San Francisco Giants Positional Breakdown: Offseason Recap

Jason HooverCorrespondent IFebruary 17, 2012

San Francisco Giants Positional Breakdown: Offseason Recap

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    The end of the football season signals a great change. The weather begins to warm up. Hockey enters into what seems like the eighth month of its season. But most importantly, it marks the upcoming start of spring training. 

    Pitchers and catcher will report for spring training on February 19th, with positional players scheduled to report on February 24th. But hopefully, players have been hard at work getting back into shape. Expect to hear the line, "best shape of my career" uttered by every 35-year-old veteran in camp.

    Here is a recap of my offseason breakdown and predictions as well as what actually happened with each position thus far. Giving you ample material to tell me how wrong I was.

    please note: This is a recap of several past columns  

First Base

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    "He's going to have to come in ready. He's going to have to come in and pull more weight"Brian Sabean speaking on Aubrey Huff.

    In hindsight perhaps the words "more" and "weight" weren't the best choices. 

    The Giants' 2011 season wrap-up featured the above tidbit about Aubrey Huff's fitness during the season. It came as a shock to San Francisco Giants fans as Huff had just signed a 2-year/$22 million deal, was re-teamed with life long buddy and Lothario Pat Burrell and was living in a city where the female to available male ratio is roughly 736 to 1. 

    ...shocked I say.

    Even more shocking was manager Bruce Bochy's insistence on playing Huff over highly touted rookie first basemen Brandon Belt. Despite Huff's plummeting numbers, he was penciled in everyday.

    Bochy, always a player's manager, could only be heard muttering something to the effect of, "2010""deal" and"devil", as Huff swung over yet another low changeup for strike three.

    ...again, flabbergasted


    What NOT To Do 

    Guarantee anyone the first-base job. Huff will be the starter on Opening Day regardless of spring numbers. But this is due to his inability to play the outfield as effectively as Belt more than anything. 

    The reality is 2012 is Aubrey Huff's last year with the Giants. Whereas Brandon Belt has several years remaining before long-term deals are even thought about. The Giants cannot make the mistake of siding with the short term. If Huff struggles early on, then the Giants cannot let him flounder for another full season.

    Also, not that anyone is suggesting it, but just so the bases are covered, don't sign a big-name free agent at first base. No Prince Fielder. No Albert Pujols. First base is going to be three people deep next year. Huff, Belt, and, yes, Buster Posey at times. Don't logjam the position any more than it already is.


    What TO do

    Stop me if you have heard this before. Let the younger guys play. Atlanta's Freddie Freeman is a prime example of what the Giants should have done last year, and in all likelihood, would have done had they not won the World Series the previous year with Huff at first. 

    Freddie Freeman's 2011 stat line: .282/.346./.448

    Brandon Belt's 2011 stat line: .225/.306/.412

    But the telling stat...

    Freddie Freeman's 2011 plate appearances: 635

    Brandon Belt's 2011 plate appearances: 209

    Keep in mind that both guys were Opening Day starters. Both guys also struggled out of the gate. The difference being Atlanta was in no hurry to replace Freeman with an aging lefty (Eric Hinske. who also has the world's largest thighs). The Giants suffered a serious case of cold feet with Belt last year. Like Tammy Wynette said, Stand by Your Man.


    What WILL happen

    This year, it seems as if every positional decision is connected to another with the Giants. If Carlos Beltran is signed and convinced to play left field (presumably to put Nate Schierholtz in right) that will drastically limit the potential of both Brandon Belt and Aubrey Huff being in the lineup at the same time.

    If Beltran signs and plays right, then Nate is relegated to the bench while Belt moves to left.

    So, as you can see, there are several moving parts to this puzzle, at least in theory. Because in reality, the San Francisco Giants are not signing Carlos Beltran. With Grady Sizemore off the market, you could put solid money on the Red Sox chasing Beltran even harder. And this will directly effect the Giants' first-base issue. Come Opening Day, Aubrey Huff will trot out to first, while Brandon Belt will come up the dugout stairs and take a hard left out to left field.


    What Actually Happened

    Huff was quoted in January saying his body was, "ripped"

    Huff's offseason focus has been on yoga and pilates.

    The Giants seem committed to an open competition at first base.   

