Evans sees pitching as Giants' top priority

GM anticipates increased payroll as club puts wrap on '15

Evans sees pitching as Giants' top priority

SAN FRANCISCO -- General manager Bobby Evans didn't deliver an extensive reply when he was asked how the Giants plan to keep up with the talented Los Angeles Dodgers, the National League West champions who happen to be San Francisco's longtime archrival. But he did offer a quick riposte.

"We don't want to keep up with them," Evans said Monday during the Giants' annual season-ending news conference. "We want to pass them."

Accomplishing that probably will require obtaining a top-quality, high-salaried, free-agent starting pitcher who would complement Madison Bumgarner and enable San Francisco to counter Los Angeles' co-aces: Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The pool of available pitchers is expected to include David Price, Johnny Cueto and the aforementioned Greinke, if he opts out of his contract.

Giants president and CEO Larry Baer didn't rule out signing a big-name starting pitcher. "We have to look exhaustively at the market," Baer said. But, he added, it's too early to predict how the market will develop, because free-agent bidding won't begin until six days after the end of the World Series. "Every piece has to fit," Baer said.

Evans, however, did say that an anticipated payroll increase could help the Giants' efforts to pursue "high-end" pitching options.

The genial Giants brass therefore came up with nothing surprising as it summarized 2015 and addressed expectations for 2016. Nothing like some previous years, which included an ultimatum for an underachieving Aubrey Huff or the vow from Brian Sabean (the Giants' baseball czar who was ill and couldn't attend this function) to assemble a younger, more athletic roster.

Of course, the Giants need to bolster their starting pitching. Bumgarner was the only member of the season-opening rotation to make each of his assignments. Moreover, the Giants' .267 team batting average led the NL, though their top four outfielders and each starting infielder except third baseman Matt Duffy missed significant portions of the schedule due to injuries.

"Our core guys are here," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We just missed them most of the season."

Evans sounded broad-minded as well as single-minded. He said that he would consider every means of player acquisition in the quest for starting pitching -- not just weighing free agency, but also exploring trades, promoting candidates within the organization and perusing international markets.

But pitching, he indicated, would dominate his priority list.

For example, asked whether he'd try to retain free-agent outfielder Marlon Byrd, Evans said, "We're aware of how much Byrd helped us." But, he added, "We're going to focus initially on the pitching side."

As of now, Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Chris Heston would join Bumgarner in the rotation. But that doesn't mean the Giants will proceed as if they have just one opening for a starter. "We have to keep an open mind," Evans said.

Evans announced that center fielder Angel Pagan, who's entering the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract, will undergo right knee surgery Tuesday. Evans said that this procedure should enhance the mobility of Pagan, who ranked 23rd among Major League center fielders in multiple defensive metrics this season, according to Fangraphs.com.

Evans noted that infielder Kelby Tomlinson will report to the Giants' instructional league camp next Monday to begin learning the rudiments of playing outfield, as has been expected. Evans also said that the signing of Cuban outfielder Eddy Martinez isn't final, though an official announcement is expected soon.

Evans addressed a host of other issues, including:

• Retaining free-agent right-hander Mike Leake. Evans indicated that the sides had mutual interest, but the Giants might not act as fast as Leake would prefer.

• Holding onto Tim Lincecum, who's recovering from hip surgery. Evans suggested that no decision could be made until Lincecum regains his health, which won't happen for months.

• Whether to tender a contract to arbitration-eligible right-hander Yusmeiro Petit. "It'll be a hard decision to make if we decide not to tender him," Evans said.

• Re-signing free-agent right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, which Evans didn't reject out of hand. "I'm not in the mode of eliminating options. I'm trying to gather options," Evans said.

• Picking up outfielder Nori Aoki's 2016 contract option, a decision which won't be announced until after the World Series. "It'll be a close call, [based on] looking at how our lineup is going to shake out," Evans said. He added that encouraging reports about the health of Aoki, who sustained leg injuries and a concussion this season, represented a "significant benefit" to his chances of returning to the Giants.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.