Giants general manager Brian Sabean gave an abrupt answer when asked Thursday to detail the team’s offseason to-do list.
“Pablo,” Sabean said, “as we speak.”
Sabean, team president and CEO Larry Baer, and manager Bruce Bochy held an end-of-season media conference and the 22-minute session was dominated by discussion of free agent Pablo Sandoval and the Giants’ situation at third base.
Coming off his record-setting postseason, Sandoval hit the open market earlier this week. Sabean was not eager to characterize negotiations with Sandoval, 28, saying: “We’ve engaged. I’ll leave it at that.”
But Sabean made it clear Sandoval is the team’s top priority.
“Pablo’s the only one that we’ve engaged as far as an offer and moving forward in that fashion,” Sabean said. “The four other free agents know where we stand and how we’re going about fleshing things out.”
The four other free agents are starting pitchers Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, reliever Sergio Romo and left fielder Michael Morse. Sabean declined to discuss their cases, indicating other issues are on hold until the Giants figure out how they’ll man third base in 2015.
Sabean said he does not expect a quick resolution to negotiations with Sandoval, and that if Sandoval leaves, the Giants will cast a wide search for a replacement.
“We don’t have a solution in house,” Sabean said. “So it would have to come from the outside.”
Sandoval was the cleanup hitter for most of the season and helped propel the Giants to a third World Series title in five seasons by batting .366 in the postseason, setting a major-league record with 26 hits. He is expected to draw heavy interest in a light free-agent market for hitters, and he said following the Giants’ victory parade last week that he intends to take his time making a decision.
The Giants’ payroll will increase, but not dramatically, Baer reiterated Thursday. The team reportedly had the seventh-highest Opening Day payroll in 2014, and Baer said he expects the figure to remain in that range.
The Giants have “put out feelers all over the board with our options, whether it’s other free agents or our own,” Sabean said.
While Sandoval’s return is uncertain, Bochy said he expects Tim Lincecum to return to the starting rotation in 2015 after being relegated to the bullpen down the stretch and during the playoffs.
“We have a need there,” Bochy said. “I think that’s fair to say.”
Along with Peavy and Vogelsong being free agents, Matt Cain will return from elbow surgery and Yusmeiro Petit’s greatest value has been as a long reliever. Lincecum went 12-9 with a 4.74 ERA during the regular season but was replaced by Petit in the rotation in late August.
“Our hope is he bounces back and throws the ball the way he did for about six or seven weeks there,” Bochy said. “He was really good. I think he’ll come into spring training, knowing Timmy, very determined to get back on track and be the pitcher that he is and we know.”
Catching up – Bochy affirmed that Buster Posey will be the Giants’ catcher next season, and said that Andrew Susac (Jesuit High School) enters the offseason as the “frontrunner” to be Posey’s backup in 2015.
“I’d have to say that right now with the great job he did handling the staff and swinging the bat,” Bochy said of Susac.
The backup job belonged to Hector Sanchez before Sanchez lost the second half of his season because of a concussion. Bochy said Sanchez will have the chance to win the job back next spring but that “he’s got some work to do.”
“He had to go through two concussions, and to be honest, he picked up some weight, he couldn’t do some things as far as conditioning,” Bochy said. “So hopefully he’s at home working hard on that and working to get himself back in the type of shape and condition he needs to be in.”
Et cetera – The Giants do not expect Marco Scutaro to play a significant role next season. Bochy said the best-case scenario is that Scutaro, who missed most of 2014 because of back problems and who will be in the final year of his contract, can contribute “in some way or form, whether it’s playing second, helping out Joe (Panik) there as a utility player.”
▪ Angel Pagan is expected recover from his back issues by the start of spring training. “He says he almost feels like he could play now,” Bochy said.
▪ Bench coach Ron Wotus was one of eight names on a preliminary list of managerial candidates released by the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. “He’s ready,” Bochy said. “There’s no question about it.”