the higher levels was exposed this year by the fractured pinkie that sidelined Vogelsong for 69 games and the struggles of Barry Zito.

Chad Gaudin filled in nicely for Vogelsong but is a question mark after finishing the season on the disabled list, while Yusmeiro Petit has "a chance to be on our staff next year," Sabean said, but is largely unproven. Overall, a rotation that has been the backbone of the Giants' recent success entered Friday with the third-highest ERA (4.32) in the National League.

"I think when you look at our season, that's probably been an issue as much as anything," said manager Bruce Bochy. "Early we were scoring enough runs to overcome some of their struggles, but even as we got into June they hadn't quite gotten on track, and then the offense struggled."

Both Bochy and Sabean said they believe the mileage from postseason runs in 2010 and 2012 caught up with the Giants this year. Fourteen players spent time on the disabled list while others such as Marco Scutaro battled nagging injuries.

Along with starting pitching, Sabean said the Giants could pursue a left fielder, though he described the overall free-agent market this winter as "not very friendly" and indicated there will be budgetary constraints. Entering Friday, Giants left fielders had combined to hit .254 with four home runs (fewest in the majors) and 49 RBIs (fourth-fewest).

Among the prospects who debuted this year, Sabean said he sees reliever Heath Hembree as the "most intriguing" option for a major-league role next season. He said it's unlikely the Giants will make "a splash" on the international market.

"We're going to look at any way and every way to not only get our people back that we think are important going forward -- that have done such good work for us -- and more so get a fresh look with us," Sabean said. "If that means somebody from the outside, we're certainly prepared to do that within the budget. If it means pushing some of the younger players, we're prepared to do that too."

Of the returning players, Sabean said he isn't worried about decline from Scutaro, who was shut down last week after playing much of the season with back soreness and "mallet finger" in his left pinkie resulting from being hit by a pitch in June.

Pagan, meanwhile, returned to the lineup Aug. 30 and said this week he's "pretty excited I'm going to be 100 percent next season, I'm not going to lose anything." Closer Sergio Romo cited Pagan's injury as "probably the biggest blow that we took this year."

The Giants' lineup entered a prolonged slump shortly after Pagan's injury, scoring the fewest runs in the N.L. in June (90) and the fewest in baseball in July (78). Compounded with the pitching staff's struggles and stretches of spotty defense, it left the Giants 15 games under .500 and in last place the day Pagan returned.

"There was a lot of things that didn't go our way and just kind of stockpiled on us," said Bumgarner. "We already know from 2011, but it shows you how hard it is to repeat after such a long year and being on such a high.

"You've got to continue to be good and play together, and at the same time have things go your way. You've got to have guys healthy. Too many things were going in the wrong direction for us."

* A few other notes from the conference:

Sabean on Pablo Sandoval: "Well you're amazed when you look at the scoreboard and see the stats and it hasn't been a full or complete or good year for him. The sky's still the limit, we're still waiting for that, and it's up to Pablo. We've seen the good the bad and the ugly. He's on the last year of a contract and that either means stepping up for this organization and doing enough to warrant having us keep him here or getting himself ready for free agency and move on. It's in his court now."

Sabean on Hector Sanchez's role next year: "That's up to Hector. He's certainly come a long way and had a good second half. I don't know how much winter ball he's going to play, and he maybe could use the playing time, but it's really up to him. He's certainly got the talent, and we could use the games behind home plate to spell Buster. It worked terrifically in 2012 and it got better for us in the second half once he was locked into being the backup again."

Bochy on Brandon Belt's season: "He's done what you hope your young players do during the season and that's improve. ... He's made some adjustments and he's a better hitter because of it. And he's only going to get better. As far as left field, it's nice to have a player like this that gives you flexibility. He's a good athlete. He can run, he has a good arm, he's played outfield in college. So if that was something that would help this club, that's a nice option to have. You don't have too many first basemen who you could think about even doing that. I can't answer whether he's going to do it or not now, but as far as the future, this guy is a 3, 4, 5-hole type hitter. I think his power's going to increase with these adjustments and I think he's really happy with where he's at now. Still has some things to work on, but I like where he's at right now."

Sabean on Barry Zito: It was good to see him get that start (Wednesday night). As crazy as this sounds, as this may sound to you, if I had to do it over again I would have done what we did to sign Barry Zito. I think we've learned a lot from his time here and our pitching staff has. And quite frankly, when we needed him the most he helped us win the World Series. So I find great satisfaction and solace in that. He's a great person, he was a great professional in a Giant uniform. And he's going to be missed for a lot of reasons."

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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