SAN FRANCISCO -- The theme of Monday’s season-ending press conference was an obvious one, with Larry Baer, Bobby Evans and Bruce Bochy all hammering home the same point.
This team needs starting pitching.
The Giants have good timing in that respect, as the market will be flush with options this winter. David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto are among the names at the top end, with Mike Leake highlighting a list of more palatable options salary-wise, and guys like Ian Kennedy and Doug Fister potentially available for the back end of a rotation.
Evans said the Giants will “be open-minded.”
“We recognize our needs, starting with our pitching, and that’ll have to get addressed,” the general manager said. “We’ll keep as many balls in the air as we can to try to address these things in creative ways. We know there are no off days in the offseason. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re ready to get started.”
The focus will almost certainly be Leake, and the right-hander showed what he can do with a two-hitter in his last start for the Giants. Leake didn’t quite live up to expectations after being acquired from the Reds, but the Giants believe he was hampered by hamstring and elbow issues. Fully healthy at the end of the season, Leake had one of the best performances of his career.
The Giants have made it clear that Leake is a priority, although they’ll have to beat others, including the Arizona Diamondbacks -- Leake went to Arizona State and lives in the Phoenix area. Leake has said he hopes to get something done early in the offseason.
“We’re going to be open-minded about the pace of negotiations and discussions,” Evans said Monday. “I’m not ready to pin down any one guy at this point. I think we’ll be open-minded to the pace. I’ve spoken with Mike. He’s aware there’s mutual interesting. The timing may not be as quick as we would both like.”
Evans said the Giants are focused on getting someone who gets deeper into games, and in that respect, Leake is a great fit. He pitched at least seven innings 13 times this season. While monitoring Leake, the Giants will be in on the market for bigger names. They went hard after Jon Lester last year and then chased James Shields.
“We’ve shown over the years that we’re in the deal flow, so to speak,” Baer said. “We may or may not push the button, they may or may not be the right fit in terms of years, dollars, culture -- but we’re going to look at the market and look at it pretty exhaustively.
“Anything is possible, but it’s got to be the right fit. All the pieces have to fit.”
Neither Baer nor Evans would say much specifically about the top of the market, but Evans did acknowledge that “you don’t necessarily need to solve the rotation for the next seven years this offseason.” Evans mentioned several times Monday that the front office will try and be creative when putting together a rotation for next year. Madison Bumgarner is the ace, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are locked into place, and at least one pitcher will be added from the market. Evans also mentioned trades and the international market, and team officials have made it clear over the last month that Clayton Blackburn is a potential option at some point in 2016.
Blackburn, a 22-year-old right-hander, led the Pacific Coast League with a 2.85 ERA and the Giants pulled him back from the Arizona Fall League because they were so impressed by the way Blackburn finished his Triple-A season.
“Nobody was better than Clayton Blackburn down the stretch,” Evans said. “He’s really turned a corner for us. His command, his stuff, pitching the way he did at Triple-A, which is a very tough hitters league. Certainly he’s a guy on the tip of our minds.”
Evans also mentioned Tyler Beede, Ty Blach and Chris Stratton as future options in the high minors, and Chris Heston still could potentially keep his rotation spot depending on how the winter shakes out. In his first offseason as the official GM, Evans was ready to get right to work, looking for a combination that can push this rotation to a point where it’s capable of keeping up with a young, All-Star-filled lineup. Asked about keeping up with the Dodgers’ duo of Clayton Kershaw and Greinke, he smiled.
“We don’t want to keep up with them,” he said. “We want to pass them.”
Some more other highlights from the hour with management, starting with the outfield....
--- Kelby Tomlinson will play outfield in instructional league games starting on Monday, but Evans said “that’s a lot to ask” for Tomlinson to platoon in center field with Angel Pagan, who was the worst defensive center fielder in the majors per defensive metrics. Pagan will have a minor knee procedure Tuesday and should need just two or three weeks off. He’s expected to be healthy next spring, and of course, it’s a contract year. Evans said Pagan will not be considered for a corner outfield spot (left field).
“Pagan is a center fielder,” he said. “I don’t see that move happening.”
As for the current corner guys, Marlon Byrd fell a couple starts short of reaching his $8 million option. Nori Aoki has a $5.5 million option for next year that hasn’t been picked up yet. The Giants have about a month to make that decision.
“It will be a close call,” Evans said. “We’re not ready to (make that decision) right now.”
--- I thought it was interesting that Bochy, in his final comments, mentioned the bullpen as an area that could use some help. It was a strong group for the most part, but Jeremy Affeldt is retiring and there were some issues down the stretch as guys wore down. That’s not ideal when you’re aiming to play an extra month.
Bochy said Josh Osich will basically become the new Affeldt (the retiring left-hander helped Osich all year long) and Hunter Strickland will be in that seventh-inning area with Osich. Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo are under contract and George Kontos hits arbitration for the first time.
“Kontos had a huge year,” Bochy said. “Forget yesterday, he carried a really heavy workload for us.”
Bochy said Yusmeiro Petit did a “great job,” but it really wouldn’t be a shock for the Giants to move on from their long reliever. Petit made $2.1 million in arbitration last year and barely pitched over the last month.
“Petit has been a very valuable part of our bullpen,” Evans said. “It will be a hard choice to make if we decide to do anything different than tender (him a deal), but we haven’t made that choice.”
If the Giants let Petit go, Cody Hall could be an option for that spot.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Bochy said.
As for Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum, it’s clear that Vogelsong is on the back-burner, and he does not expect to return. Evans said the focus with Lincecum is on his rehab.
“Physically, this is a pretty stiff rehab for him,” Evans said. “It will not be easy and he’s learning that. He’ll progress and we’ll be given the opportunity to assess him as we get into the offseason.”
It has always made the most sense for Lincecum to return on an incentive-filled deal. Nothing I've seen or heard over the past month has changed that.
--- Roberto Kelly can rest easy: Bochy said he expects his whole staff to return. Kelly got better as the year went on, but still, he’ll need to improve a bit more next year. On this note, it’s pretty amazing that Ron Wotus and Hensley Meulens haven’t been mentioned today for some of the managerial openings. Both guys are ready for a shot at the big job. It's a boost for the Giants, but a bummer for those two.
--- The signing of young Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez will be announced soon. Evans confirmed that a deal is in place. That’ll be one of the minor announcements of the offseason, and of course there will be some big ones.
You can follow it all on Twitter and Facebook. At the very least, Monday’s press conference made it clear that Evans will continue to provide one-liners no matter how the offseason turns out. Asked how “the payroll concluded,” he had a quick reply.
“The payroll concluded with everyone getting paid one last check,” he said.