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Playing Pepper 2011: San Francisco Giants

Posted on March 17, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Filed Under: Playing Pepper | San Francisco Giants
Two years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come.  Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.

San Francisco Giants (92-70, 2 GA and first in the NL West; won World Series)

You've heard it said that pitching and defense wins championships.  San Francisco is sure glad that it does.  

With an offense that wasn't anyone idea of a powerhouse but with a rotation that defined the term, the Giants won their first World Series since they moved out to San Francisco.  That rotation stayed intact, which means that a repeat is always a possibility.  

Interestingly, San Fran was one of the least represented BBA chapters until about the middle of last year, when one joined and then a flood followed.  Which means I've got a load of great Giants writers for this version of Playing Pepper.

Dave writes the blog Ranting On, which you'd think would be a more common blog name.  No Twitter or Facebook, so to see what Dave is ranting on, you've got to hit the blog.

M.C. O'Connor has a blog called Raising Matt Cain, one that he has been keeping up since 2007.  He's seen his pitcher grow up into a full fledged ace, which has to bring a tear to the eye. You can find him on Facebook as well as on Twitter.  

Rory Paap not only has Paapfly.com, where he's been since 2009, but also has recently started writing at The Hardball Times.  He has the Twitter and the Facebook accounts you have come to expect.

The Crazy Crabbers was the blog that started the influx of Giant blogs into the BBA.  Scott Willis writes over there, keeping track of all that happens in Giants Nation.  You can, of course, find him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Troy is the San Francisco Chapter's president and puts his thoughts down at 22gigantes.  Twitter, Facebook.

Richard Dyer is found over at The Giants Cove, opining on the G-Men.  Gotta go over there to find him, though.

Connor has got to be one of the youngest members of the BBA, writing The Giants Report in between doing his high school homework.  That doesn't keep him from writing or Tweeting good stuff, though!

Last but not least, you know that neat little BBA app that you might have on your iPhone or Droid?  Yeah, Julian was in charge of getting that done.  He also writes over at Splashing Pumpkins and can be found Tweeting and Facebooking.

This group tackles the by-now-familiar questions after the jump!


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C70: What was your opinion of the San Francisco offseason?

RO: You can sum it up in one word: "uneventful." Management approved a record payroll, but did it in order to bring back the bulk of the team in defense of the title. The left side of the infield has to be replaced, but the Giants clearly think the best course of action is to stand pat. Any upgrades will have to come from the farm or from players who disappointed last year (Sandoval, Rowand, Zito) making significant contributions. The Giants aren't willing to mess with karma. They're betting on this group being able to recapture the magic of 2010. 

RMC: The Giants did the right things. They did not mess with the championship pitching staff. They lost Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe to free agency, but they picked up Miguel Tejada immediately to plug the hole at short. Pablo Sandoval will have to step up and take charge at 3rd base, and the organization has put pressure on him to work harder and be better prepared for a full season. I think that will pay off--he's only 24. A young backup might emerge from the farm clubs, but they also have Mike Fontenot around for such emergencies. The rest of the squad is intact, and Mark DeRosa is finally healthy. Like Freddy Sanchez, his return from injury will be a big help. It is still all about the pitching, though, and with due respect to San Diego, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, it is the best staff in the NL and maybe all of baseball. That's the key to 2011 for the Giants--keep the rotation healthy and stock the bullpen with quality arms. 

PF: I must admit that I was, at first, sorely disappointed at Sabean's approach this winter. Yet, the more I contemplated it the less outraged I became. It's true the Giants have taken a status quo approach, but they have Belt coming up, the potential for a huge, bounce-back season by Pablo Sandoval and, of course, that sterling pitching staff. Sabean could have afforded a bigger splash, maybe, but with the promotion of Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, he needed to keep all the draft picks he could to re-stock the farm in a deep, deep 2011 amateur draft. His staff (anchored by Dick Tidrow and Bobby Evans) has been brilliant in this regard recently and the loss of a first or second round pick might have had significant ramifications later. Without the "splash" and with the current personnel alone, the division is still eminently winnable. 

