They may have won their second World Series in three years, but that doesn't absolve the San Francisco Giants of roster insecurities heading into 2013.
With no big splashes in free agency or any blue-chip prospects coming up through the minor leagues, the team will rely largely on holdovers to either sustain a high level of play or improve down the years.
The Giants have plenty of players who fit into one category or the other. So if all breaks well for them, they could have a super-team. But if some of their star players falter and others fail to regain their old form, 2013 could be a disappointing year in San Francisco.
Here are the make-or-break players for 2013:
It’s no mystery that the Giants are a pitching-centric team.
While they have some very good hitters, such as NL MVP Buster Posey, the Giants haven’t made any big splashes in free agency this offseason. That means they will be fielding the same offense in 2013 that finished last season with the fewest home runs in the majors.
So if San Francisco is to successfully defend its World Series title, Tim Lincecum must regain his form as a dominant starting pitcher. Yes, they succeeded in spite of Lincecum’s 5.18 ERA, but the law of averages suggests the Giants can’t expect Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong to all repeat their stellar 2012 seasons while absorbing another subpar performance from Lincecum.
As for Lincecum on a personal level, a bounce-back year is crucial for his impending free agency following 2013, as well as repairing the damage done to his legacy by a putrid 2012 regular season.
As good as Buster Posey is at the plate, Pablo Sandoval has the potential to be San Francisco’s best hitter. He has shown as much in 2009 and 2011.
But for one reason or another—broken hands, poor conditioning, an emotionally draining divorce—Sandoval has struggled to stay healthy and consistently hit at a high level.
The Giants need the Panda to be the .300-30-100 player that he has hinted at being and that their lineup craves. Otherwise, opposing pitchers will pitch around Posey and feast on an otherwise lackluster offense.
Among Giants fans, Brandon Belt is one of the more polarizing players in the starting lineup. Some love his smooth glove and steady, if unspectacular, production from the back half of the lineup. Others would prefer him to be replaced with a power hitting first baseman to give the middle of the order a more prodigious run producer.
His .360 on-base percentage last season was nice, but his 56 RBI and 47 runs show he wasn’t involved in much run production. If Belt wants to hold onto his starting position, he will have to produce more like an average major league first baseman rather than an average second baseman.
A .280-18-80 season would justify keeping his superior defense on the field. Otherwise, San Francisco could be looking to fill a major void in its lineup before long.
The Giants can’t possibly enter 2013 with Gregor Blanco as their starting left fielder, can they?
Blanco is a nice fourth outfielder, and Giants fans will forever remember his miraculous catch to preserve Matt Cain’s perfect game. But over the course of a 162-game season, he just doesn’t hold up as an everyday starter.
The signing of Andres Torres, who is basically the same player as Blanco (except that he offers switch-hitting ability), didn’t do anything to improve the left field situation. Meanwhile, the Giants passed on quite a few free agents who could have helped: Cody Ross, Nick Swisher, B.J. Upton, Ryan Ludwick and Ichiro Suzuki, to name a few.
So unless outfield prospect Gary Brown is ready to contribute to the big club, San Francisco could enter next season with a major hole in its lineup.
Hunter Pence arrived in San Francisco as a proven slugger. He will never compete for a home run title, but he has topped 20 home runs in all five full seasons he's played and has hit for good average and run production.
But Pence struggled after the Giants acquired him from Philadelphia. In 59 games with San Francisco, Pence hit .219 with seven home runs. He did, however, drive in 45 runs, which extrapolates to about 120 RBI over the course of a full season.
With Pence sure to get more than the $10.4 million he made last season, he needs to be a force in the middle San Francisco’s lineup to justify the raise and give San Francisco’s light-hitting lineup some punch.
A Posey-Sandoval-Pence middle-of-the-order could be formidable. But Pence will need to step up for that to be the case.
The closer job is Sergio Romo’s to lose. If he carries momentum into 2013 from his excellent late-season performance in 2012, Romo could be one of the best closers in baseball.
If he falters, however, San Francisco could be scrambling to secure the back end of its bullpen.
Between his career 2.20 ERA and going 18-for-19 in save opportunities last season (including postseason), Romo has done much to suggest he can be an effective closer. What he hasn’t done, however, is close for an entire season. Sustained success from April to October is considerably more difficult than thriving for a couple months.