Giants have needs to address at winter meetings

It may seem that the San Francisco Giants are just one or two player additions from planning another parade next November.

That is not necessarily the case, however.

With Angel Pagan expected to begin the season in centerfield, the retirement Jeremy Affeldt and a pair of key contributors set to return from injuries, there are several other questions surrounding the Giants’ title hopes.

Even if both right fielder Hunter Pence and second baseman Joe Panik make full recoveries, and San Francisco returns to 2014 form, that won’t be enough.

Since the emergence of the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, the road to the NL Pennant is much more treacherous. With a further improved Kansas City Royals team, as well the breakout Houston Astros and a surely re-inspired Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the World Series will certainly feature a more than worthy foe.

As the Baseball Winter Meetings commence on Dec. 6 in Nashville, Tennessee, the Giants top brass will be able to shore up their roster through both free-agent signings and trades.

In a conversation with MLB media, Giants general manager Bobby Evans addressed the idea that the team’s only need lies in the rotation:

“I think we recognize that there is a need to deepen our rotation, improve our rotation. There is also a need to keep an open mind about other areas we could improve, whether that is looking at our left-field situation or at ways to give us some depth.

There are a lot of opportunities out there that we don’t yet know in great detail – trade-market opportunities.”

As it is structured right now, manager Bruce Bochy’s opening-day lineup would include Gregor Blanco – an excellent fourth or fifth outfielder – in left field.

It would also rely on an injury-prone and inconsistent Pagan as well as Pence and Panik who are both returning from significant injuries. Due to the health questions that surround the trio, 25-man depth will be more important for the G-Men than ever.

Perhaps the greatest query, though, lies in the absence created by Affeldt’s retirement.

A key member of “The Core Four” back-end of the San Francisco bullpen, the lefty has not only been a reliable force during the regular season, he has been one of the most dominant relievers on postseason history.

His career 0.86 postseason ERA is third all time for pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched – behind only Mariano Rivera (0.70) and Harry Brechreen (0.83).

The obvious question has a quickly approaching answer with starting pitcher Zack Greinke’s decision to sign in Arizona, and Jeff Samardzija a clear plan-b.

As for the second-base and right-field positions, needs fall in the depth, back-up roles and can be filled through trade.

Having seen an emergence from minor-league outfielder Jarrett Parker (.347/.407/.755) in last season’s final month, Evans may consider handing the leftfield starting role to the 26 year-old.

What is more likely, though, is that the Giants make a move for a top-tier corner outfielder to start in left, but be able to move to right should Pence’s oblique or arm continue to nag the 32 year-old.

Cincinnati Reds’ Jay Bruce is one such player. With a career .248/.319/.462 slash after back-to-back down season, the 28 year-old has been rumored to be on the block.

Given those consecutive poor season, Bruce’s value is at its lowest since he was drafted 12th overall in 2005. His contract ($25.5 million through the 2017 season) also comes with a $1 million buy-out next year, which adds to his worth

With Parker waiting in the wings proven back-up Blanco at the ready, however, the Giants have the ability to take a chance that a change of scenery is enough to re-invigorate the two-time all star, silver slugger and top 10 MVP finisher’s career.

Miami Marlins’ Marcell Ozuna (.265/.311/.416 career slash) is another name that makes sense, as he could also step into the centerfield role should Pagan suffer an unsurprising injury.

Continuing with the theme of value over quality, due to a less-than-impressive farm system, the Giants will look in the direction of infielders with a wide range of skills but a low asking price.

Along with Ozuna, Marlin utility infielder Martin Prado makes sense. The ability to play almost every position buoys his career .291/.339/.425 career slash.

What an infield acquisition would need to provide to Bochy is the ability to play second and first base (as Brandon Belt is still suffering from concussion symptoms) and be able to bat in a variety of spots in the order.

Despite their inability to work out deals with cross-bay rival Oakland Athletics, the Giants may also check in on the availability of Brett Lawrie.

Unlike Prado, who is in the final year of his contract, Lawrie would be under team control in 2018 (entering arbitration this season). Oakland’s recent addition of Jed Lowrie has made the 25 year-old available while his .263/.316/.420 career slash add control to his cost.

When Affeldt announced that 2015 would mark the end of his 14-year career, the Giants’ need for a left-handed late reliever reared its head for the first time since 2010 when Javier Lopez joined the group.

That group could be filled by any number of trade – Aroldis Chapman being the top prize. But that is a hole more likely filled through free agency with a guy like Antonio Bastardo.

Whether it is through the trade market or free agency, the Giants are likely to make a splash during next week’s winter meetings.