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Playing Pepper 2013: San Francisco Giants

Posted on March 21, 2013 at 2:30 PM
Filed Under: Playing Pepper | San Francisco Giants
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat.  If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers.  We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.  

San Francisco Giants 
94-68, first in the NL West, won World Series 

What a difference a catcher makes.

With Buster Posey behind the plate in 2010, the Giants went all the way and bumped off the Rangers for their first title since 1954.  Posey then was knocked out of action early in 2011, taking the hopes of Giants fans with him.  He returned in 2012 fully healthy and back to normal, cranking out the MVP while leading the Giants to yet another title.

A title that stings Cardinal fans a bit, of course, as the Redbirds were just one win away from back-to-back Series appearances before some strong pitching and a freakish broken-bat hit sent them home for the winter.  Do we REALLY have to talk about this team?

Of course we do, and to that end I've got a good number of bloggers to chat about the World Champions.  M.C. O'Connor is one of the rotation of writers and the founder of Raising Matt Cain.  You can also find him on Twitter @raisingmattcain.  Craig Vaughn can be found writing THE San Francisco Giants blog at a URL sure to infuriate Cardinal fans.  Besides being a friend of Paul Kocak, who you may remember from writing Baseball's Starry Night (with a cameo by yours truly), Craig also put up these questions on his site to get responses from his readers, so be sure to look that over as well.

That's not all, though.  We also have Richard Dyer from The Giants Cove (Twitter @GiantsCove) and Bryan Rosa from the FanSided blog Around The Foghorn (on Twitter @RoundTheFoghorn).

(EDIT: And a late entry!  Ronnie Redmond writes Garlic Fries and Baseball, published a book--with a blurb from me on the back--by the same name, and is on Twitter @Garlicfries_bb.)

With all of these, at least talking about the defending champs will be a quality discussion, even if we pick at old wounds a little!

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C70: How would you grade the offseason?

RMC: The Giants did what they needed to do which was keep the championship club together. The Angel Pagan signing seemed like a no-brainer, he fits the leadoff man/CF mold well and enjoyed a warm relationship with the fans and local media. Four years is a long time, but at age 31 and coming off a career year, it's a reasonable gamble. Pagan should be at least a 2-3 WAR player for the next few seasons and could be even better. The Marco Scutaro signing is a little riskier given his age, but his skill set fits his role on the team and you had to figured he'd be rewarded for his ridiculous second half and post-season. Sergio Romo showed his value and earned a nice two-year deal. The Giants like bullpen depth and have two other guys who can close in addition to the somewhat fragile Romo--Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla, who was the closer when Brian Wilson was hurt. The roster was filled out with more bullpen arms, an extra outfielder (Andres Torres returns!) and some infield help to replace the departing Ryan Theriot. The Giants retained Hunter Pence, who should give the lineup a boost, and avoided arbitration with MVP superstar Buster Posey. All in all, Brian Sabean and Co. deserve an "A."

SFGB: I would grade it a B+. We brought back every critical player from last season. And, unlike our post-2010 World Series win (the first of 2 out of 3 years) Sabean brought back a team that isn't old and declining (and no, I don't consider Scutaro *old and declining*, more on him later). Sabean also gets a B+ for NOT bringing back Bee Wheezy (who I didn't want back anyway) and focusing instead on keeping together one of the best bullpen's in either league. I also liked the Torres signing. His numbers weren't as bad as they looked last year. His LD%, contact rate and bb % were all up last year. It looks like he's finally abandoning his love of the long ball and if he can keep his legs healthy I think he will be a nice compliment to Gregor Blanco in a platoon role. Of course, we all wanted the right handed power bat to go out in LF but realistically that wasn't ever going to happen.

