San Francisco Giants' GM Brian Sabean did a tremendous job building the 2012 championship team. Now, looking ahead to 2013, the Giants have some holes to fill in their roster.
With Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro testing the free-agent market, the Giants need a center fielder, and a second baseman. In addition, Sabean will look to add an additional outfielder and a right-handed relief pitcher.
It appears that the Giants have the inside track to retain Scutaro, but the situation with Pagan is much less certain. Pagan was a major cog in the Giants' World Series run and is determined to land a long-term deal in the four- to five-ear range.
I cringed when the Detroit Tigers signed aging outfielder Torii Hunter, who is 37 years of age, to a two-year, $26 million deal. The Hunter deal raised the stakes teams will have to pay for Pagan and the other top center fielder on the market, Michael Bourn.
With the available center fielders on the market commanding a high price for solid, though not spectacular production, Sabean will expand his options, especially if he determines he will not be able to sign Pagan or Bourn.
I am seeing two very strong and somewhat surprising options that Sabean may seriously pursue. The first is Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro in a Giants uniform makes sense for several reasons. First, he can still play at a very high level and although he is 39 years of age, he is in tremendous shape and has the body of someone a decade younger.
Ichiro is an outstanding defensive player and would be a perfect fit in right field at the spacious AT&T Park. Current right fielder Hunter Pence can move to left field, which should not pose a problem.
With New York, in 67 games and 227 at-bats, Ichiro batted .322 with five home runs, 27 RBI, 28 runs scored and 14 stolen bases. These are very strong numbers, especially if you project them over an entire season.
Ichiro has stated that he would like to remain with the Yankees, but no deal appears imminent. If Ichiro opens the door to other opportunities, the Giants could be an excellent fit.
The San Francisco Bay Area also has a large Japanese population and Ichiro would likely feel right at home. He is the type of player that shines in the limelight and the big crowds and infectious enthusiasm at AT&T Park will energize him.
Ichiro coming to San Francisco would be expensive and would probably preclude the Giants from signing another high-priced outfielder. However, his productivity would enable the Giants to settle for Gregor Blanco and another low-priced player to share center field duties.
In my opinion, Blanco is best suited as a fourth outfielder, but if the Giants sign a big-money free agent, they may be forced to go with him as a starter. Blanco is an outstanding defensive player, but can be very inconsistent offensively.
Blanco, a left-handed hitter, is better against right-handed pitching than he is against southpaws. A platoon may be in the works, if Sabean can find a suitable right=handed bat for center field.
If the Giants are unable to land Ichiro, Pagan or Bourn, the next player Sabean may go after is Nick Swisher. Like Ichiro, Swisher last played for the Yankees and may not be in their plans for 2013.
Swisher, who is now 32 years old, has played in at least 148 games in each of the past seven seasons. He was very productive in 2012, hitting .272 with an OBP of .364 and OPS of .837.
In 537 at-bats, Swisher had 24 home runs, 93 RBI and scored 75 runs. Primarily a right fielder over his career, Swisher could move to left, if the Giants opt to keep Pence in right.
Swisher played his first four seasons in Oakland, right across the bay from San Francisco. He was a fan favorite and would be well-received in the Bay Area as a Giant.
Sabean has his work cut out for him this offseason as the Giants need to fill these open roster positions. The Giants' ownership group will likely give him some flexibility to exceed the ending salary level of 2012, which was roughly $130 million.
Even with a little more flexibility, salary control is something Sabean will need to be especially adept at juggling, as the Giants have no young position players ready to step into a big league role, like they had with Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt last season.
The hot stove is heating up and it will be very interesting to see how Sabean constructs the Giants' 2013 roster.