In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad. Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.
San Francisco Giants
86-76, second in the NL West
Just a year ago, the Giants were sitting where the Cardinals are sitting now. They were the defending champions, headed up with a strong pitching staff and looking like almost locks to return to the playoffs and have a chance to defend their title.
While the wheels didn't exactly fall off the wagon--after all, the Giants were in contention for the wild card until the last week or so of the season--it still was a bit of a dropoff from the giddy heights of 2010. The breaks didn't go their way as much in '11 and their pitching staff was a step off and it doesn't take much going wrong for a champion to be sitting home in October.
It's a new season, though, and I've got a cavalcade of Giant blogger stars to join me in talking about it.
Julian Levine is the founder of what is now known as Giants Nirvana. You'll find Julian at various other places as well, including his Twitter feed of GiantsNirvana.
Lefty is a fellow Blogs By Fans writer, following the Giants over at El Lefty Malo on the network. He's also on Twitter, going by leftymalo.
Finally, The Lunatic Fringe is a unique blog in that it's not really written in the style of what you'd expect. It's designed as a comic strip that Kevin Cunningham writes and Rog Hernandez draws. You can find them on Twitter as well at SFLunaticFringe. Kevin and Rog were gracious enough to answer the questions in their unique style, which is a first for this blog! (By the way, if you have trouble reading them, click for a larger version.)
So get settled in as these Giants fans tackle the offseason and if that catcher of theirs is ready to go.
ELM: Cautious. They bent over backwards to keep the pitching staff intact, even spending $5 M on Jeremy Affeldt and $9 million for two more years of Javy Lopez. The only pitchers not returning are Jonathan Sanchez, traded for Melky Cabrera, and reliever Ramon Ramirez, who went to the Mets in the Andres Torres/Angel Pagan swap. To improve the feeble offense, they're counting on Pagan, Cabrera, the healthy returns of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez and a full year of Pablo Sandoval (who missed two months of 2011 with a broken wrist). All that, plus making what seemed to be a half-hearted run at Carlos Beltran, isn't inspiring a lot of confidence among the Lunatic Fringe (the name Brian Sabean once gave to the nattering nabobs of negativism amongst us fans). By the way, Sabean recently explained to the press why the Giants and Beltran couldn't come to terms.
GBB: I was hoping they'd be more aggressive towards re-signing Carlos Beltran. After giving up their top prospect for him, they got just 6 weeks of actual playing time out of Beltran, as he missed some time immediately after the deal with a wrist problem. He did finish the year strongly though and I thought the deal he signed with St. Louis should have been matched by San Francisco but Sabean seemed to dismiss the idea of bringing he and Cody Ross back, all the way back in October, despite the fact that both stayed on the market for a long time and there's no reason those two shouldn't have been re-visited. However, I really did like the Melky Cabrera deal. I think this guy is the real deal as he's started his spring terrifically and hopefully can fill up some of the void that Beltran left behind. I wasn't quite as high on the Angel Pagan deal as the Cabrera deal, not because of I don't like Pagan, but I just was hoping the Giants would get a legitimate power hitter to play in the outfield like Carlos Quentin or Josh Willingham to play alongside Cabrera and Schierholtz. Pagan's track record is better than Torres' though, and he's by far superior offensively and a much better base-stealer. Defensively, Torres was very good, and only time will tell if Pagan can match that level. Those were their two big moves, but the two under-the-radar moves that could really pay off for this team was bringing in Ryan Theriot and Gregor Blanco on the cheap.
22G: The Aaron Rowand/Pat Burrell/Cody Ross ("water buffalo defense") era is finally over (thank goodness!) Manager Bruce Bochy is employing a "small ball" strategy this year (something I've been personally harping about for years at spacious AT&T Park). With speedsters like Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, Nate Schierholtz, and Gregor Blanco roaming the outfield ("gazelle defense"?), balls hit in the gaps by opposing players should be cut down dramatically. Throw in a very quick Emmanuel Burriss (coming off the bench), and this team has a shot at leading the NL in stolen bases. The Giants kept most of their highly-regarded pitching staff in tact (except for Jonathan Sanchez, who was shipped to KC for the aforementioned Melk Man). Ryan Theriot was a solid utiliTy Pickup. Hopefully, the injury bug won't be flying around AT&T Park this season.
