As the Giants held a news conference to introduce new outfielder Nori Aoki on Tuesday, construction noises filtered through the wall from where the team is reconfiguring the home clubhouse at AT&T Park.
“We know our clubhouse is under construction,” assistant general manager Bobby Evans told the gathered media. “But our roster is getting closer and closer to being set.”
Like the team’s digs, the Giants’ lineup has undergone something of a makeover. Gone are power threats Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse. Replacing them in 2015 are third baseman Casey McGehee and the 33-year-old Aoki, who combined to hit five home runs last season in Miami and Kansas City, respectively.
Both McGehee and Aoki, though, have shown a knack for quality at-bats and getting on base – and as such fit what Giants general manager Brian Sabean said will be a “different type” of offense this season.
With Sandoval and Morse gone in free agency, Sabean said the Giants turned their focus to bringing in players who could help “keep the line moving” – manufacture runs rather than collecting them with one big swing.
“I think as we looked at how the team was possibly filling out, we saw that it was not going to take a turn towards power,” Sabean said.
“It’s just going to be a different look, a different type of team to try to score four or more runs a game. You have to put a team together based on what is out there to draw from. I think we’ve just reacted and done that, whether through a trade like McGehee or signing like Aoki.”
Once the Giants lost the bidding war for free-agent pitcher Jon Lester, Sabean said, they opted to spread their resources throughout the roster rather than chase a high-profile target. They re-signed starting pitcher Jake Peavy, traded for McGehee, who last year hit .287 with 76 RBIs despite hitting just four homers, and finalized the deal with Aoki, who will go into spring training as the everyday left fielder.
Aoki is not a power hitter – he hit one home run in 2014 – but in his three major-league seasons since leaving Japan has batted .287 with a .353 on-base percentage, 67 stolen bases and nearly as many walks (141) as strikeouts (144). Aoki also can play all three outfield positions, allowing manager Bruce Bochy to use him in center or right field to spell Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence.
“Power guys are going to have their moments. They’re going to swing and miss. They’re going to have their two or three weeks where it’s not there,” Bochy said. “Speed’s a little more consistent.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like power. But if you can’t get that right fit, that right bat, the best way to go is go with the guy who can get on base and run. We got the best player out there, and I’m excited to have him.”
Bochy said the plan for now is to keep Pagan at the top of the lineup. But he said adding Aoki, who led off for the Royals most of 2014, allows the Giants to shift gears in spring training or midseason, if necessary.
Sabean indicated both Aoki and McGehee are expected to be complementary pieces in a lineup where the Giants anticipate full seasons from Pagan and Joe Panik, the continued maturation of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, and the steady production of Buster Posey, who Sabean said did not have “his normal big offensive year” in 2014.
The Giants still have “some wiggle room” to pursue another starting pitcher, Sabean said, but it will not be a “high-ticket item.” They have remained in touch with free agent Ryan Vogelsong, but the right-hander is reportedly close to a deal with the Houston Astros.
“If we had made a big signing, we would have had to fill up this team in a different fashion,” Sabean said.
Aoki said through his translator Kosuke Inaji that he prefers to hit leadoff, but he will defer to Bochy on that decision. Smiling throughout the news conference, Aoki said he chose the Giants because he likes the city of San Francisco and was impressed as an opposing player by “just looking at their dugout and seeing how loose the whole team is.”
Aoki seemed pretty loose himself, at one point saying that he might buy bench coach Ron Wotus “golf clubs, or maybe a Rolex” in exchange for taking Wotus’ No. 23 jersey. Aoki also said he’s looking forward to meeting Madison Bumgarner, whose dominance helped the Giants beat Aoki’s Royals in the World Series.
“I’ve heard that Madison likes to wrestle,” Aoki said. “So I think I’m going to initiate the wrestling.”