GC: The Giants organization's goal was to reassemble the 2012 World Championship team, and in that they succeeded spectacularly.
Signed were free agents Angel Pagan (centerfield) and Marco Scutaro (second base); avoiding arbitration was right fielder Hunter Pence in a one year $13.8 million deal; and the team's stellar bullpen was kept intact via a series of extensions. Chad Gaudin will replace the departed Guillermo Mota in the pen (an upgrade) and lefty mid-season acquisition Jose Mijares is back.
All five starters (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum, and Ryan Vogelsong) begin the 2013 season under previous multi-year deals, as does third baseman Pablo Sandoval. National League MVP Buster Posey was extended in a one year $8 million deal, but expect the Giants to tear that up and sign Posey to a multi-year mega deal before the All Star break.
The biggest off-season negative was San Francisco not addressing their need for a run producing left fielder. Amazingly, former Giant Andres Torres was signed for $2 million to platoon in left with light hitting Gregor Blanco. Torres, who is 35 years old, is coming off two terrible seasons with the Giants (2011) and the Mets (2012), and has never been a defensive standout. The left field issue weakens an already shaky offense, which means GM Brian Sabean will have to fix that problem at some point in the 2013 season.

ATF: Overall, I think the offseason went well. The Giants retained the players they were hoping to keep in orange and black and didn't heavily overpay for any. I know some weren't exactly thrilled with the Angel Pagan deal, but, given the market - I think it was pretty reasonable. There weren't any big splashes, but, the money really isn't there to do that right now - so I'd give it a B+. Could it have been better, at least on paper? Sure. But given their budget and goals coming into the offseason, they accomplished pretty much everything they desired.

GFB: Assuming you mean spring training?  The team looks good but I'm not a huge follower of ST mainly because a lot of the players they're trying out never make the team, so I start taking it serious when the April Roster is announced.

C70: Will Brandon Belt have a full time job this season?

RMC: Brandon Belt should be an everyday player but he might need to swap his first baseman's mitt for a left fielder's glove. The Giants will use Posey at first at least once a week but they'll want to keep Belt's bat in the lineup, so LF it is. With fielding whizzes Torres and Gregor Blanco available for the late innings, it's not too much of a defensive drop-off. Belt is young (25 in April) and, despite his gangly appearance, moves well and has good hands. He's a plus-defender at first.

SFGB: Of course Belt will have a full time job this season. I think Posey gets a lot more games behind the dish in this second season removed from his surgery year. When Posey does play first base I think Belt is going to get a fair number of starts in LF. He'll get his share of time off vs tough lefties but he'll be a starter all year and I expect a solid year from him with more power.

GC: Brandon Belt is the team's first baseman. Last season Buster Posey played 29 games at first, both as a break from catching and to face left handers. But expect to see Posey a lot less at first because this team still needs a lot more offense and Belt is coming into his own as a run producer. If anything, Bruce Bochy may sometimes use Belt in left field to keep his bat in the lineup for 150+ games.

ATF: I'd love to say yes - but with Bruce Bochy - you just never know. Generally, I'd lean to Belt finally breaking through Bochy's wall and being the everyday starter, but if Belt presses again he's going to give Bochy reason to start somebody else. But, if I had to answer yes or no, I think Belt is given the job and sticks with it. The leash won't be as long as it is for others though, sadly.

GFB: Absolutely!  He's already golden glove material and once he starts connecting with his bat ~ MVP material!

C70: What are the chances Marco Scutaro regresses?  (No, no bitterness from this Cardinals fan, why do you ask?)

RMC: Scutaro put on such a show of clutch hitting last season that he'll be beloved in San Francisco for years to come, plus he was a fan favorite when he played across the Bay in Oakland. Sure, he will regress. You can't hit .362 forever! Nonetheless, he's been a dependable 2 WAR player for the last four seasons, and it's not unreasonable to think he can keep contributing something close to that. Utility man Joaquin Arias might see some time at second base to keep those 37-year old legs a little fresher. Former Nippon Ham Fighter Kensuke Tanaka or journeyman Tony Abreu might be the other option at the keystone.