SWHI: In a word, underwhelming. None of the moves made were what could be considered splashes, but none of them were total head-scratchers like some of the things from last off-season and leading up to last year's deadline. Angel Pagan isn't a huge upgrade over Andres Torres in all likelihood, and offers a similar set of tools, but he is a more established and slightly younger player. Melky Cabrera is a risk, but if he can put up even close to what he did in 2011 offensively that would be an immense help and makes the loss of Jonathan Sanchez, a problematic player in his own right, worth it in spades. Not having long-term deals for either Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain is disappointing, but not cause for panic just yet.
GC: Two critical needs faced the San Francisco Giants front office following the 2011 season: first, to financially wrap up and align their starting and bullpen pitching, which they succeeded in getting done very quickly. Four of their five starters are signed and in the fold and the bullpen, with only one player change from last season, appears to be stronger than the 2011 version.
The Giants re-signed starter Ryan Vogelsong for two years at $8.3m, with a club option for $6.5m in 2014. San Francisco also re-signed Tim Lincecum for the 2012-13 seasons for $40.5m-- Lincecum's previous two year contract was for $23m.
Contract talks are ongoing with Matt Cain, but expect something soon for around four years at $16-$18m a year. Fifth starter Barry Zito still has two more years to go on his seven year $126m deal.
The second goal was to search for additional and affordable offensive upgrades, and the Giants made two decisive moves to achieve that goal.
First the team traded struggling lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the Kansas City Royals in early November for outfielder Melky Cabrera, who whacked 201 hits for the Royals in 2011. San Francisco then traded righty reliever Ramon Ramirez and extra outfielder Andres Torres to the Mets for Angel Pagan, who will lead-off and play center field.
While Cabrera and Pagan will not bring much power to AT&T Park this season, their addition to a team that scored the second lowest number of runs in the Majors last year makes this (on paper) probably the Giants' best hitting line-up in almost 10 years.
T2C: I'd say the offseason was solid, but unsexy. The team brought back their two stud left-handed relievers in Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez and also right-hander Guillermo Mota, to solidify their already strong bullpen. They extended one of the best stories of last year in Ryan Vogelsong for a good price. They also extended All-Stars Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum. But, by extending Lincecum for two more years, it also meant that they failed to sign him to a long-term deal which might bite them in the butt. They failed to extend Matt Cain (as of this writing) who becomes a free agent after this season. Cain has said that he'd rather get the deal done before the season starts than have to negotiate throughout the season.
They made two trades to try to improve last year's lackluster offense. They sent struggling left-handed starter Jonathan Sanchez, who management had spent the last three years waiting to blossom, for outfielder Melky Cabrera who is coming off the best season of his career. They also acquired Angel Pagan from the Mets for Andres Torres who was one of the team darlings in 2010, but fell out of favor after not playing well at all in 2011.
All in all, they filled holes, made the offense better with trades, but we'll truly know the value of the offseason when we see what happens with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. If one (or both) leaves, this offseason was a failure. But much like amateur drafts, you're not going to be able to tell immediately. What's good for 2012 might ultimately not be good for the future.
C70: Is Buster Posey fully healthy and what are the expectations for him this year?
GN: He seems to be mostly healthy. I think only time will tell whether or not the injury will have lingering effects on his ability to catch every day, but I'm hoping it won't be a problem. As far as expectations, I'm not entirely sure. The optimist in me wants to believe that he'll get right back to doing what he did in 2010 and 2011, but realistically, I'm not 100% certain that he'll be able to return to form with ease.
ELM: The reports don't give any reason for alarm. But we won't know until he plays consecutive games in spring training, obviously. The Giants are talking about his return as the equivalent of signing a big free-agent hitter, which to some extent is true. Even if he can't match his production of 2010/early 2011, he's still a huge offensive upgrade over the Eli Whiteside/Chris Stewart tandem that replaced him after the injury. There's talk of him playing a bit more at first base, which he did decently in 2010 before the Giants traded Bengie Molina. It's unclear how often he would do so, or how enthusiastic Bruce Bochy is about the idea.
