Why Lester didn't fit the formula for San Francisco

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By SEAN HURD
College Contributor Network

It's been a tough start to the offseason for the defending World Champions.

After failing to re-sign all star third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who left the Giants for a fresh start in Boston by signing a five-year, $95 million deal, San Francisco also lost out on the Jon-Lester sweepstakes, as the left-hander signed a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Because of the relatively small pool of strong free agents, many teams are vying for the same talent and so far the Giants have come up empty.

All the while, teams within the National League West division were a part of a handful of Major League clubs that made early moves, including the Padres bolstering their outfield with Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, andthe Dodgers offloading Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Brian Wilson while adding Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Brett Anderson and, most recently, Brandon McCarthy.

But while big names change scenery and the narrow list of top free agents begins to dwindle, the Giants should not feel the need to acquire a big name to a monster deal. Quite frankly, the Giants haven't found tremendous success in signing highly touted free agents to large contracts after they have impressive seasons.

On Wednesday, longtime Giants color commentator Mike Krukow said that San Francisco may have dodged a bullet by not signing the 31-year-old Lester to a long-term contract and gambling on his pitching longevity. If Lester chose to cross the bridge and join the Giants, after ending last season in Oakland, he would have been San Francisco's biggest free-agent-pitcher signing for the club since Barry Zito in 2007.

At the time, Zito signed the biggest pitching deal in MLB history, at seven years and $126 million, after an all-star season in 2006 when he went 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA. During ZIto's seven seasons with the Giants, he recorded just one winning season, in 2012, with his lowest posted ERA being 4.03 in 2009.

Giants fans will remember the signing of outfielder Aaron Rowand, who also signed with San Francisco in 2007 after coming off an all-star year with the Philadelphia Phillies. Through four seasons with the Giants, Rowand would never hit over .275.

While big-name free agents haven't necessarily panned out for San Francisco, Giants general manager Brian Sabean has found a way to put three teams on the field that have won three championships in five years. Sabean has found success in signing and acquiring the role players, players who have had prominent seasons in years past, but were said to be in decline or had strung together consecutive down seasons.

Players like Aubrey Huff, who led the Giants in 2010 (a team often remembered as a band of misfits featuring other signees like Juan Uribe and Pat Burrell) in hits, runs scored, runs batted in and home runs en route to the team's first championship since '57.

In 2012 it was Marco Scutaro, who the Giants acquired in a midseason trade from the Rockies. After leading the Giants with 14 hits in their NLCS victory over the Cardinals en route to its second championship in three years, the Giants re-signed Scutaro and he was an All Star in 2013. This past season it was the signing of outfielder Michael Morse, who has since signed a two-year deal with the Marlins, and veteran pitcher Tim Hudson.

The Giants' success and identity has also been derived from their ability to groom draft picks, although their farm system isn't very highly regarded. The faces of the franchise like Brandon Belt, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner have carried the team through its three playoff runs in the last half decade.

Second baseman Joe Panik was the notable call-up this season, making his impact by collecting a team-high three hits in the Giants' Wild Card win over the Pirates and six hits in the World Series against the Royals. According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, of the eight teams to advance in the 2014 Division Series, the Giants ranked second only to the Cardinals for the highest number of active players who were drafted by their current team, with 14.

San Francisco was able to close its first deal Wednesday, when it re-signed right-handed reliever Sergio Romo to a two-year deal worth $15 million. Thursday, the team re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year deal worth $24 million.

While the Giants continue to search to fill a now-very-large hole at third base, as well as divots in the pitching rotation, pursuing trade options may be their best route, pending their willingness to offload prospects.

To continue to rebuild the rotation, San Francisco should look to re-sign Ryan Vogelsong if its new pursuit of Royals right-hander James Shields comes up empty. Vogelsong, when healthy, averages over 180 innings per season. Another option, if the Giants are willing to take on his contract, could be to deal for Cole Hamels who has four years left on his deal with the Phillies before becoming a free agent in 2019. Despite going 9-9 last season, Hamels posted 2.46 ERA while having the 13th lowest run support in the league at 3.43 runs per game.

Although the Giants appear to be on the ropes in the early going, it's definitely too early to count the club out on making moves –- it just may not be the big one.


Sean Hurd is a junior at The George Washington University. He is a native of San Francisco and a sports columnist for the University student newspaper The GW Hatchet. Follow him on Twitter: @seanahurd
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