SFGB: Scutaro got hot at the right time last year and the Giants were the huge beneficiaries. He's probably the main reason we were able to win our 2nd World Series in the last 3 years. Now, do I think he regresses? We live in an age where any player who has a spike in production is automatically thought to also be spiking something else into their body. I wouldn't be shocked to find out that Scoots was on the juice last year but I don't think he was. And while he is 37 I am going to consider him a *young* 37 since he spent the first half of his career as a utility guy. He doesn't have a lot of miles on that body. And he's obviously in great shape. So while I don't expect him to hit .362 in 2013 (as he did for the Giants last year) I do expect him to continue to be a line drive hitting machine and one of the great leaders of the clubhouse. I'll say he hits .285 in 2013 and I'd be fine with that......

GC: The Giants signed Scutaro to a 3 year $20 million deal, and of course the 37 year old Scutaro will regress over the life of that contract.  But think of Scutaro's signing this way: year #1 is to see if Scutaro recreates his production at the plate for another run to the postseason. Year #2 is for Scutaro to come off the bench as a pinch hitter and to mentor minor league hitting machine Joe Panik. And year #3 is the team's "thank you" for Scutaro's amazing 2012 performance in leading the World Champions.

ATF: Haha, given how amazing Scutaro played, regression is inevitable. That said - given the protection he'll have in the lineup with Sandoval and Posey and the fact he has All-Star career numbers at AT&T Park, I don't think it'll be too heavy. Maybe a .285 type average and solid defense, which I'm sure the Giants will gladly take.

GFB: I'm a Scutaro fan but I'm crossing fingers he won't pull a "Huff" on us and fall apart following a World Series win.  Probably won't happen, but just saying 

C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?

RMC: Everyone wants to see young hurler Heath Hembree bring his heat to the bullpen, and that is a pretty likely scenario, but may not happen out of Spring Training. Soft-tossing southpaw Eric Surkamp might have a better shot as a long man or emergency starter if there's an injury. Flame-throwing righty Kyle Crick is still too young, and speedy CF Gary Brown faces a crowded outfield and will probably stay in AAA until the September call-up. That's also the same story for free-swinging Francisco Peguero. Last year's rookie surprise, Hector Sanchez, will see more time behind the plate to shield Posey from catching's daily rigors.

SFGB: This is a long shot, but I'm going to go with Kensuke Tanaka. Now, Tanaka might not even make the team. But I like his story and he's easy to root for. He left a 3 million dollar guaranteed contract on the table in Japan to come try and latch on with the Giants. He became a fan of the team in 2010 after attending Game 1 of the World Series (a game I also attended). After watching them win their 2nd World Series in the last 3 years in 2012, he decided it was his dream to play for the Giants and he's now in camp on a minor league deal. He's 32 and he's had some severe injuries in his career. He's also, at best, going to snag the final utility spot on the team and the fact that he only plays 2nd base is not going to give him an advantage. But who couldn't root for a guy like Tanaka? Plus, we don't really have too many spots for a rookie to shine. At least, at this point.

GC: Outfielder Francisco Peguero looks like he's ready to bring his power and speed to AT&T Park in 2013. The best case scenario for the Giants is that Peguero blossoms and takes over left field when the Torres-Blanco tandem fails. Peguero could be a difference maker in a 2013 drive to the playoffs. If one of the Giants starters falters or is injured, look for either Chris Stratton or Kyle Crick, two of the team's minor league power righties, to get a shot in a move that could kick start their development. 

ATF: Oddly enough, this might be the most difficult question simply because there aren't going to be a lot of opportunities for rookies, baring a significant injury. I think a lot of people outside of the Giants for some reason tend to think of the Giants as an older team, namely because in the past, they have been - even in 2010 they had a lot of older talent like Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria and more. But now, they've really overhauled the MLB roster with a lot of youth - from Sandoval, Brandon Crawford, Belt, Buster Posey, Pence, etc - the Giants are a relatively youthful team and are pretty entrenched, outside of their issue in left field where they'll probably platoon Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres. Given that - and the fact that the Giants rotation is set, I don't think you'll really see much from any rookies on the Giants this year outside of injuries forcing a call-up.