    Time will tell if new yoga Dhalsim-Huff is up to the challenge of spitting fire at opponents. 

Second Base

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    "And it appears Freddy Sanchez is hurt."

    You could put pretty solid odds on hearing that quote at least once this upcoming season. Sanchez's games played totals over the last three years paint a pretty clear picture. 

    2009: 111 games

    2010: 111 games

    2011: 60 games

    For a player who will be 34 at the start of the 2012 season, the Giants can expect Sanchez (even in his contract year) to play somewhere between 90 and 110 games. But for the 90 or so games he gives the Giants, Sanchez should be a viable No. 2 hitter. 


    Sanchez's Projected Splits: .275/.322/.377

    But since no one likes batting average as a stat anymore, let's just assume .275 stands for the percentage of times he would look adorable in a Mickey Mouse costume.


    What Not To Do

    Nothing. The worst thing the Giants could do is go into the season assuming Sanchez will play 140-plus games. Along these lines, assuming that anyone currently in house is a viable backup would also be short-sighted, Jeff Keppinger and Manny Burriss (both decent bench guys) should not be counted on to fill Sanchez's spot full-time if/when he gets injured. 


    What To Do

    I can't believe I am going to say this—Jerry Hairston.

    A multi-use utility player makes more sense here than any in-house option. Additionally, the free-agent, second-baseman market isn't even worth looking at. Kelly Johnson is likely the best available player. But his Type-A status makes him a foolish risk.

    Signing Hairston would also prevent a more serious problem: him signing with another NL West team and spending another season torturing the Giants. If you can't beat 'em, join ' 'em...


    What Will Happen

    Second base for the Giants will depend largely on what happens at shortstop. If Brandon Crawford is given the everyday job at shortstop, expect a veteran backup to be somewhere in that mix. That veteran could be a re-sign of Orlando Cabrera or someone like the aforementioned Hairston—ideally, a player who could spell both positions when needed.

    The Giants will make it a priority to shore up the middle infield depth. Depth at both middle infield positions is a high priority right now—higher than the big outfield bat everyone is clamoring for.


    What Actually Happened

    The Giants let Jeff Keppinger plod off to Tampa. Best of luck with that fast infield Jeff.   

    Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, Manny Burriss, will make up the second-base bench help behind Freddy Sanchez. 

    Theriot was signed for a team friendly $1.25 million, giving the Giants depth at second base, plus enabling Theriot and Fontenot to dress up as Frodo and Sam for Halloween. Cajun Connection FTW!

    "I can't field it for you. But I can field you!"


Third Base

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    "Buenos dias mi gente , hoy programa de cardio, seguido por estiramiento y un masaje...Vamooos Arriba mi gente que es un nuevo dia"- Pablo Sandoval (KFP48) on Twitter. 

    I don't speak or read Spanish, but I am pretty sure this roughly translates to: "Can I get me some protection in the lineup?"

    Third base might be the only position the Giants don't have to stress about in 2012. After Sandoval showed he was committed to his new fitness program, the Giants should have an everyday third basemen locked up for the foreseeable future.

    That said...


    What NOT to do 

    Let Pablo slack off on conditioning. This is going to be the Giants' task for the next few years. And it's a shame it will always come back to this, but that's the reality.

    Everyone heard the stories about Pablo's personal life getting in the way of his baseball career. It was disheartening to see a guy slip professionally in the face of personal turmoil. But the plus side is, Pablo NEVER became a team distraction. The Giants cannot let him slip back into old habits.

    And by slip, I mean eat. And by habits, I mean tacos.


    What TO do

    Let Pablo the "baseball player" be. The Giants have taken a more aggressive approach to Pablo when it comes to his offseason habits, which is the right move.

    Between the chalk lines though, the Giants should let Pablo be Pablo. He's a free swinger in the mold of Vladimir Guerrero, and that's where he is at his best. Pablo's approach at the plate makes him perfectly suited for the No. 4 or No. 5 spot in the batting order, both spots where RBI are expected not walks. Yes, this is going to result in a higher number of double plays.

    Who cares? Pablo should be the guy the Giants lean on in those situations.


    What WILL happen

    Here are Sandoval's projections:

    .302/.357/.513 HR 24 RBI 92

    Expect him to produce numbers like these for several years to come. And with his new laser surgery, expect me to make years worth of Cyclops jokes.


