SAN FRANCISCO – One of the lasting images of the Giants' 2013 season will be of center fielder Angel Pagan sprinting around the bases at AT&T Park and diving head first into home plate 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 National League West. Pagan, though, would miss 84 games with a hamstring injury that required surgery. The Giants 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 teams began their final series of 2013 on Friday at AT&T Park. The Giants won the opener 7-3.
Pagan's injury 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.
"It's pretty simple – we didn't have enough depth," Sabean said during a news conference. "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.
Sabean, in a candid admission, said 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 re-signing his 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 pitcher Tim Lincecum soon. The Giants also hope to bring back reliever Javier Lopez.
Regardless of what happens with Lincecum, Sabean said, the Giants would like 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, 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 pitcher will come from the minors. Sabean said he's "encouraged" by the pitchers in the Giants' system, but those prospects likely won't be ready until 2015. A lack of depth at the higher levels was exposed this year by the fractured little finger that sidelined Vogelsong for 69 games and Barry Zito's struggles.
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 unproven.
Overall, a rotation that has been the backbone of the Giants' recent success entered play Friday with the third-highest ERA (4.32) in the National League.
"When you look at our season, that's probably been an issue as much as anything," manager Bruce Bochy said. "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."
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.
Sabean also 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 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 – 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 little finger after being hit by a pitch in June.
Pagan 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 National League in June (90) and the fewest in baseball in July (78). Compounded with the pitching staff's struggles and stretches of spotty defense, the Giants were 15 games under .500 and in last place when Pagan returned.
"There was a lot of things that didn't go our way and just kind of stockpiled on us," Bumgarner said. "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."
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/ bay-area-baseball.