GBB: Buster has pretty much come full circle since his injury last May, and is starting to catch more and more in Cactus League games. He'll be out there behind the plate on opening day, barring some kind of set-back over the next couple weeks, but the
Giants will ease him back into action with him getting some time over at first base early in the year. So to answer the question in a word, yes, Buster is fully healed and ready, but is so important to this team that they'll take every single precaution as they ease him back into his full catching load. My expectations for him this season are high, as he's looked healthy and strong so far this Spring. As long as he can play 140+ games, and stay healthy, I see big things for Buster in what hopefully will be his first full season as a Major Leaguer. I'd expect something similar to his 2010 output with a little more production due to increase in at-bats. A .300 average, 20-25 homers and 85+ RBI should definitely be reachable for the talented backstop as long as he avoids any set-backs or other injuries in 2012.
22G: I think 120 games behind the dish are reasonable if he doesn't somehow aggravate or re-injure his ankle. The plan is to give him a few starts at first base each week during the first couple months of the season. As for his production at the plate, I'd be happy with a .280 average and 17 to 20 dongs.
SWHI: I do think he's fully healthy, but the honest truth is that fully healthy doesn't necessarily mean that he'll be the same player he was before his injury. That said, his progress is reassuring and the lack of set backs so far makes me feel good about being at the very least cautiously optimistic about his return. I'd love to say that he can be confidently counted on to put up the kind of numbers he did in 2010, but his PECOTA projected line of .282/.350/.439 lines up with my gut instinct. If he can get into the neighborhood of that projection and catch 120 or so games, I think we'll all be thrilled. I also have a feeling that he's the Giant most likely to get a lot of slack from the fan base if he doesn't perform the way we'd hope, but that's not really here or there.
GC: Posey has said several times in 2012 that doctors have told him he is not fully healed from the broken leg and severely strained ankle ligaments following a May 25, 2011 collision at home plate.
Posey's rehab has gone very well and he will report to Spring Training and fully expects to start behind the plate on Opening Day. But there is no doubt the Giants will tread carefully with Posey the first half of the season. The original plan was to have Posey catch and make some starts at first base, but the front office realized he will require actual days off until at least mid-season.
There is little doubt Posey is the type of hitter who will get back to his 2010 rookie form at the plate in short order. He is an extra base hitter who will bat 4th or 5th in the Giants order and will be a critical run-producer for the Giants. American League fans can look forward to seeing Posey in the 2012 All Star Game.
T2C: I think a lot of fans expect Posey to come back at full strength, but I'm not one of them. He still feels pain making cuts on the base paths and that sounds normal to me, but I think the expectation is that he's going to be the Buster of old immediately and play 150 games. I'd go with a softer expectation. If he plays 130-140 games, spends some time at first base to rest his legs, and is able to hit between 15-20 homeruns and drive in 85 runs, I'd be very happy. The most important thing is that his ankle injury completely heels and he isn't continually set back.
C70: What would be the most pleasant surprise for the coming year, if it happened?
GN: The most pleasant surprise would probably be to have a healthy, productive Buster Posey for all of 2012. He's a rarity: a catcher that excels both defensively and offensively, and as such, he has the potential to win this team the division.
ELM: Melky Cabrera repeating his breakout 2011. Or shortstop Brandon Crawford hitting just enough to stay in the lineup and flash his leather on a daily basis. Dude can pick it.
