Last week we released the first Giants Roundtable of 2009, and at the beginning of the slideshow I had this paragraph:
General Manager Brian Sabean entered winter this year with a few goals in mind: retool the bullpen, add a proven infielder to set the rookies in place, and add a bat for the middle of the order.
He has also stressed that the new upper management for the team wants to add these pieces while not subtracting in other areas, such as the youth movement that started last year or the pitching staff that has been a bright spot for the last couple years.
This installment is going to evaluate how the Giants addressed their most pressing needs from last season.
Most people would agree that the bullpen needed retooling, the lineup needed at least one established power hitter, and a veteran corner infielder would make the team more complete.
We'll hear my views while welcoming back the other two-thirds of the Giants Community Leader Trifecta, Danny Penza and Andrew Nuschler.
The most dismal part of the Giants' season last year was their lack of offense. Out of sixteen National League teams, they were 14th in OBP, 15th in runs scored, 15th in total bases, 15th in slugging percentage, and last in home runs and RBIs. They needed offense, and they needed it bad.
The team went ahead and surprisingly addressed pitching first, passing up on such offensive catalysts like Orlando Hudson and Adam Dunn (still unsigned), Rafael Furcal (resigned with Dodgers), and instead settling on veteran Edgar Renteria. With that addition, the Giants do upgrade the offensive production out of their infield, but not drastically.
Although San Francisco shortstops (Bocock, Vizquel, Ochoa, Burriss) barely hit over .200, and only produced one HR all year, Renteria's dismal first half last year led many to believe that he had lost it offensively. If he plays like he did in his National League years, and in his second half last year (.296/5HR/22RBI), then the Giants should be upgraded on the offensive side.
The Giants also will have an exciting young man in Pablo Sandoval for a whole season, and if he can produce in the way he did last year, then the Giants should be a lot better with him at third base. Also, Travis Ishikawa looks like he's proven ready to play in the Majors.
The other big need that the Giants had was bullpen help. The starting rotation, with the exception of the fifth starter spot, was pretty solid all year.
But there were many games that the bullpen just couldn't hold on to. Like I've said before, the Giants played in the second most one-run games behind St. Louis, and were 31-21. That's a lot of games that could have been won if the bullpen had a few more holds.
The subtraction of a couple spotty guys (Correia, Hennessey, Walker) and the addition of a couple solid pitchers who don't walk many hitters (Affeldt, Howry) should help push that total further over .500. The bridge between solid starters and All-Star closer Brian Wilson is now more stable, and the Giants should add to their win total.
This was the Orange and Black's most glaring need heading into the offseason. The 2008 offense was putrid and the corner infielders, traditionally power bats, were especially popless.
Pablo Sandoval figures to move into one of the spots (preferably first base) and he showed flashes of brilliance in his abbreviated trial run, but he is young and the sample size at the most elite level is small.
I expect him to deliver on the promise (as he's done at every junior level). Still, Little Money is naturally a catcher, secondarily a first baseman, and would probably take some time to adjust to third base (which could adversely impact his hitting).
Suffice it to say, he makes the most sense at first.
That means third base—a more difficult hole to fill because it requires a good glove as well—is the more critical of the two.
And it sits empty.
The middle relief was abysmal last year while the starters and closer glittered. Many a win was lost in the morass of arms coming out of the pen in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. And management, led by Brian Sabean, knocked this one out of the park.
Jeremy Affeldt was arguably the top left-handed middle reliever available. Bobby Howry had a down year, but he was one of the most dominant right-handed middle relievers before that.
Putting those guys alongside the several young arms that showed promise and should improve with another year under their belts (and no longer carrying the brunt of the load) means San Francisco's bullpen should be watertight in 2009.
The biggest need other than the offense was addressed. The bullpen caused so many headaches and anger sessions last season and now the Giants have two solid veterans to go along with Sergio Romo and Alex Hinshaw before Brian Wilson comes in and throws propane.
It’s one thing to have a solid bullpen to keep the lead, but it’s another thing to have a good bullpen when you have young starters. Keeping their confidence high and knowing that their possible win is safe when they are out of the game will only help them do better throughout the season.
Edgar Renteria will have to prove to me that he still has it before I call his signing a good one. You can’t get much worse than the Giants were at short last season, so his signing is an instant upgrade.
