— As the first day of the Winter Meetings wound down Monday, Giants general manager Brian Sabean made the team’s current priorities exceedingly clear.
“We’re just interested in (Jon) Lester,” Sabean said. “He’s the only pitcher that we’ve engaged, the only player we’ve engaged.”
It’s the same tone the Giants struck right after the World Series with Pablo Sandoval, the third baseman who wound up signing a free-agent deal with the Boston Red Sox. At that point, Sabean said, the Giants turned their focus to the largest starting pitching prize on the free-agent market this offseason: Lester.
The left-hander has reportedly whittled his list down to a handful of teams, and Sabean said Monday evening: “We’re still on the board.”
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“One of five teams, I think,” Sabean said. “That’s the extent of it. That’s all the news I have.”
Sabean did say the Giants have reason to believe Lester could make his decision “sooner than later.” Some media outlets were reporting that decision may come Tuesday. Among the other teams said to be on Lester’s short list are the Cubs, Dodgers and Red Sox.
Lester finished fourth in Cy Young voting last season after going 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA -- the lowest ERA of his career. The Giants already have a dominant left-hander in their starting rotation -- Madison Bumgarner, who on Monday was named Sports Illustrated’s 2014 Sportsman of the Year -- but the rest of the rotation is iffy, with Matt Cain coming back from surgery, Tim Lincecum coming off another rocky year and Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy in the wind as free agents.
“You have to have the rotation,” Sabean said of the Giants’ interest in Lester. “You have to have a solid or above-average rotation … We don’t have the next wave of pitchers coming like we have before.”
Sabean said the Giants will reassess their priorities after Lester makes his decision. But for right now, it’s “Lester and everything else.”
* On the position player front, Sabean acknowledged needs at third base and left field and reiterated the Giants do not have a third base solution in-house.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” Sabean said.
The Giants have been said to have interest in free agent Chase Headley, but Sabean said: “Don’t go by what you’ve read that we’re head over heels about Headley. Right now it’s all about Lester.”
For both third base and left field, Sabean indicated the Giants may find better options via trades than on the free-agent market.
Sabean was also asked about the possibility of bringing back Melky Cabrera -- whose previous stint with the Giants ended badly after he was suspended for PEDs in 2012 -- and said it has not been seriously discussed. Asked if Cabrera’s prior conduct makes the idea a “non-starter,” Sabean said:
“I have one voice … A lot of people would have to weigh in.”
* As for the rotation, Sabean said that Cain, who is recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow, is on track to be ready for spring training. Sabean said, “Every indication is right now he’s on course.”
Will Lincecum be in the rotation next season? “As of right now,” Sabean said.
* Whoever makes up the rotation, they’ll regularly be throwing to Buster Posey. Sabean was again asked about Posey potentially switching positions down the road and, again, shot that notion down.
“It’s not discussed in any form by (manager Bruce Bochy) and me,” Sabean said. “Buster’s our catcher. Franchise player, franchise catcher.”
Andrew Susac will go into spring with an inside track on the backup job, given Susac’s performance in the second half of last season and Hector Sanchez’s concussion issues.
* The Giants intend to announce soon their replacement for third-base coach Tim Flannery. Sabean said it is an in-house hire.
* Finally, Sabean said he isn’t sure what effect the loss of Sandoval will have inside the Giants’ clubhouse. “He brought a lot of energy,” Sabean said. “He’ll be missed on and off the field.”
Sabean would not, however, speculate on why Sandoval chose to leave for Boston.
“He’s with the Red Sox,” Sabean said. “He wanted to be in a Red Sox uniform. That’s the choice he made, and we wish him well.”