Predicting the San Francisco Giants' team awards for 2013 has to start with the reigning National League Most Valuable Player and batting champion, Buster Posey.
Team MVP: Buster Posey
Picking anyone other than Posey for this award would be like picking the Colorado Rockies to win the NL West this year. It’s possible, and you might end up looking like a genius if it comes to fruition but you would obviously be doing it just for the sake of appearing clever.
Not only is Posey the best offensive player on the Giants, he’s also the team’s best defender. Brandon Crawford is an elite defensive shortstop, but he doesn't have the same responsibility and pressure that Posey has. As the catcher, Posey has to call the game and manage the pitching staff.
Posey had a tremendous overall season last year. He returned from a gruesome injury that wiped out his 2011 season to win the batting title, the NL MVP award, the Comeback Player of the Year award and his second World Series title in as many full seasons as the Giants' catcher.
He was great when it truly mattered. He hit a Barry Bonds-like .385/.456/.646 after the All-Star Game and .340/.438/.514 with runners in scoring position. He delivered a key grand slam to propel the Giants to victory in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS and a key home run in the clinching game of the World Series.
He's the backbone of this organization. Everyone on the team can count on Posey because he combines elite talent with a strong work ethic and professional demeanor.
Biggest Letdown: Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval could learn a lot from Posey's hard-working example. Could you imagine Posey ever coming to spring training out of shape?
Sandoval showed up overweight again this spring, although he's slimmed down some at the ordering of manager Bruce Bochy.
After playing in just 117 games in 2011 and 108 games in 2012, Sandoval is already in danger of missing more time this year with an elbow injury. Is he becoming injury prone because of his weight issues? That's impossible to prove but certainly seems like a logical inference.
Sandoval recently told Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports that he believes he can wait another two years before confronting his weight issues. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sandoval will also be a free agent two years from now.
The biggest shame in life is wasted talent, and Sandoval doesn't appear to take his craft seriously enough to maximize his potential. He is one of the most gifted hitters in baseball. He hit .345 in 2008, .330 in 2009 and .315 in 2011.
However, he showed up out of shape in 2010 and hit just .268. He then worked hard to get in shape during the following offseason, only to put most of the weight back on throughout the season and the following winter.
Sandoval could hit .300 again this season and still be a letdown if he can't stay on the field. His nonchalant attitude toward his conditioning is unacceptable for a professional athlete. The Giants absolutely need their three-hole hitter to stay on the field and have a big year, but can they really count on the "Panda"?
Hopefully, he'll play 150 games and hit .330 again to make this prediction look silly.
Rotation Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner
Bumgarner was actually right there with Matt Cain as the best pitcher in the rotation last year before tiring down the stretch.
After throwing eight shutout innings onAugust 20 against the Los Angeles Dodgers to lower his ERA to 2.83, he was hit hard in his final two August starts before putting up a 5.47 ERA in September. He was also lit up in his first two postseason starts before returning to form with seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the World Series.
He's only 23 years old, but he already has 534 big league innings with a combined 3.20 ERA and two World Series rings on his resume. The bet here is that Bumgarner will maintain his ace level for the entire season and compete for the NL Cy Young award this year. This is the year that his talent and experience will come together to make him the ace of the staff.
Bullpen Cy Young: Sergio Romo
Closers are supposed to be 6'5" and throw 95 mile-per-hour fastballs, right? Well, Sergio Romo remains underrated because he's listed at 5'10" and throws a fastball that rarely hits 90 miles per hour.
His slider is a truly elite pitch deserving of an 80 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. Most slider specialists have big platoon splits, but Romo was actually tougher on lefties than righties last season.
The only issue with Romo is his durability. Manager Bruce Bochy has had to treat him with kid gloves thus far in his career. He's never allowed Romo to throw more than 62 innings in a season as he's battled knee and elbow issues.
When Romo has been on the mound, he’s put up video game numbers. He’s struck out 277 hitters against just 48 walks over 233.1 career innings, which is good for a ridiculous 5.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 1.85 ERA over the last three seasons is the third best among all relievers.