    What ACTUALLY happened

    The Giants made a huge commitment to Sandoval by locking him into a three-year, $17.15 million contract. The deal buys out Pablo's remaining arbitration years and will take him up to his free-agent year in 2015. 

    The deal marks a significant step in the Giants' belief in Sandoval. It was only a year ago that the Giants were discussing what to do with Pablo should he come into spring training out of shape. But a more-focused approach to his conditioning has paid off for Sandoval. 

    Third base is one of the few uncomplicated spots for the Giants heading into 2012. Pencil Pablo in everyday and watch him rake. 


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    If Brandon Crawford can hit .240 the Giants will be just fine.

    This is a common theme amongst Giants hitters this season. Just do enough to get by. I for one shuddered at the truth behind it. The Giants haven't had a good shortstop since Rich Aurilia. Not Vizquel, not Aurilia part dues, not Uribe, and no, not Renteria. So a long-term shortstop is way overdue.


    What NOT to do

    Sign Jose Reyes

    Six years, $100 million for a shortstop that on average plays 130 games. Did I look that number up? Nope. I don't need to. The book on Reyes is so well know it seems almost preposterous that someone would even consider paying him his desired asking price.

    The Giants don't have a good history with big-ticket free agents. If the Giants pay a player more than $20 million on the open market, chances are the deal is going to be frowned upon—Bonds being the rarest of exceptions to this rule. The sirens' call that Reyes emits is that he fills both the shortstop and leadoff role the Giants covet so deeply. The best move for the Giants in regards to Reyes is to cover their ears and just sail right on past him.


    What to absolutely positively NOT to do under any circumstances—even the sudden rapture of every human being under the age of 30

    Sign any old shortstops


    What TO do

    Let Brandon Crawford play

    The Brandon Belt experience last year should be example enough for the Giants. Let the highly rated prospects play. If you think enough of them to bring them up, it does little to no good to let them rot away on the bench.

    Crawford hitting .240 isn't good. When Juan Uribe hit .248, he did so with a high home run total that the Giants do not expect from Crawford. That said the Giants need a YOUNG shortstop they can run out every day, no matter how many he rolls over. The plan should be to play Crawford everyday. Give him 400 ABs, sink or swim.


    What WILL happen


    Baseball is history and stats. For better or worse that's what it relies on. For every Moneyball, there is an Earl Weaver. The Giants have been consistent when it comes to handling young players. Consistently maddening.

    Buster Posey was left in the minors for an extra month to "season" in 2010. Brandon Belt has been yo-yoed back and forth and now to Venezuela where he stated last week that he had never been so tired in his life.

    So odds and history lean toward Brandon Crawford platooning with a more seasoned shortstop. And by seasoned, I mean ripe. And by ripe I mean old. And by old, I mean Rafael Furcal. Who may in fact be 42. 


    What ACTUALLY happened

    The Giants signed Ryan Theriot to serve as a backup to both Crawford and Sanchez. It appears as if the Giants are willing to let Crawford have an extended run at shortstop. The one catch might be hitting against a lefties. That is where Theriot will get the majority of his starts at short.


Right Field

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    "I'm afraid all of those players have retired and, uh... passed on. In fact, your right-fielder has been dead for a hundred and thirty years." -Smihers "The Simpsons" (Homer at the Bat)

    Sprawled out on the grass. Arms and legs akimbo. No real clue where he is or what he is doing. Even more confusing, how he got there in the first place. This description could be about two things.

    1) Pat Burrell every Friday night for the last 15 years.


    2) Aubrey Huff's manic dive for a ball in right field.

    Huff's dive, which was memorialized by a tap/chalk outline in right field the following day, can be seen as a microcosm for the San Francisco Giants' right-field inconsistencies: Diving, flailing and maybe the ball will luckily land in your glove.


    What NOT to do

    The list of what NOT to do could stretch on forever with this position. There are a number of choices when it comes to right field. But which option works best for the Giants? If right fielders last longer than six hours, consult a doctor.  

    Do NOT sign Carlos Beltran to a long-term deal. The money isn't the issue so much as the length. Anything over a three-year deal for Beltran would be foolish and create another logjam at a position. Looking ahead to the 2013 free-agent class, as well as the farm system, there are options available. The Giants should avoid locking themselves into another long-term free-agent outfield deal.