GBB: Well, I guess the most pleasant surprise, and the best thing for this team, would be if Brandon Belt hit his way into the starting lineup and became the team's starting left fielder. Aubrey Huff looks primed for a comeback season, which if happens, would limit Belt's time at first, so left field becomes his likely destination if the Giants want him in the lineup on a daily basis. As it stands now, it looks like Cabrera will be in left, Pagan in center
and Nate Schierholtz in right, but I've always liked Nate as a 4th outfielder and a versatile guy who can do a bunch of stuff offensively and defensively. If Belt could earn a starting spot in left, it would shift Cabrera over to right, which may not be the best defensive outfield, but would certainly be the best offensive lineup the team could field. Another, more realistic surprise would be if the other Brandon, shortstop Brandon Crawford, actually becomes an asset or at least average rather than the black hole he was at the plate for much of 2011. He's got gold-glove caliber defense, so if his bat keeps him in the lineup, he should win that honor, that's the kind of game-changing defender this kid is. And he's done just that this spring, working hard on his hitting and it's paying off as he's sitting around .400 halfway through the Spring.
SWHI: I would say Buster Posey existing in a Giants uniform, but that's not really a surprise, so I'll go with Brandon Crawford hitting, just a little bit. If he outperforms his projections I may spontaneously burst into a song while dancing a jig.
GC: Two surprises could make the 2012 season outstanding for the San Francisco Giants: 1) if newly acquired Angel Pagan can be that lead-off hitter who truly sets the table for the offense this team will score some runs. 2) If the Giants play Brandon Belt every day at first base and he develops into the power bat San Francisco desperately needs.
T2C: I think it would be a pleasant surprise if they are strong offensively. They won 86 games last year while scoring nearly 130 runs less than in their World Series 2010 season. If that happens again, they're going to win less than 86 games. Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera need to start strong and the Giants need to get productivity from Freddy Sanchez and Buster Posey who missed big parts of last year because of injury. There should also be a bullseye on Aubrey Huff's back. If he starts slowly again, Bruce Bochy needs to give Brandon Belt a chance to be an every day player.
C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?
GN: The Giants don't have a whole lot of starting pitching depth, and with the uncertainty surrounding Barry Zito coming off a miserable and injury-filled 2011, lefty Eric Surkamp could play a huge role. He was disappointing in his first taste of the majors, but I think he's capable of providing some stability at the back-end of the rotation in the not-so-distant future.
ELM: Brandon Belt is no longer officially a prospect, and the buzz that surrounded him at the start of 2011 has died down, but if he wins a regular spot he could be a major addition. Hard-throwing reliever Heath Hembree, who ended 2011 in Double A, could be a big bullpen addition at some point; many have him tabbed as Brian Wilson's eventual replacement. Not much else in the high minors. Top prospect Gary Brown, a center fielder, is probably starting the year at Double A and is a long shot for anything but a cup of September joe.
GBB: There are two guys that I think have a chance to make this team at some point this season, depending on how they do in the minors and how the teams is performing at the big league level. The Giants top prospect, speedy outfielder Gary Brown, looks like he's getting very close to being ML ready, and he could become an option in the 2nd half of the season if the Giants need help in the outfield. Also reliever, Heath Hembree, who's the Giants best minor league reliever, should make his major league debut this year, whether it's in April or September, and could serve as an insurance policy in case Brian Wilson's arm troubles aren't yet behind him.
22G: Outfielder Gary Brown, catcher Tommy Joseph, and second baseman Joe Panik are all at least a year or two away, but the Giants could find themselves in a situation where catcher Hector Sanchez makes an impact in 2012. Whether that be because of a trade or an injury, I'm not sure, but Sanchez is another on a long list of Giants catchers who need to be watched.
SWHI: Possibly stretching the definition of prospect a bit here, I really, really, really (did I say really?) hope that Brandon Belt is given a chance to settle in and make his mark without being yo-yo'd between San Francisco and Fresno all season. In terms of guys with no or very limited big league time, Eric Surkamp is the obvious next in line if Barry Zito implodes or (knock wood) one of the front four of the rotation get knocked out with an injury. He's a lefty with pretty moderate velocity on his fastball but pretty wicked breaking pitches and while he wasn't knock down amazing in his short time up late last season, he showed a lot of potential. I'd also expect to see Gary Brown up in September, though I wouldn't think earlier unless something pretty weird and unexpected happened.
GC: I do not expect the Giants to bring up star prospect Gary Brown from Triple A Fresno unless there is catastrophic non-production at the plate from several starting outfielders. Even then the front office is more likely to make a trade than bring up their prized center field prospect.