CC: For the most part the team stood pat, they lost both guys who played shortstop for them in Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria and brought in Miguel Tejada as the replacement. Other then that the only additions were fringe guys you could be last guy in the bullpen or 5th starter insurance. 

It is hard to complain too much, I mean it isn't really practical to say that the team that is a assembled is not capable of winning the World Series as that is what this team just did. I would have loved a big splashy move like getting Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth but I have the feeling that would have cost the Giants one of their young pitchers in the long term which I wouldn't want to do. 

Overall I think that a resurgence from Pablo Sandoval, full seasons from Buster Posey and Cody Ross and top prospect Brandon Belt waiting in the wings should be enough to counter act any regression from other players.

22G: The Giants basically stood pat and will bring back the same contingent that bought them their first World Series title in 54 years. Miguel Tejada and a healthy Mark DeRosa is an offensive upgrade over Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria (who signed elsewhere this winter). A full season of Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, and NL ROY Buster Posey will also strengthen the offense. Pablo Sandoval lost 38 pounds of fat during the winter and has looked great in the spring so far. The Giants' pitching staff is also much improved. Madison Bumgarner has been named the team's fifth starter. Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez (who were acquired via trades last season) are also back for a full season. Tim Lincecum worked his ass off during the winter, motivated by last August's setback, which he attributed to a lack of training. Closer Brian Wilson is poised for another great season as the team's closer. 

GC: The San Francisco Giants were two different teams in 2010. The team that opened the season ended up 41-40 in early July, in fourth place in the NL West. Then management retooled the offense and the bullpen and San Francisco went on to scorch the National League in August and September, and dominate in the 2010 playoffs and World Series. 

The Giants made all the changes they needed to support the best starting pitching in the Majors at midseason last year. The #1 goal in the off-season was to reassemble that team. 

Ownership succeeded by signing six arbitration-eligible players critical to the team's success: relievers Javier Lopez, Ramon Martinez, and Santiago Casilla, centerfielder Andres Torres, right fielder Cody Ross, and starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez

Off-season goal #2 was to sign a competent shortstop who could contribute offensively, and to that end they signed veteran free agent shortstop Miguel Tejada to a one year contract. While the 36-year-old Tejada no longer covers the infield like a gazelle, his sub-par range factor is still better than the RFs put up by the team's 2010 shortstops, Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. And Tejada's bat will add punch to the team's run production. 

The Giants team that won the 2010 World Series was together for only 2 or 3 months (National League Championship Series MVP Cody Ross didn't join the Giants until late August). That Championship team will now play together the entire season starting Opening Day.  

GR: The Giants offseason addressed the bare essentials this team needed. The front office didn't look to break up the championship nucleus which is understandable. I do, however, think that because we kept the same nucleus and didn't look to add bat in one of the corner outfield spots that it will be to our disadvantage considering the struggle for runs at points during the 2010 torture. 

SP: It was nothing special, but they got the job done I suppose. They re-signed Aubrey Huff on a two-year deal, which is nice, as he was key for them in 2010; he should be useful for the next couple of years. They found a short-term fix for their shortstop issue, signing Miguel Tejada to a one-year deal. He won't be great, but he should suffice. Lastly, they retained key players through arbitration: Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Javier Lopez, etc. It was a quiet offseason -- no big splash signings -- but I think they've once again put themselves in a position where they are the favorites to win the NL West.

C70: Is there any reason to think the sophomore jinx might hit Buster Posey?

RO: There's always the fear that opposiing pitchers will figure him out. That and the wear of his first Major League season has to have an impact, and so will the pressure of having to live up to last year's hype. But this kid is the real deal. We saw him make adjustments last year when pitchers started to get a book on him. I wouldn't be surprised to see him struggle during the dog days of summer, but I'd put money on him finishing strong. 

RMC: Posey is an unusual character. He seems well beyond his years in terms of poise and maturity. He seems the least likely fellow to have a "sophomore slump." In fact, most of us can't wait to see what he can do over a full season. If anyone has the mental toughness and focus to ride out bad stretches and still contribute to the team it's Buster. His fielding is exceptional, and he clearly knows how to work with Bochy, Righetti, and the pitchers. I'm expecting big things. It was a real treat to watch Posey, Brian McCann, and Carlos Ruiz in the post-season. That's some serious backstop talent! 

