The San Francisco Giants are unique due to their ability to put individual egos aside and play as a team on the field.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean has intricately composed a complex puzzle full of very specific pieces. However, the role each "piece" is expected to fill can be unclear. For example, look at the closer-by-committee strategy employed by San Francisco in 2012. No reliever had a completely defined "role" until Sergio Romo emerged as the closer near the end of the season.
In 2013, certain players will have equally undefined roles at the season's outset.
The 2013 lineup appears more secure in its permanence when compared to last season. The Opening Day lineup for San Francisco in 2012 included Aubrey Huff starting in left field, Melky Cabrera batting second and playing in right field and Tim Lincecum as the Opening Day pitcher.
How the season changed.
Huff hardly played at all in 2012, Melky Cabrera moved from right field to left and moved to the 3-hole in the lineup before leaving San Francisco altogether due to steroid usage and Tim Lincecum's struggles eventually forced him into the bullpen during the playoffs.
The only position players who face immediate uncertainty will be outfielders Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco. It's predicted the two similar players will platoon the left field position, as manager Bruce Bochy favors lefty-righty matchups. Torres and Blanco are both stellar defensively and possess speed on the basepaths.
Even their offensive statistics while playing for San Francisco are similar:
Blanco (2012 season): .244 BA, .348 OBP, .369 SLG.
Torres (2009-11 seasons) : .252 BA, .332 OBP, .436 SLG.
Torres dropped off considerably in 2012 while playing for the Mets, appearing in just 104 games and posting a .230 batting average.
Both Torres and Blanco are prone to inconsistent hitting, vacillating between hot and cold streaks at the plate. Whoever has the hotter hand with the bat will effectively earn more starts in left. And, as Brandon Belt ultimately won over the first base position over former platoon-mate Brett Pill, both Torres and Blanco have the potential to do the same.
Of course, there is another offensive option the Giants have at their disposal.
MLB.com reporter Chris Haft writes:
Installing Sanchez in the lineup more frequently would definitely help the Giants. The switch-hitter batted a solid .280 last year in 74 games...Of course, Bochy won't use Sanchez if it means benching Posey, unless the National League's reigning Most Valuable Player needs a full rest. And occasions will arise when Bochy prefers to employ a defensive-oriented lineup, which will prompt him to use Gregor Blanco or Andres Torres in left and keep Belt at first. So this could prove to be something of a balancing act for Bochy, particularly if Belt hits more consistently and proves that he deserves more than the 106 starts he received last year.
The rest of the lineup appear to have clear roles going into 2013. Still, there is potential for season-long shakeups.
If Hunter Pence's bat returns and Marco Scutaro is unable to match his 2012 performance at the plate, the two could switch roles in the batting order.
Brandon Belt is looking to increase his power numbers from last season after only hitting seven home runs and posting a .360 slugging percentage. Belt should be able to build upon that number and, if so, could move up from the 6-hole in the lineup.
Not to mention Belt's established strength of getting on base. In 2012, Belt reached base safely 36 percent of the time. In the second half of the season, Belt raised his batting average to a solid .275, and that combination of consistent hitting and the ability to get on base could earn Belt the role of Buster Posey's protector in the lineup.
On the pitching end, who could have predicted former ace Tim Lincecum would become a major source of debate going into 2013. Designated to the bullpen for the majority of the 2012 playoffs, some are calling for the right-hander to move there permanently. Lincecum is sure to at least begin the 2013 season as a member of the starting rotation; however, his position in the rotation remains uncertain. Assuming Matt Cain is given the Opening Day nod, Lincecum will be knocked down a few spots in the order.
If Bochy alternates between starting a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed pitcher, with Cain leading the pack, that would leave Madison Bumgarner as the second starter with either Ryan Vogelsong or Lincecum following the lefty. While Vogelsong pitched considerably better in 2012, it's hard to picture Lincecum following Barry Zito as the fifth starter in the rotation.
Although several question marks remain, one thing is for certain: Every Giant will accept his role. Again, San Francisco's success rests with Bochy's ability to creatively arrange a lineup that highlights each player's strength at a given point in the season. This is entirely dependent on every player accepting their role, which in many cases will change as the season wears on.
Not many teams can succeed with this lack of clarity day-to-day. The Giants are a special group.