    Need further convincing?

    Playing right field in San Francisco sucks. The Giants kept Randy Winn around two years longer than they should have for one sole reason: he was great at playing the sharp corner and Triples Alley at AT&T Park. No one needs defensive metrics to tell them that Carlos Beltran is no longer the outfielder he once was. With Beltran in right, the Giants lose a huge defensive advantage. And what is that defensive advantage you ask?


    What TO do

    Let Nate Schierholtz start in right field. I'm the biggest Schierholtz detractor alive. I've seen too many inside out swings producing bloopers down the line in left to think that Schierholtz is ever going to be a consistent .300 hitter. But when given an opportunity last year, Schierholtz did display flashes of power.

    His defensive prowess more than makes up for his inconsistencies at the plate and starting Schierholtz in right field saved the Giants on several occasions last year. His arm and knowledge of the angles in right field should be taken into account.    


    What WILL Happen  

    Platoonicus Maximus. The Giants' outfield was on Operation: Clown Car all last year. I still don't know which religious pop boy band Justin Christian came from. Expect the same in right field this year. Like my senior year girlfriend, the Giants won't be able to commit long term to a right-field option. Right now, they have a platoon of Schierholtz, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Belt and God help us, Aubrey Huff. 

    Why are all those players in right field?

    Because Carlos Beltran WILL be the starting left fielder next year, I'll touch on this more in the left field specific column tomorrow. But I believe the Giants and Beltran will agree on a deal somewhere in the three-year, $33 million range.  

    Is that too much money? Too many years? 

    Will Sabean accidentally sign Carlos Baerga?

    Find out tomorrow with the San Francisco Giants' Positional Breakdown of Left Field 


    What ACTUALLY happened

    The Giants never pursued Carlos Beltran to the extent they should have. Instead, opting to delegate all of their money towards resigning pitching. Not a bad idea in the short term. However that approach could cost them if the current crop of pitchers gets tired of having to throw shutouts in every start to win. 

    The outfield is going to be a hodgepodge of players. Like your crazy aunt Stephanie who brings weird stuffing for Thanksgiving. You won't ever be sure what or who is in there.

    Schierholtz will get the Opening Day start. But from there, we could see any number of players.  

    Right field looks to be a platoon between Schierholtz and Cabrera heading into spring training.

Left Field

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    There's a specter that haunts left field in San Francisco. It is the same that lurks at shortstop in Camden Yards and occupies right field in San Diego (also every hometown buffet in the greater San Diego area). 

    Replacing a legend is no easy task. Some would argue it is impossible. I attended Barry Bonds' somber last game. Watching Fred Lewis trot out to replace Bonds in the eighth inning of a lop-sided Padres win was like preparing for a long winter. And indeed, it has been. 

    Granted, the Giants won a title with the big-salty-stop-gap-Pat Burrell (that sentence is awful in so many ways). There continues to be an emptiness to left field, as the memories of Bonds persist like an old high school flame

    So until we are smelling someone new's perfume in left field, here's what can be done.  


    What NOT To Do

    Not pursue Carlos Beltran.

    If Herm Edwards were a baseball analyst, he would say something really smart here, like, "To win the GAME you have to score more RUNS!" Yes, the Giants do need to score more runs in 2012, obviously. The popular argument has been that with a healthy lineup (Posey and Sanchez mainly), the Giants will score more.

    It would be incredibly short sighted of the Giants to think that the addition of just these two players is going to create a world-beater offense. The Giants cannot rest a season's worth of offensive hope on a catcher returning from serious injury and a second baseman whose bones are made of mechanical pencil lead.

    The Giants cannot expect to just get by on their marvelous pitching staff. In the years prior, there has always been a call for a big bat. This year it's a Tel-A-Thon.


    What TO Do

    Sign Carlos Beltran.

    Note: I was a huge fan of trying to sign Grady Sizemore, who I think will put of good numbers this year and be infinitely cheaper. I would have advocated signing him over Beltran. Time will tell

    Approach Beltran with a deal in the three-year, $40 million range.The Giants should be willing to go as high as $15 million a year if necessary. With the payroll now upped to $130 million, there's room to sign Beltran plus extend Matt Cain to a back-loaded deal.