PF: There's always reason to think a sophomore slump is a possibility for any player. But with Posey, one seems less likely. His package of leadership, solid catching defense with a spectacular arm and remarkable offensive ability for the catching position are reasons to think he won't fall the fate of Pablo Sandoval's 2010. Posey doesn't have question marks like Sandoval did (like conditioning) and his patience makes him a lot less reliant on his batting average on balls in play, thus he's (somewhat) shielded from plain luck. The league will adjust, but all signs of his baseball aptitude thus far indicate he will too, and quickly. 

CC: I want to say no because that would seriously put in to question the Giants chances of contention but history says that it is possible. Pitchers will adjust and find different ways to attack Posey and it is possible that he won't adjust. It is also possible that he could be worn down a little bit from the long season and his nearly everyday catching duties. 

I think that Posey is a good enough hitter that he will be able to make adjustments and that he won't suffer a sophomore slump but the worry is in the back of my mind.

22G: No. I saw him in Scottsdale last week and he was pounding the ball like it was July. Larry Bowa (who knows a thing or two about baseball) called Posey a once-in-a-lifetime player. 

GC: For a hitter, baseball's "sophomore jinx" has more to do with making adjustments than being a second year player. Buster Posey showed extraordinary poise and flexibility on his way to winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award, and there is little evidence to think he will collapse in 2011. 

Consider this: to prevent Posey from being eligible for Super Two arbitration in 2013, the Giants tried to keep him in the minors until the end of June 2010. But starting catcher Bengie Molina's hitting and leadership skills went south early, so the team was forced to bring Posey up at the end of May--with fully a third of the season over. Still, among NL starting catchers, Posey finished second in RBI (67), first in BA (.305), second in HR (18), and second in runs scored (58). 

If anything, 2011 could be an even bigger breakout year for the 23-year-old Posey. 

GR: Is there any specific reason to think he will hit the sophomore slump? No. But like we saw with Sandoval, it happens to the best of 'em. What puts Posey is a different situation is that it appears at least that he is a much smarter hitter then Sandoval. Posey appears the type of player that would be able to adjust to the adjustments pitchers will make towards him.  

SP: To be honest, I don't know. Regression is probably in store for him, but we should continue to see him produce. He might not bat .300 again this year, but he'll certainly be one of the most -- if not the most -- productive players offensively.

C70: Are the fans still reveling in the championship or are expectations raised for this season?

RO: Both. When you waited better than half a century for a ring, the party isn't going to end overnight. As far as expectations go, I think there's cautious optimism. The Giants won with pitching, so the reason for their success hasn't disappeared. And while fans like myself may secretly wish for another bat (or five), we're more likely to give this type of team the benefit of the doubt. After all, it's already worked once. 

RMC: Giants fans have celebrated this championship like no other. There's a tremendous sense of appreciation for what the 2010 team accomplished. The San Francisco franchise has a long history of great players who never pulled off winning The Big Prize, and all of us were thrilled beyond words last season. Rather than "raising expectations" I think it is better to say that Giants fans genuinely think this team has a real shot in the next few years of winning another title. The young core (Lincecum, Cain, JSanchez, Bumgarner, Posey, Wilson, etc.) has proven they have what it takes. With good health and some good luck no one would be surprised by another great run and another ring. It's not a fluke when you have the best pitching--that's how you win baseball games. 

PF: There's no doubt folks are still reveling in the intoxication a championship brings to a city, especially one deprived for over 50 years. That being said, expectations have definitely risen and Giants fans, with the rotation their franchises boasts, feel their team has a great shot at returning to the postseason, a good shot at taking down the Phillies again, and a fighting chance at defending the title. The city has tasted victory, at long last, but it does little to sate the appetite for a parade. 

CC: Yes. 

People are still reveling and the expectations have been raised. There is still euphoria around the Bay Area and I don't expect that to change but the expectations for next season are equally high. I think that people feel that this is one of the best teams in the National League and anything less then another deep run into the playoffs would be a failure. 

22G: Both. The Giants acquired a lot of new fans during their World Series run. Those of us long-suffering fans are still pinching ourselves. It's surreal. Every time I see a Giants WS Champs sticker, t-shirt, etc. I'm blown away. We've endured years of frustration (Cubs fans can relate I'm sure) and I, for one, am going to enjoy this for as long as I can. At the same time, expectations for a repeat are high. As I said before, the team has actually improved. There are questions around the extended workload that the young starters got last year, but pitching coach Dave Righetti's track record with keeping his pitchers healthy has been impeccable. 

GC: So many Giants fans are still in awe of what this team did last year, and there is an element of "when will we wake up from this amazing dream?" The 2011 season will partly be about simply celebrating their achievements. Most all the fans I talk with, and hear on sports talk radio, are very comfortable with the makeup of this team and with their chances of making the playoffs in 2011; having outstanding starting pitching and a dynamite bullpen will do that for you. 

GR: 2011 is a new ballgame. From my perspective at least, the historical 2010 run is over; we can revisit it anytime, forever. But we're weeks away from a new season and once that starts all bets are off. Last year you'd had been hard pressed to find someone out side Northern California that would pick the Giants to win the West. This year, however; for the most part the wide-spread expectations is they will at least win the NL West, and I buy into that. 

SP: I guess it's a little of both. After waiting so long for this championship, fans are definitely still reveling it, and probably will continue to do so. Now that we've seen what this team is truly capable of, expectations are certainly raised for the 2011 season.

C70: Is there a Giants prospect that will make a significant impact this season?

RO: The name the pundits are already focused on is Brandon Belt. Manny Burris may challenge for a roster spot as a utility infielder, but Belt is the only prospect the Giants have who has the opportunity to do damage in 2011. Expect him to follow the same path as Posey -- starting the season in Triple AAA. If the Giants struggle offensively, he'll be the guy they turn to for a pick-up. And if he hits in the minors that way he did during 2010, he may force the Giants' hand. He has one thing the Giants sorely need: patience. A guy who hits for average, has some pop, and wears pitchers out with a discerning eye could be just the tonic for this offense. 

RMC: A lot of people are expecting a Posey-like emergence from young Brandon Belt, who was a 5th-round pick in the 2009 June draft. The lefty first baseman made the jump from A-ball to AAA in one season and has been compared to Will Clark. He's only 22 and has fewer than 600 professional plate appearances, so I doubt he'll break camp with the team. Nonetheless, the Giants won't want to keep his bat out of the lineup for too long. I imagine we will see him get a late-season call-up. 

PF: Yes, assuming Brian Sabean unlocks Brandon Belt's cage - located in Triple-A Fresno - soon enough. Belt's a potential middle-of-the-order bat with a plus glove at first base. He brings patience and extra-base power to all fields, including a decent shot to hit 20+ home runs. If his 2010 minor league campaign is any indication, he can reap significant rewards for the Giants in 2011. His ability (or inability) to play left field might impact his promotion date, much in the way Posey's taking to first base did in 2010. 

CC: Brandon Belt is the guy in the system and I expect that he will be up in May or June. After that the guys are there only in case of emergency and are still in need of more seasoning. That being said there are some interesting power arms in the lower minors that could fast track to the majors in a bullpen role but that would be most likely be of a September call up variety. 

22G: There's really only one Giants prospect that is getting any attention this spring and it's almost certain that he'll start the season in Triple-A. Brandon Belt has rocketed to the top of the organization's prospect chart. He hit .352/.455/.620 with 23 HR, 112 RBI, 43 doubles, 10 triples and 22 stolen bases across three levels of professional baseball last year. He followed that up by amassing 32 hits in 22 Arizona Fall League games, hitting .372/.427/.616. Yet there's nowhere for him to play. The Giants' brass will start him off in Triple-A to make sure he sees plenty of pitching until there's a need to call him up. The Giants' number two prospect, pitcher Zack Wheeler, is still a year or two away. 

GC: First baseman Brandon Belt was listed 26th on MLB.com's Top 50 Fifty Prospects, and so far in the first two weeks of Spring Training he is hitting the cover off the ball. Belt burned through three minor league levels last season and his approach at the plate is most often compared to that of Buster Posey--not bad. When Belt joins this line-up, it will become truly lethal. 

Knowing the Giants front office is slow to move players up, Belt looks more likely to join the team in June or July (if he maintains his minor league groove). 

Two other minor leaguers could also get tabbed: outfielder Thomas Neal (.291, 40 doubles in AA Richmond last year) brings power; and slick fielding shortstop Brandon Crawford, who may be the starting shortstop in 2012, brings infield defense--the top two needs of this otherwise solid ball club. 

GR: In one word: No. The Giants essentially have no 'budding' stars that are on the cusp of being major league ready that would make a 'significant' impact. Brandon Belt will come up in September if the Giants can avoid major injuries and even when he comes up in September he won't be starting provided the Giants are in the midst of a pennant race. 

SP: Without a doubt: Brandon Belt. He's fantastic with the glove, displays amazing plate discipline, has good power with the ability to go with the ball, can hit for average, and can run the bases well with average speed. I expect him to have an impact on this team similar to that of Buster Posey in 2010.

C70: What is your prediction for San Francisco's record and divisional finish?

RO: I'm gonna drink the kool-aid. Out to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, the Giants also benefit from a rejuvinated Sandoval and Belt's midseason arrival. The Giants go 97-65 and win the NL West. 

RMC: The Giants should be favored to win the West. The 2009 club had 88 wins, the 2010 club had 92 wins, and a healthy 2011 club should surpass that. The Giants "Pythagorean record" in 2010 was 94-68, so they actually slightly "underperformed." I think the 2011 offense will be at least a little better than the 2010 team that was 17th in the majors in runs scored. Add an awesome pitching staff that avoids a major injury and you have a formula for a 95+ win team. 

PF: The National League is getting stronger, especially in terms of elite starting pitching with the Phillies' re-acquisition of Cliff Lee and the Brewers' pickup of Zack Greinke (not to mention a solid arm in Shaun Marcum) - though the loss of Wainwright stings. I predict the NL Central will be a better division in 2011 and the East should be very good again too, making it harder to come about wins league-wide. Out west, it should be a three-horse race between San Francisco, Los Angeles and Colorado. I predict the Giants will win 90 games and it'll be enough to win the division. 

CC: I think that this team should be in the 90-95 win range. I hope that is enough to take the NL West which is loaded with good pitching that could keep a bunch of teams in the race. 22G: Last year, I predicted 91 wins for the G-men (and they finished with 92). This year, I'm predicting 95 wins and the NL West pennant. 

GC: The 2011 Giants are a playoff bound team, and I project them for 97 wins and a first place finish in the NL West. Colorado is their biggest competition in the Division, but the Rockies cannot match San Francisco's top to bottom pitching and offensive consistency. A show-down with the Phillies seems to be in the cards-- a team the Giants humbled in the 2010 NLCS. 

GR: 93 Wins 

SP: Tough call. I guess I'll say 94-68, first place. They have an elite pitching staff, and an offense with Buster Posey, Andres Torres, a resurgent Pablo Sandoval, Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, etc. will probably be able to produce enough to support the staff.


2 Comments

2 Comments | Leave a comment

Great rundown by everyone!

I would throw out a dark horse for contributions at the major league level: Gary Brown. He won't make a significant contribution, per the question, but I expect him to show all the people who think he can't take a walk or think he can't hit, that he can and I would not be surprised by a Belt-like rise through the system to AAA, and perhaps get a September call-up, though unlikely since that would start his option clock. Still, I think he will be the Belt of 2011 in terms of rising faster than people think he would and pushing for a starting spot in the next season.

Cal State Fullerton has a great program. Aaron Rowand and Kurt Suzuki are both ex-Titans. Brown's a good choice for a "dark horse."

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Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
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Al Hrabosky 66.4% (up 3.2%)
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2011
Dave Duncan 87.9% (up 0.9%)
Matthew Leach 85.5%
Pop Warner 76.7%
Ryan Franklin 72.8% (up 3.1%)
John Vuch 68.9%
Jeff Luhnow 66.4%
Dan Lozano 58.7%

2009
Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%


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