However, to what extent is still to be determined.
If Brian Sabean and William Neukom want to stay true to their word and build a strong but young team, they can’t go signing vets every winter. Luckily these signings are more stop-gaps than everything else. The most talented crop of youngsters is at least a year away.
The Giants new managing partner, William Neukom, and General Manager Brian Sabean have again and again stressed the youth movement, getting better by getting younger. While the Giants did add some veterans, they did so craftily in a way not to inhibit the development of the young players.
Renteria is 33, and while that might not be "young," his contract is a two-year deal that will expire when he turns 35, and will also give some much needed tutoring to young infielders Emmanuel Burriss and even Nick Noonan, who are being groomed as the shortstops of the future for this franchise.
It also keeps the pressure off of those two to produce until they are actually ready. If the Giants gave in to Rafael Furcal's demands, he would have been locked up until 2013 and would be 36 by the time that deal was over.
Randy Johnson is 45, but his presence makes the rotation instantly better. Howry and Affeldt are both over 30, but their roles will help stabilize a bullpen that is riddled with young guns like Romo and Hinshaw.
I would even go so far as to support the resigning of Rich Aurilia. With Kevin Frandsen, Eugenio Velez, and Burriss all competing for second base, Ishikawa and John Bowker competing at first, and Pablo Sandoval penciled in at third, there are no veterans on the infield except Renteria.
I'm rooting for Burriss to win second base, and I want to see Frandsen on the team. I'm still not sold on Velez, a 27-year-old who is still learning how to run the bases. But Aurilia would add some much needed veteran leadership.
The signing of Randy Johnson could mean one of two things. Either the Giants are battening down the hatches for another year where contention relies on defense and stellar pitching or it's a prelude to another, bigger move. If San Francisco plans on moving one of their young starters and/or glowing prospects, the franchise would have some serious options.
As Chris Haft pointed out in his excellent article about San Francisco's offseason, the team has been linked to Ty Wigginton, Joe Crede, Edwin Encarnacion, Jorge Cantu, Garrett Atkins, Manny Ramirez, Xavier Nady, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Swisher.
I like Encarnacion and Cantu, but both are defensive liabilities and would require sacrificing Jonathan Sanchez. Although Encarnacion is young, neither player promises to hit enough to make up for that loss. I'm not feeling either move. Bobby Abreu is getting old, plays the outfield, and will probably cost a pretty penny. No thanks.
Garrett Atkins does play third base, but nobody seems to be sure whether his offense is a mirage of Coors Field thin air, or if it's the real deal. Regardless, I don't see a trade between Colorado and San Francisco happening. Not when both are allegedly serious about contending.
That brings me to Nick Swisher. He would also probably require the trade of Jonathan Sanchez. But maybe not, these are the New York Yankees after all. For all the bling they've amassed so far, I don't believe for a second that they're done. And they still have a bit of a question mark at the back of the rotation.
If Sabean could somehow manage that, I'd say go for it. I completely expect Swisher to snap back to his pre-2008 standards. First, Ozzie Guillen jumped on the grenade that was Nick's 2008 campaign and made some good points doing so.
Second, Swisher is still young and his on-base percentage really didn't drop too much last year. Of course, I love Jonathan Sanchez's sneaky fastball from the southside. If he's part of the price, forget it.
The most logical move would be signing Joe Crede to a one-year, incentive laden deal and have Pablo Sandoval play first. It would allow his adjustment to the bigs to go a lot smoother than if he was at third base. Obviously his health is the biggest concern, but it seems like he is good to go.
If the Giants want a more proven commodity, then Swisher would have to be the pick. He can play in the outfield as well as first, so that would allow Bochy to get a little creative with his lineup and give guys some rest if needed. Plus he is solid from both sides of the plate, so he would be able to mix and match if need be.
As far as Manny goes, I just don't like it. I know he's one of the greatest right handed bats of all-time but I just can't get over the fact that he has quit on a team that had a legit chance of winning the World Series.
People can talk about all they want about him and demand him all they want, but Scott Boras is going to jack up the price and he's going to want three or four years. It's not what the Giants need to have hanging over their heads if they fall out of contention.