Bobby Evans is entering his first offseason as the Giants’ general manager with a clear objective.
“We recognize our needs,” he said Monday, “starting with our starting pitching.”
After the Giants finished 84-78 and missed the playoffs one year after winning the World Series, their top officials reconvened Monday to address reporters and start looking toward 2016. During a 25-minute news conference, the Giants stressed that the focus this winter will be a rotation that has been the backbone of their three World Series runs.
The Giants have at least one vacancy in the rotation and possibly more, given the questions surrounding Matt Cain’s health and rookie Chris Heston’s second-half struggles. Evans said the Giants are looking at Cain as a starter next year, but after ace Madison Bumgarner and Jake Peavy, the rotation is murky.
“We’ll have to consider whether there’s more to address there or not, but at least we know there’s one hole … we’ll have to look at the free agents, internal options, international (markets),” Evans said. “We’ll just have to be creative and see what we can find.”
This year’s free agents include several starting pitchers – such as David Price, Johnny Cueto and possibly Zack Greinke – who should command large contracts. Giants president and CEO Larry Baer said the team’s payroll, which concluded this season at about $170 million, likely will increase next year, though whether the Giants chase a top-flight starter in free agency remains to be seen.
“I think we’ve shown over the years that we’re sort of in the deal flow, so to speak,” Baer said. “We may or may not push the button; there may or may not be a right fit in terms of years, dollars, culture. But we’re going to look at the market, look pretty exhaustively.”
Evans said the Giants “will be open-minded to every opportunity that presents itself,” but they “don’t want to get focused on (free agents) only because there are a lot of different ways to improve this rotation.” They made a hard push for free agent Jon Lester last December only to be rebuffed, and they felt the effects the rest of the offseason.
The Giants could look to their minor-league system – Evans mentioned River Cats right-hander Clayton Blackburn – or explore options from Cuba and Japan.
They also could pursue a free agent who, until Sunday, was part of their clubhouse. Right-hander Mike Leake won just two of his nine starts for the Giants after arriving at the trade deadline, but the Giants have long coveted the 27-year-old for his durability and athleticism, and Leake left a strong impression by pitching a shutout in his last start.
Leake has said he wants to sign with a team early this offseason and is open to rejoining the Giants. Evans said the Giants will be “open-minded about the pace of negotiations.”
“I’ve spoken with Mike. He’s aware that there’s mutual interest,” Evans said. “The timing may not be as quick as we both like, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.”
When Baer was asked if the Giants covet another ace to form a 1-2 punch with Bumgarner, a la the Los Angeles Dodgers’ combination this year of Clayton Kershaw and Greinke, he said only that the “aim is to return to a championship-caliber play and get back to the playoffs.”
Evans also was asked if the Giants feel the need to keep up with their rivals, who won the National League West this year behind their top two starters, and he delivered a sharp comeback.
“No, we don’t want to keep up with them,” Evans said. “We want to pass them.”