    The Giants are attempting to do what the 90's era Braves did—build up and ride a strong pitching rotation. They even have Buster Posey playing the role of Chipper Jones.


    What WILL happen

    Beltran in right field on Opening Day.

    The serious contenders for Beltran at this point appear to be the Giants, Red Sox and Phillies. But two recent moves may have pushed both the Phillies and Red Sox toward the back of the pack.

    The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million deal guaranteed. The vesting option is for a fifth year at $13 million.  (55 games finished in '15).

    However, when you stack Papelbon, Ryan Howard and a likely deal for Jimmy Rollins together, the likelihood of adding another big time contract seems slim.

    The Red Sox on the other hand have the money, they always have the money. Their problem is perception. After the historic collapse last season, the mood in Boston is sour. If there is one thing veteran payers love, it's instability and caustic personalities spicing the joint up. So good luck with Bobby Valentine.

    That leaves the Giant with a prime opportunity to acquire a not quite long in the tooth, still productive middle of the order hitter.

    At 34 years old Beltran is not intended to be a Bonds replacement. Rather a gesture by management that unlike the 90's era Atlanta Braves, one championship is not enough.


    What ACTUALLY happened

    Well...I whiffed so hard on this one even Aubrey Huff snickered. 

    The Giants never really went after Beltran, and he ended up signing a rather affordable two-year, $26 million deal with the Cardinals.

    In essence, the Giants filled this spot with Melky Cabrera. Though it is likely that Brandon Belt will get a number of starts in left. The hodgepodge 2012 outfield train rolls on.  

Center Field

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    "I said I wanted to change the culture of the clubhouse and get back to the warrior mentality and play the game hard for nine innings," Bochy said. "Aaron's the type of player who can do that. He's the type of player who can hold everyone accountable." -Quote from Bruce Bochy after the Giants signed Aaron Rowand to a five-year/$60 million deal. 

    Let's all just revisit that day in our minds...

    The Giants likely won't be overpaying for a center fielder any time in the near future (at least until 2014 when they throw $115 million at Jacoby Ellsbury. Yeah, yeah Gary Brown, I know, we'll get to that). In the meantime, the Giants are content to throw every dollar they have into pitching. For the present, expect the Giants center field to be filled with patchwork one-year deals.


    What NOT to do

    Expect Melky Cabrera to be an everyday center fielder.

    I am not a huge proponent of defensive fielding metrics, I think they are skewed and don't take into account positioning and different ballpark dimensions. So I am not even going to bother directing you towards Cabrera dreadful UZR. Center field in San Francisco is no joke. Honestly, I think Shinjo is still chasing after a ball Shawn Green hit into Triples alley.

    Don't promote Gary Brown. (I think that is a double negative, but you get the idea)

    The 23-year-old Brown has one full season of professional baseball under his belt. His stint in the Arizona Fall League was cut short by illness, limiting his plate appearances. Brown has not seen nearly enough to prepare him for major league caliber pitching. The Giants must avoid the temptation of pushing Brown too soon, or even worse, promoting him without the intention of playing him.


    What TO do

    Pursue Coco Crisp.

    Crisp has made it known he would like to stay in the Bay Area. Given that the A's are still playing in a stadium made out of rusty nails and Stomper's old elephant bones; I'd say the Giants might have the advantage. Crisp put up decent, though uninspiring numbers last year:

    .264/.317/.379 54RBI 49SB

    The stolen base number obviously jumps out as something that could come in handy, given the Giants proclivity for hitting into double plays. Crisp still has decent range in center field, and would fill the veteran role so often coveted by the Giants. Any deal for Crisp would be a short-term deal, likely two years, that would not block any future Giants prospects (Gary Brown) from ascending to the majors. 


    What WILL happen

    Some combination of all of the above. 

    Chances are the Giants will have Melky Cabrera in center field on Opening Day. Then after a month or two of hitting .230, we will see a platoon with Nate Schierholtz possibly seeing some time in center.

    In place of Coco Crisp, the Giants might pursue a trade for Nationals center fielder Roger Bernadina. Bernadina could be had for mid-level pitching, which the Giants have a surplus of.

    Nevertheless, whoever the starting center fielder in 2012 is, he will simply be warming the seat until Gary Brown makes his debut sometime in 2013...unless they trade him for Hanley Ramirez this week.


