Giants shift focus to pitching staff

Giants shift focus to pitching staff

SAN FRANCISCO -- While the official signing of Barry Bonds is imminent and the starting lineup nearly complete, Giants general manager Brian Sabean said Monday there's still a sizeable vacancy -- a starting pitcher.

The loss of veteran Jason Schmidt was a serious blow -- the right-hander had been the ace the past five seasons and sports the best winning percentage in San Francisco history -- and there's a lot of wishing and hoping involved in expecting 22-year-old Matt Cain to be the rotation leader next season.

Yes, Matt Morris should be a stable starter following recovery from a second-half rib injury, but there's only Noah Lowry left from the big four, and it's questionable whether tender-aged Jonathan Sanchez can secure a rotation role.

"It's fair to say pitching is on our minds, first and foremost," said Sabean, adding that the team hasn't been especially active recently but has had conversations regarding acquisitions.

A's free agent Barry Zito was alongside Schmidt as the best pitchers on the market, but it's believed the Oakland star's price tag is above $80 million for six years and climbing. Could the Giants afford the left-hander? With Bonds in probably his final contract year, there would certainly be more money available for such a long-term deal, and Sabean noted Bonds' contract was structured to give the team budget room for a significant pitching signing.

Zito, who has been offered a multiyear deal by the Texas Rangers and is also targeted by the New York Mets, is currently in the Bay Area, but Sabean wouldn't comment if anything is in the works.

"He's a name," said Sabean. "Who knows? I'm not going there."

Another potential acquisition, former Cardinals hurler Jeff Suppan, is being hotly pursued by Pittsburgh, and the Mets are closing in on Mark Mulder. New Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he might be interested in getting ex-Padres old-timer David Wells, but San Francisco would be pushing its luck there.

Sabean he'll try both the free-agent market and trades to acquire a starter, but admitted, "We were taken aback with what's going on with the pitching numbers."

The Giants were interested in Toronto free agent Ted Lilly -- 15-13, 4.41 ERA in 2006 -- but he inked a four-year deal with Chicago for $40 million, and other mid-level pitchers are also at a premium.

Sabean wouldn't comment on interest in former Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, but indicated young right-hander Brian Wilson is leading his Puerto Rican Winter League squad in saves and said "reports are very encouraging."

San Francisco has also expressed interest in acquiring slugging first baseman Richie Sexson from Seattle, but Sabean said floating infielder Rich Aurilia is still considered the starter, while utility player Mark Sweeney can play there and Lance Niekro is still in the picture.

"We've consideried options internally and outside the organization," said the GM.

Bochy said he's still mulling over a possible starting lineup, but considers center fielder Dave Roberts the leadoff hitter and shortstop Omar Vizquel the No. 2 hitter, with the third spot between Aurilia and second baseman Ray Durham, and Bonds cleaning up.

"Right now, sure, that's the best fit for [Bonds]," said Bochy, adding the the Giants will be flexible in the lower order with Randy Winn, Pedro Feliz and Bengie Molina.

"We have speed and power -- it's a very dangerous lineup," said Bochy. "It'll put runs on the board."

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.