GFB: Not sure I have an answer for you.  Gary Brown was sent back to the Minors, and he would have been my pick.  They're looking at a couple of catchers that have potential.  Hoping that works out.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

RMC: The oddsmakers like the new $200+M Dodgers, and they do have a lot of talent. They seem to be the consensus favorite in the West. The under/over on the Giants is only 86 wins, I'd take the over in a heartbeat, they won 86 games in 2011 with Posey on the DL for three-fourths of the season. The 2010 team won 92 games and the 2012 team won 94, so I think 90-96 wins is a likely outcome. They'll edge out LA and an improved but overlooked Arizona club for the division title. That assumes a (mostly) healthy team, of course. The biggest question mark, in my mind, is Tim Lincecum. If he returns to form as a big-time starter the Giants will be hard to stop.

SFGB: I think we win 95 games this year and the NL West. And against all odds, since it's really, really hard to do, I'm going to say we win our 3rd World Series over the course of 4 years.

GC: San Francisco should go 96-66, and will take the NL West Division as the Dodgers stumble under the weight of too many flawed former superstars.

ATF: With the Dodgers improving (at least on paper) and the Padres and D'Backs also revamping, the National League West isn't going to be as easy as it was last year - at least not in my opinion, so, I don't think the Giants will drastically improve over their 94 wins last season - assuming they even get there. I'm still not sure what to make of the Dodgers - are they a collection of talent or will they form into a team? I think it'll be a two horse race between them and San Francisco with Arizona playing a solid third wheel, but I think the Giants edge the Dodgers in the seasons final week with 92 wins and take the NL West crown again.

GFB: Mid 90's and they'll win the Division.  I'd say 100, but with the Dodgers loading up the team they'll take a fair share of the wins this season.

C70: What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?

RMC: Matt Cain isn't flashy, in fact he is kind of boring, but I never get tired of watching him pitch and I expect more great things from him this season and for the next several years. Brandon Crawford, if he hasn't already, will open some eyes with his range, grace, and strength at shortstop, and I like the way his hitting keeps improving. He was my favorite guy to watch last year, and I think he will be this year, too. 

SFGB: I'm most looking forward to seeing Andres Torres in a Giants uniform again. He was the spirit behind the 2010 World Series win and he's returning to a team that just won their 2nd World Series in 3 years with almost an entirely different cast of position players. That's hard to do.  Just seeing him in the dugout will be awesome and I'm rooting for him to cobble together one final decent season for the team he loves so much.

Oh, and did I mention that we've won two of the last three World Series?

GC: One of the most compelling stories in all of baseball to start the 2013 season is Tim Lincecum's performance. Two Cy Young Awards, then two terrible seasons (13-14 in 2011, 10-15 in 2012). But then came the 2013 playoffs, and Lincecum was a performance powerhouse coming out of the Giants postseason bullpen. He's starting the final year of a 2 year $40.5 million deal so there's a lot at stake all around.

ATF: Trying to repeat. The Giants' 2011 repeat campaign was destroyed the night Buster Posey went down (in my opinion) and now with a hopefully healthy roster and an improved lineup (Hunter Pence can't be as awful as he was, can he? And the Brandons, Belt and Crawford, will only progress offensively) should give the Giants a solid chance at a repeat, though, the Cardinals, Dodgers and a few others will do their best to make sure that doesn't happen. Should be one heck of a season! Good luck to all.

GFB: The Giants playing in their 3rd World Series in 2013.  :)

There's no doubt that San Francisco is in a good spot to repeat.  However, in 2011 the Cardinals watched on the same field as the Giants received their rings and raised their banner in their first home series.  This year, the Giants will have all those ceremonies again and again the Cardinals will be the opponent.  Let's hope for a similar end to the season as well!

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

Timmy may have been 13-14 in 2011, but he was far from terrible. A 2.74 era (5th in the NL), 220 k's (to 86 walks) in 217 IP, and a 1.21 WHIP is pretty solid. Run support was the bigger issue then.

Yeah, last year was a mess, but hopefully Timmy turns it around and finds his groove.

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