Despite his lack of size and velocity, Romo is one of the game's top relievers because of his outstanding slider and pinpoint control.
Mr. Clutch: Hunter Pence
Pence struggled down the stretch and during the postseason for the Giants after they acquired him in a midseason trade last year. However, he hit well in the clutch for San Francisco.
With runners in scoring position, Pence hit .273, slugged .571 and drove in 40 runs over 77 at-bats. The ability to hit with runners in scoring position is a vital trait for Pence because he bats behind Posey in the lineup. No matter how well Pence hits this year, teams are still going to pitch around Posey to get to Pence.
Pence didn't hit well in the postseason, but he delivered key inspirational speeches that helped the Giants win six elimination games in the National League playoffs. The Giants can count on more clutch hits and speeches from Pence in 2013.
Breakout Player: George Kontos
Brandon Belt is a tempting option here given his outstanding spring performance, but he's had excellent Cactus League results before that haven't fully translated over to the regular season. It wouldn't be a complete surprise if he put up numbers that more closely resembled his incredible minor league track record this year.
However, until he handles good pitching the way he's dominated the lesser competition of spring training and the minor leagues, it's hard to foresee a breakout year from him. Yet even if he just repeats his performance from last year, he'll remain a valuable asset for the Giants.
With that Belt caveat aside, George Kontos is poised to become a key late-inning reliever. He was quietly exceptional last year in low-leverage work for the Giants after general manager Brian Sabean nabbed him from the New York Yankees in a spring training deal for catcher Chris Stewart.
He struck out 44 hitters, walked only 12, gave up just 34 hits and put up a 2.47 ERA in 43.2 innings last season. Like Romo, he has an elite slider that gives both righties and lefties absolute fits. He also brings a little more heat than Romo with a fastball that has gotten up to 93 miles per hour this spring.
Kontos' ascent is going to be part of the reason the Giants will continue to have an excellent bullpen and record in close games this year.
Mr. Consistent: Matt Cain
Matt Cain has been the bedrock of the Giants' rotation since 2006, yet he's still only 28 years old.
His ERA over the last four years paints a picture of his consistency: 2.89, 3.14, 2.88, 2.79. The only three starting pitchers who have a better ERA than Cain over the last four years are Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay.
He doesn't light up the radar gun, lead the league in strikeouts or get much Cy Young consideration. Instead, he stoically pitches 220 innings and finishes at the top of the league in ERA every year.
He may not have the reputation of being one of the game's elite aces, but his results are inarguable. Cain is one of the game's most consistent and outstanding pitchers even if he somehow never gets the credit he deserves.
Breakout Prospect: Chris Stratton
Stratton has flown under the radar after the Giants drafted him with the 20th pick in last year's draft. His season ended early last year when he was struck in the head by a line drive during batting practice, but he should be ready to open this season at High-A San Jose.
Scouting director John Barr wrote the following about the Giants' decision to select Stratton:
We loved right-hander Chris Stratton, a big kid who had progressed from not being drafted out of high school to pitching out of the bullpen at Mississippi State to becoming the SEC pitcher of the year. I had watched him strike out 17 batters in a game against LSU this season. This kid was athletic and competitive on the mound. He had size and strength. He had four good pitches...
Stratton’s video appeared an instant later on the side screen. We watched again his clean, athletic delivery that suggested he could pitch for a long time — was only going to get better.
The Giants' current pitching staff includes homegrown products like Bumgarner, Cain, Romo and two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. Given that track record, it wouldn't be surprising to see Stratton shoot up the prospect ranking lists in 2013.
Team Projection: 92-70, NL West Champions
The rest of the NL West is going to be better, and the Giants will have a target on their backs as the defending World Series champions. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Dodgers might have more talent and depth on paper, but the Giants will once again be the best team on the field.
Will they become the first National League team since the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds to repeat as World Series champions? That's a question that will have to wait until October to be examined.
All statistics cited in this article without direct sources are from ESPN.com.