Giants roster is built for the future

The 2012 San Francisco Giants were not a group of misfits. These Giants are a group of ballplayers.

They are gritty, gutty, never-quit, team-first ballplayers. They wanted to play with each other, for each other.

The 2012 San Francisco Giants were the perfect definition of “team.”

*               *               *

Everybody thought Brian Sabean had assembled the perfect roster in 2010, but he may have topped it this year.

The 2010 Giants were a group of well-worn journeymen and a lights-out pitching staff. This 2012 version was a core of young players with that same pitching staff. This team is built to sustain a high level of play for a long time.

When I started thinking about the two World Series titles over the weekend, my first instinct was to call it a dynasty, just like everyone else. 11 players were on both World Series rosters, including many of the core players of the team, but the two teams were different.

What the Giants accomplished over the last three years is unique. A number of players remain from 2010, but they don’t all hold the same roles.

Tim Lincecum fell from his perch as a starter. Aubrey Huff’s skill regressed almost to nothing. Pablo Sandoval went from bench-warmer to World Series MVP. Brian Wilson blew out his elbow faster than he grew out his beard. Sergio Romo stepped into the vacated closer’s role and adapted like he was born for the job.

Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and a couple of relievers were the only players in their same roles during both title runs.

This wasn’t a case of the Yankees of the late 90’s, who had a large core and added complimentary players. The Giants completely overhauled their offense in two years. Posey is the only player that start both World Series clinching games. Not one single outfielder that was on the roster in 2010 was on the 2012 roster.

Posey is creating quite a legacy for himself. He’s now won two championships in his first three seasons. He won Rookie of the Year two years ago. He’s probably going to win the MVP this year and he won the NL batting title. And he’ll turn just 26 years old next season.

The Giants were in first place on May 25, 2011 when Posey suffered a season-ending injury. The Giants finished 59-55 without Posey and missed the postseason.

So in the two full seasons he’s been behind the plate, the Giants have ended as champions. When he ended it on the disabled list, they couldn’t even get to the playoffs. That’s a pretty good example of Posey’s value to the Giants.

But really, the dynasty is what’s about to come.

*               *               *

The Giants team that demoralized the Detroit Tigers is built to last. In 2013, the Giants will bring back the same starting infield, assuming they re-sign NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro.

I’m not convinced Scutaro can duplicate the numbers he put up after being traded to the Giants, but he’s a good, consistent player that puts the ball in play and will get on base in front of Sandoval and Posey.

The pitching staff should remain largely intact. Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong are all under contract. Jeremy Affeldt and Guillermo Mota are the only two major free agents on the pitching staff.

Romo, Wilson, Santiago Casilla and Jose Mijares are all arbitration-eligible, so the Giants have the option of bringing them all back. I expect Romo, Wilson and Casilla to all return next season.

That leaves the outfield.

The Giants remade their outfield before the 2012 season and had to adjust it during the season. There’s a decent chance they will overhaul the outfield for 2013.

Hunter Pence is arbitration-eligible and the Giants will have to decide if he’s worth about $14 million. Angel Pagan is a free agent and can cash in on the success he had in 2012. Are the Giants willing to make a long-term commitment to a 31-year-old? If he asks for anything more than a two-year deal, I would let him walk away.

Brian Sabean has some major questions to address with the outfield. But other than that, the Giants don’t have that much work to do this offseason.

*               *               *

One piece of business we will almost certainly hear about is a possible long-term contract for Posey. He’s not a free agent until after the 2016 season — he’s still making a paltry pre-arbitration salary  of $615,000.

After his MVP-caliber season, and his importance to the Giants, it would be wise for the team to lock him up with a deal similar to what they gave Bumgarner (six years, $35 million) earlier this year that buys out his arbitration years.

If the Giants spend the money to bring back Pagan, Pence and Scutaro, they have a chance to build a truly unique dynasty. They have a chance to bring back a team largely intact.

Let’s say they bring back those three key players (Pagan, Pence and Scutaro) and tender a contract offer to important role players like Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias and Casilla, the Giants could hold onto 19 core players: Bumgarner, Cain, Casilla, Lincecum, George Kontos, Javier Lopez, Romo, Vogelsong, Zito, Posey, Hector Sanchez, Arias, Belt, Crawford, Sandoval, Scutaro, Blanco, Pagan and Pence.

I’d be surprised if they don’t make a contract offer to Jeremy Affeldt, who became such a key member the Giants bullpen. Most lefties out of the pen are specialists, but the freak-injury-prone lefty is capable of going one or two innings at a time. Affeldt is also clutch — he pitched 10-1/3 scoreless innings over 10 appearances during the 2012 postseason.

Aubrey Huff and his rally thong will have his option bought out by the Giants. They’ll send him home with a nice $2 million care package.

Mota, Ryan Theriot, Jose Mijares and Xavier Nady will be allowed to test free agency. The Giants like Mota and the cough syrup he brings to the mound, so they might bring him back.

*               *               *

If the Giants can’t work out deals with Pagan and Pence, there are a few options on the free agent market that might be able to fill their roles.

Center fielder Michael Bourn won a Gold Glove in 2009 and 2010 while playing with the Houston Astros. This past season, he hit .274 with 10 triples and 42 stolen bases in 155 games for the Atlanta Braves.

Bourn made $6.8 million in 2012 and a pay raise is expected. He’s a great defensive center fielder and is the perfect leadoff hitter, so he would fit well with the Giants. But it might take a four- or five-year commitment to get him.

Giants fans became very familiar with Ryan Ludwick during the NLDS as he hit three home runs against them. In hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, the 34-year-old Ludwick hit 26 home runs.

Ludwick would be a good fit in the Giants line. But first he has to make it to free agency. He has a $5 million mutual option with the Reds, but CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman believes Ludwick will turn it down and try to negotiate a better deal with the Reds.

Other options include B.J. Upton, Torii Hunter, Shane Victorino, Nick Swisher and Juan Pierre.

If Sabean is feeling a little frisky, he could break the bank for Josh Hamilton, but the only way that happens if a deal falls into his lap.

Then there’s always the long-shot option of bringing Melky Cabrera back.

*               *               *

The Giants do have some decisions to make, but not as many as everyone thinks. The outfield is obviously the biggest task facing Sabean. If Pagan and/or Pence leave, there are alternatives for the Giants GM. He’s a shrewd trader, so if he doesn’t see anything he likes on the free agent market, he could surprise us and make a trade for an impact bat.

But whatever Sabean does, the Giants have a solid core of players to build around. Posey, Cain, Bumgarner, Sandoval, Belt and Crawford are all homegrown talent under the Giants control for the foreseeable future. It’s just a matter of adding the right pieces around them.