ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's not hard to pinpoint team strategies in Major League Baseball, whether you're talking about the big spenders or those who rely on their farm systems and bargains. When it came to the Giants, rival executives always knew the plan for success was pitching.

It's a path that has led to two World Series titles, but the Giants veered off course in 2013 en route to 86 losses. They ranked 13th among 15 National League teams in starter's ERA (4.37). The same group is coming back, with Tim Hudson expected to serve as an upgrade over Barry Zito, and the Giants are betting their 2014 season on the fact that things will get better.

"We all know what they're capable of," general manager Brian Sabean said. "Their arms are fine, and they've all had varying degrees of success, some bigger than others."

After his season-ending news conference in September, Sabean said it had become clear to him that the Giants' starters had fallen behind the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as three N.L. Central playoff clubs -- the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

How do the Giants stack up heading into 2014?

"These are certainly guys that, if they're pitching to form, are going to be reckoned with in our division and in the National League," Sabean said.


Advertisement

Though the Giants are confident, it's understandable that there are questions. Madison Bumgarner is the only member of the current five coming off a smooth season.

In a division that includes the Dodgers boasting the Clayton Kershaw-Zach Greinke duo, the Giants believe Bumgarner and Matt Cain will stack up fine. After a nightmare of a first half, Cain got a 10-day break and posted a 2.36 second-half ERA.

With just those two locked up, Sabean said he headed into October with "angst over how we may fill out our five." That led the Giants to offer $35 million over two years to Tim Lincecum, who according to a source close to the situation had planned to test the market until the Giants made that offer. The Giants believe Lincecum was better than his 4.37 ERA, and FIP (fielder independent pitching) supports that notion, putting Lincecum at 3.74 in 2013.

Hudson's two-year, $23 million deal followed, and the Giants believe he'll be fully healthy after ankle surgery. When the team committed $5 million to Ryan Vogelsong, the offseason starter shopping was complete. The total: just over $56 million for five pitchers being counted on to vastly outperform last year's numbers.

  • The A's bulked up their outfield Wednesday at the winter meetings by trading lefty reliever Jerry Blevins to the Washington Nationals for Billy Burns.

    Burns, who was the Nationals' 2013 minor league Player of the Year, hit .315 with no homers and 37 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A and Double-A. He stole 74 bases and walked 72 times for a .425 on-base percentage.

    "He's a true center fielder and one of the best runners in the minors," assistant general manager David Forst said.

    Blevins, who was the longest-tenured A's player at seven seasons, was 5-0 in a career-high 67 games in 2013. Burns, 24, is ticketed for Double-A.

  • The Giants remained hopeful they could add to their left field mix before flying home Thursday, and have identified players who could platoon with Gregor Blanco. They were briefly connected to free agent Jeff Baker on Wednesday, but assistant G.M. Bobby Evans said the club hasn't spoken to Baker's side in over a week.

  • Forst doesn't expect to pick up a player in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, and the Giants can't because their 40-man roster is full. But there could be drama on the Giants' side; right-hander Brett Bochy, the manager's son, can be claimed by another team.

    Staff writer John Hickey contributed to this report.