A better promotion would be slugging outfielder Francisco Peguero, who has a .779 OPS (.312 BA) in six minor league seasons and brings something to the show that Gary Brown cannot: a power bat. If Belt takes over at first base, and Aubrey Huff continues his offensive decline, expect to see Peguero in the Giants outfield.
T2C: There are two young players who can make big impacts this season. The first is Brandon Crawford who will be given every chance to prove that he can play shortstop in the big leagues every day. The problem is that he's all field and no-hit. If the team is better offensively, it might not matter if he doesn't hit. But if the team struggles to hit like they did last year, he may have to be replaced mid-season if he doesn't hit. But I still feel that Brandon Belt is the key young player this season. He's going to need to get at-bats because his bat is going to be needed at some point this season. The Giants are vet-laden team. But if a youngster makes an impact, I still feel it's Belt.
C70: Where will the team finish in its division and what are you most excited about for 2012?
GN: This is a tough call, but I'll just go ahead and say first place. I don't think there's a significant difference in talent level between the Giants and Diamondbacks, so they have a solid shot at the division title. As for this season, I'm most excited to watch Madison Bumgarner continue to blossom into an ace.
ELM: I'm not going to predict actual standings, but with no health disasters, the Giants should compete for the division. I'm most excited to see Posey back on the field and to see if the pitchers can excel yet again, but without tearing their skin off in frustration from the lack of run support.
GBB: I think they finish 2nd in the NL West, but luckily for the Giants, MLB is adding the extra wild-card team in each league, and it's hard to think that the Giants, if healthy, won't finish amongst the top-5 teams in the National League and earn a playoff spot. The thing I'd say I'm most excited about is seeing the return of Buster Posey, and finally getting to watch Buster and Pablo, the Giants future core positional talent, play together regularly for the first time. Also, I look forward to the new element of speed this team added in Cabrera and Pagan. I think that plays well with the ballpark they play in and should help them manufacture more runs than the their 2011 putout, which ranked last in the National League and the 2nd worst, in terms of runs scored, in all of baseball behind only the Seattle Mariners.
22G: The Giants will compete for the NL West Division (and have a fantastic chance of winning it outright). With the added wildcard team this year, a return to the postseason looks favorable for San Francisco.
SWHI: Assuming the injury fairy doesn't decide to get a season long sublet in the Giants' clubhouse again this year, I don't think the Giants winning the NL West is at all out of the question, but I don't expect Arizona to make it easy. A drop lower than a second place finish would require some really shocking things to happen.
As for what I'm most excited about, I'll give you some bullet points in no particular order.
*Buster Posey hitting.
*Madison Bumgarner continuing to dominate at only 22 years old.
*Buster Posey catching.
*Pablo Sandoval making awesome bubblegum aided diving grabs.
*Buster Posey throwing.
*Tim Lincecum striking out the side. Doesn't even matter against who.
*Buster Posey chewing bubblegum.
*Matt Cain making statisticians' heads' hurt.
*Buster Posey drinking Gatorade.
*Ryan Vogelsong writing the next chapter of his Disney-movie-worthy career.
*Buster Posey breathing.
I think you get the picture.
GC: The Giants will battle Arizona all year but should take the NL Western Division with outstanding pitching and increased run production. The excitement in San Francisco will be all about offense--Buster Posey's return, Melky Cabrera's bat, the amazing Pablo Sandoval, and the emergence of Brandon Belt as a run producer.
T2C: I think the Giants have a great shot at winning the division, and at the very least, they should be in the wild card race all season long. Other than the fact that there will be baseball again very shortly, the single most thing I'm excited about this season is a certain left-handed starter. No, not Barry Zito. Madison Bumgarner may very well come into his own this year. He's been lights out in Spring Training. In the second half last season, he went 9-4 with a 2.52 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He's probably the second best young left-hander in the National League to Clayton Kershaw. I think there's a great chance that he becomes the second best starter in the rotation to Lincecum before the season is said and done.
My thanks to everyone for their thoughts and opinions. The Giants would seem poised to make another run and it should be interesting to see if they can do it.
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball