San Francisco Giants 2011 Preview
Even the legendary Willie Mays couldn’t bring a World Series title to San Francisco.
Continuing our look around the major leagues in anticipation of Spring Training, we’re going to stick in the National League for now with an examination of the defending champion San Francisco Giants.
GM Brian Sabean built a team that featured a ragtag group of players, many of whom were castoffs from other clubs. Yet the 2010 San Francisco Giants managed to cobble together enough offense to back a superb pitching staff, while accomplishing something that eluded the likes of Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey – namely, winning a World Series for San Francisco. That’s right – although this was the Giants’ sixth title overall – their last World Series victory came in 1954, four years before the team moved from New York to the city by the Bay.
There were so many little things that had to go right for the Giants to win it all. Just think: it was nearly a year ago to the day when San Francisco was rebuffed in its efforts to sign first baseman Adam LaRoche, as the club sought to add another run producer to upgrade its moribund 2009 lineup. LaRoche wound up in Arizona, so the Giants went with Plan B, penning Aubrey Huff instead. For two-thirds of the salary, Huff outplayed LaRoche, and his first career sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning in Game Five of the World Series helped set up the decisive hit of the series-clinching win for the Giants.
Oh, and that decisive hit? A three-run homer by nearly the forgotten Edgar Renteria, reduced to being a part-timer in the regular season but a player that wound up driving in a series-leading six runs and going 7-for-17 en route to winning the MVP. Seriously?
Like I said, it was the little things that steered this team, tormented as an also ran for years, to a championship.
Impressively, San Francisco won it with a payroll that most mid-market teams could support – and one that would have been a lot cheaper had it not been saddled with Barry Zito ($18.5 million) and Aaron Rowand ($12 million) – the former a mere spectator, the latter little more than a pinch hitter during the postseason.
The fact that the Bruce Bochy’s club only spent 33 days in first place in the NL West, never held a lead larger than three games and didn’t clinch a spot in the playoffs until the final day of the season underscores how easily all the Giants accomplished may never have transpired.
More surprising still is that the Giants only went 15-21 against the Padres and Rockies – their two biggest NL West rivals last season. Yet somehow they overcame a 7.5-game deficit on July 4 to win the division (yes, it helps that the Padres caved down the stretch) with an offense that failed to reach 700 runs, finishing a mediocre ninth in the NL.
All of this makes you wonder just how the hell they won the series, especially considering all the lineup tinkering – in 15 playoff games, the Giants used 11 different lineups.
The Giants barely got past Atlanta in the NLDS, eking out three one-run wins (not bad for a team that struggled to a 28-24 mark in one-run games in the regular season), and then hit their stride in the NLCS, putting an end to the Phillies’ two-year run of representing the NL in the World Series.
However, the pitching staff – mostly homegrown, it’s worth pointing out — was superb, leading the majors in ERA and topping the NL in strikeouts while surrendering the fewest hits and walks in the league. And it was that pitching that turned the Rangers – who looked unbelievably potent in manhandling the Yankees (38 runs in six games) – from beasts into lambs, as Texas was held to a .190 BA and just a dozen runs in five games in the World Series.
Fantastic pitching and middling hitting is a formula that worked for the Giants in 2010, but you have to think their offensive deficiencies must be addressed for this team to have any shot at repeating.
On paper, their lineup could be potent enough to survive, but question marks abound. Can Andres Torres duplicate his breakout season? Can Freddy Sanchez stay healthy? Can Huff turn in another big season? Is Cody Ross anywhere as good as he looked in the postseason? Which Pat Burrell shows up? The one that looked resurgent after arriving in San Francisco mid-season or the one that went 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts in the World Series? How much does newcomer Miguel Tejada have left? Is Pablo Sandoval really going to stick to his diet and trim down enough to stop attracting small planets into his orbit system?
One thing the Giants could definitely use is another left-handed bat. So far, Sabean has remained mostly dormant, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see San Francisco make a move as Spring Training nears.
On the plus side, the gems of the pitching staff — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson – may still have upside, and that’s got to be a scary proposition for the rest of the National League.
Even if San Francisco’s offense isn’t vastly improved, as long as the pitching remains stellar this team will have a chance to keep winning. Think about this: when the Giants scored four or more runs in a game last year, they went 69-12. Even when they just scored three or more, they still went 80-24. Clearly, it doesn’t take a whole lot of runs for this team to succeed.
CF Andres Torres: In his first season as a full-time player – at the age of 32 – Torres performed much better than anyone could have anticipated. He should again be a steady lead-off man for the Giants.
2B Freddy Sanchez: Sanchez hit doubles in his first three World Series at-bats, a feat no other player has ever accomplished. Unfortunately, last month he underwent surgery on his left shoulder – the second such operation he’s had to endure in less than a year. He’s going to be limited in Spring Training, but the team expects him to be ready for Opening Day. We have our doubts.
1B Aubrey Huff: Baltimore’s trash turned out to be San Francisco’s treasure (or perhaps treat is more apropos?) and a more than adequate consolation prize for not landing LaRoche. After he again became a free agent this fall, the Giants rewarded Huff by re-signing him to a two-year deal, $22-million deal, with a $10 million club option for 2013. Expect Huff to continue to deliver respectable pop, although it’s worth noting that he could be shifted to left field if top prospect Brandon Belt forces his way onto the team.
C Buster Posey: Believe it or not, the 2010 NL ROY will be attending his first major league Spring Training camp next month. He’s just a kid and is already a Fantasy stud, and those worried about a sophomore slump are just the worrying type – it’s not going to happen.
RF Cody Ross: Ross was incredible in the NLDS and kept the party going in the NLCS, smacking a pair of dingers off ace Roy Halladay in Game One and going on to win series MVP honours. Ross may shift over to left field if Nate Schierholtz bags the gig in right, a move that would send Burrell to the bench.
LF Pat Burrell: Burrell was re-signed last month (one year, $1 million), but his starting job is far from etched in stone. Pat the Bat mashed when he came to the Giants in May, but can he do that again? Probably not. So who else could take this job? Mark DeRosa is healthy again, and could take back the job that was his on Opening Day last year. Aaron Rowand is also in the mix, and he will see time at the corner outfield spots. Schierholtz could be a factor here, and even Travis Ishikawa will be in the mix. And if Belt forces his way onto first base, Huff will take this job. This is definitely a position battle to watch this spring.
SS Miguel Tejada: This is the biggest addition to the Giants this offseason, but that’s not saying much. Tejada’s power has waned dramatically, but with Juan Uribe bolting to the Dodgers and Renteria apparently leaving for the Reds, San Francisco needed to plug the hole at shortstop. Maybe the old guy has another big year left in his bat, but chances are Tejada won’t be much of a Fantasy factor in 2011.
3B Pablo Sandoval: Sandoval has All-Star potential – that much must be clear given his monster 2009 season. But last season, he was a complete flop in all areas expect for post-game buffet spreads. The Giants have threatened to send him to the minors if he doesn’t shape up, and so far he’s taking that to heart, having dropped 15 pounds since the end of the season. If Kung Fu Panda bounces back, the Giants’ attack will be significantly better.
Key Bench Players
1B Travis Ishikawa: In the mix for the LF job, but is more realistically headed for another bench role as his extra-base pop hasn’t developed as anticipated.
IF Mike Fontenot: Didn’t see much action last year, but could be needed at second base if Sanchez is slow to recover from his latest surgery.
IF/OF Mark DeRosa: Definitely a contender for the LF job, but may also factor in a second base. However, he’s endured a pair of surgeries on his wrist within a year, so it’s reasonable to wonder how the 35-year-old’s power will be affected.
OF Aaron Rowand: He lost his job in centrefield, and will now be asked to back up the corner spots. You think the Giants are regretting the massive contract they gave him?
RHP Tim Lincecum: The two-time defending NL Cy Young winner couldn’t come close to taking home a third straight, enduring a tough season (by his standards, that is), but boy did he ever make up for it come playoff time. He set the tone for the Giants’ post-season run in Game One of the NLDS against the Braves by striking out 14 batters in a two-hit shutout. All he did in the World Series was beat the untouchable Cliff Lee twice, winning the deciding game by fanning ten and giving up just one run over eight innings. Oh, and let’s not forget his relief appearance in the deciding game of the NLCS – made just two days after tossing a game in Game Five.
RHP Matt Cain: Cain continues to improve his command, and how about his efforts in the playoffs? Three starts with a 0.00 ERA. It’ll do.
LHP Jonathan Sanchez: Sure, he’s the No. 3 man on this staff, but did you know that his 3.07 ERA was the lowest mark on the team in regular season?
LHP Madison Bumgarner: Yes, he was inconsistent in his rookie effort, but look what he did down the stretch (2-2, 1.13 with 32 Ks and four walks in 32 IP in September) and the playoffs (2-0, 2.18, with 18 Ks and five walks in 20 2/3 IP, including his sterling performance in Game Four of the World Series when he shut down the Rangers for eight innings, allowing just one runner to reach second base). Pressure? What pressure? Me thinks the kid’s got a bit of a future.
LHP Barry Zito: The Giants apparently have no plans to trade him this winter. No kidding. Who would take a contract for this dude that still has three years and $64.5 million left on it? Despite the albatross of a deal, Zito went 5-4, 2.83 in the second half of 2009 and 7-4, 3.76 in first half of 2010. That’s a pretty good season. Now let’s just see him combine those halves in one year.
Closer RHP Brian Wilson: The bearded wonder was unstoppable in the playoffs, recording a 0.00 ERA while fanning 16 and walking just four in 11 2/3 IP. He also earned the save in the deciding game of all three series. Hell, he’s even a star on VYou, the latest online craze.
Setup RHP Sergio Romo: Romo put up five strikeouts to every walk last year.
Setup LHP Jeremy Affeldt: Had problems staying healthy last year, but in 2009, he was lights out.
On the Horizon
The following prospects are close enough to make an impact, if not at the outset of the season, at least at some point this year.
Other than Belt, the other high-level prospects of the system are still mostly in the lower levels of the minors, so aren’t likely to pop up on the radar in 2011.
Brandon Belt, 1B: As discussed, he could force his way onto the big league roster this spring. He won’t break camp with the team unless he has a starting job, but the Giants are hoping he does force their hands. Belt will either win the first job – his natural position – or snag an outfield gig. Otherwise, he’ll begin the season at Triple-A.
Thomas Neal, OF: Added to the 40-man roster this fall, Neal probably still needs a full season at Triple-A, but he has serious extra-base pop and could earn a look in September.
Brandon Crawford, SS: Crawford is an all-glove, no-bat middle infielder that is unlikely to be much of a Fantasy asset even if he somehow earns a full-time job in time.
Brock Bond, 2B/3B: Hit .285 with excellent strike zone judgment in his first taste of Triple-A, but has no power.
SS Edgar Renteria’s 2011 option declined: The unlikely World Series MVP felt “disrespected” by the Giants after this move, and then their one-year, $1 million offer. It still looked like they might bring the injury-prone shortstop, but now Renteria has reportedly signed with Cincinnati.
1B Aubrey Huff re-signed to two-year deal: This move clouds Belt’s situation, but returns a productive bat to the lineup for the next couple of seasons.
3B/SS Miguel Tejada signed to one-year deal: They needed someone at short, but Tejada may have very little left to offer with the stick.
OF Pat Burrell re-signed to one-year deal: It’s doubtful Burrell reprises his fantastic run from last season, but if nothing else, he’ll provide a dangerous power bat off the bench.
OF Eugenio Velez non-tendered: He completely fell off the map last season, and barely got off the bench as a result. Velez has signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
RHP Chris Ray non-tendered: Ray failed to impress after coming over from Texas in the Bengie Molina deal, so the Giants cut bait.
OF Jose Guillen:Guillen became a free agent after the season and is still unsigned, not surprising given the PED scandals he continues to be embroiled in.
SS/3B/2B Juan Uribe: Uribe left as free agent to the Dodgers. The Giants offered $20 million, but he took LA’s offer of $21 million. What a kick in the ass, huh? The club may need a bit more depth in the infield after losing both Uribe and Renteria.
2011 MLB Previews