    What ACTUALLY happened

    The Giants traded Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez for Angel Pagan. Pagan will become the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter in 2012. Pagan is a solid defensive center fielder who should be able to adequately replace Torres.

    Pagan's .262/.322/.372 split doesn't inspire much excitement for a team desperately starved for offense.

    In short, it was a good trade for the Giants. Pagan will not block Brown's eventually climb to the starting center fielder job. But in the meantime should provide decent enough leadoff numbers to get by.   


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    "I saw Hamilton’s first pitch coming in and knew it was head high. But Tony didn’t start to react until the last fraction of a second. Instinctively he threw up his hands to protect his head, but not nearly in time. The ball crashed into the side of his face with a sharp crack that I swear could have been heard clearly all over that noisy ballpark. It sounded like the ball hit his helmet, so my immediate reaction was relief that the ball had struck plastic instead of flesh. But the sound was probably his cheekbone breaking." -Book excerpt from Rico Petrocelli's Tales from the Impossible Dream Red Sox

    Buster Posey's devastating ankle injury effectively brought an end to the Giants' 2011 season. It also carried with it a certain "where-were-you-when" mentality.

    Buster Posey is not JFK and obviously a baseball injury is no where near as important as a Presidential assassination. However, it does go to show how important Posey is to the Giants organization and its fan base.

    I am fairly certain that general manager Brian Sabean would have Jack Ruby'ed Scott Cousins if given the opportunity. The more apt comparison would be Tony Conigliaro and his career-derailing shattered cheekbone.

    Only time will tell if Posey's fate will be the same as Conigliaro.


    What NOT to do

    Bring back Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart.

    Both Stewart and Whiteside filled in valiantly after Posey went down. However, neither player is an everyday major league catcher, and it showed. By season's end, both had worn down tremendously.

    Whiteside, once praised for his strong defensive abilities and throwing arm was now being run on nearly every game. Stewart, while never considered a hitter, barely managed to hit .200, finishing the year with a stat line of: .204/.283/.309.

    To be successful next year, the Giants will have to bring in a catcher who displays more ability both at the plate and behind it.


    What TO do

    Promote Hector Sanchez.

    Damon Berryhill, Chad Kreuter and Johnny Gooch are all switch-hitting catchers whom I hope Hector Sanchez is better than. Points if you knew Johnny Gooch was a catcher and not a Soprano's character. 

    Promoting Sanchez would give the Giants a viable bat whenever Posey takes a day off. Though extremely young (22), Sanchez has been in the Giants' system since he was 17.

    Playing time will be thin behind Posey, but in this instance, it may benefit Sanchez to mentor behind Posey.


    What WILL Happen

    A veteran backup will be on the roster behind Posey.

    If there is one thing to count on with the Giants front office, it's that they will always side with the older player.

    Buster Posey was sent to the minors at the start of the 2010 season to mature behind the plate. That maturation lasted a month. A month in which I am sure Posey unlocked a secret chest that contained a vial of Johnny Bench's blood, with a high concentration of catching platelets.

    More correctly, the Giants were scared to make the commitment to Posey and forced a month-long awkward Bengie Molina stint on the team. Everyone knew Posey would eventually replace him—everyone except Bengie.

    The situation with Hector Sanchez is not as dramatic. Sanchez will not be usurping Posey anytime soon.

    But the Giants will be nervous about letting Sanchez handle the pitching staff. A pitching staff they treat as if it is a Lamborghini that no one could ever possibly drive.

    They will use some excuse like, "We want Hector to get more consistent at-bats," when in truth the Giants' main concern is not upsetting the pitching staff. Meanwhile, fans will be treated to several brilliant pop-outs by Chris Stewart.

    Hope for a healthy Buster Posey. Hope for a Giants team committed to youth. Hope that they realize you can't recapture the magic of 2010. You've got to create more.


    What ACTUALLY happened

    Hey, I got one right!! I'm not a complete hack!!!

    The Giants resigned Eli Whiteside effectively cementing his role as the backup catcher. For a team with extreme depth at the minor league catching position, it seems to make little sense having Whiteside get at bats. Wouldn't those at-bats better serve Hector Sanchez or even Tommy Joseph?  

    But you know...gamer?