With the 2009 season coming to an end this past weekend, another October will go by without the San Francisco Giants taking part in postseason baseball.
However, unlike the previous four seasons, the Giants will be finishing the year above .500 and with a whole bunch of optimism heading into 2010.
With the pitching staff the Giants have in place, long-term success definitely is not out of the question. Combine that with a revamped farm system that had the best combined record in all of baseball, and things are looking good.
But that doesn't mean everything is perfect at Third and King. Not only are expectations going to be raised going into the 2010 season, the team will also seemingly continue its transition from rebuilding to contender a lot faster than people anticipated.
The Giants do have a huge chunk of money coming off the books at their disposal. But at the same time, they will have to put a large portion of that money towards players that are likely to play massive roles in the 2010 club.
1. The futures of Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy
Of the six, this one seems all but settled. But because it has such a huge impact on the franchise in 2010 and beyond, it has to be addressed.
Much maligned by the fans, both Sabean and Bochy have endured quite a bit this season despite the Giants winning 88 games. Questionable lineup decisions were made by Bochy, and two trade deadline deals from Sabean didn't come close to working out.
It does seem to have been resolved last week. Just as the final home game was heading into the final innings, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that first-year managing general partner Bill Neukom has decided to bring them back for 2010.
For Neukom, bringing both Sabean and Bochy back, although it certainly won't go over well, is a safe move. He knows what he has in both of them, and seeing that he has worked with both of them for about a year now, he has a comfort factor already established.
Although it’s not official, there’s nothing telling us that they won’t be back.
Judging by their press conference this past Monday, they haven't been officially offered any extensions, but they made every indication that they would return in 2010.
Honestly, would you bother talking about next year if you weren't under the assumption that you wouldn't be back?
2. Improving the woeful offense
This one could easily be No. 1 without a doubt.
The Giants offense is going to be looked at, and rightfully so, as the reason why the team didn’t make the playoffs. If you do say that, there will probably be a crowd of thousands thanking you and proceeding to rename you Captain Obvious. In a season where the Giants won 88 games, they scored just 17 more runs than they did in 2008, where they lost 90 games.
The free agent market isn’t exactly something that you would call a gold mine to find a big-time hitter other than outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. The Giants are in desperate need of a corner outfielder who can hit for power, but the problem is, because there are so few power bats outside of Bay and Holliday, it’s going to cost a whole lot of cash to obtain their services if they choose to go down that road.
So it's either get the wallet out and pay huge money for one of the few free agent boppers, or get extremely creative in the trade market and possibly part with some talented prospects that the Giants organization might not have wanted to.
What could possibly go wrong?
3. The Grizzled Vet and the Next Big Thing—Bengie Molina and Buster Posey
Shocking that another storyline has to do with the offense, isn’t it?
This one, though, is a little more than just swinging the stick.
In one corner you have a 35-year-old catcher who has been a player that Bochy has relied heavily on his three years in San Francisco. In the other, you don’t only have one part of the Giants’ two-headed prospect monster, but also one of the best prospects in all of baseball that just happens to be a catcher.
For some, the transition behind the plate that may take place this winter is pretty simple—Molina’s contract is up, he wants a multi-year deal, and the Giants certainly won’t do that because Posey has crushed the ball in his year and change in the minor leagues.
We know what we’re going to get from Molina—a so-so batting average, a nonexistent on-base percentage, and an above average run producer for his position. When he does reach base, it essentially turns into station-to-station baseball because he is the slowest player in baseball.
But with Posey it’s the complete opposite. He is one of the best prospects in all of baseball and absolutely steamrolled the competition in the minors this past season. Along with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Pablo Sandoval, he is a big part of the young core the Giants want to take into the future.
Posey, who will turn 23 at the end of March, is a catching prospect that doesn’t come around very often. Not only can Posey hit for power, he can also hit for a high average and is an on-base percentage machine, sporting a OBP of .421 in 125 games in professional career.
Handing a rookie the starting catching job isn’t common on a team that will enter its next season with serious playoff hopes. However, it’s not totally rare either—see Soto, Geovany on the 2008 Chicago Cubs.
The biggest thing to consider is, if the Giants do re-sign Molina, will they be able to go out and have enough money to bring in another hitter?
4. Tim Lincecum's contract status
No, The Franchise isn’t going anywhere. The Yankees aren’t going to swoop in and offer Lincecum a 20-year, $1 billion contract when the free agent period opens up after the World Series is concluded.
Because Lincecum made his debut early in 2007 and has been up since, he is now eligible for arbitration due to Super Two status. Tack on that he has been dominant in his two full seasons in the majors, and you have all the makings of a huge arbitration figure.
In the past, Lincecum and his agent have said they would be happy to go year-to-year with a contract, and when the time comes or the Giants choose to begin talks, they will discuss a long-term deal.
As the season came to a close, there was more talk of Lincecum being open to a longer deal instead of just something that was the result of the arbitration case, but neither side seems to be in a rush to get a long-term deal done.
During Sabean's tenure, the arbitration case has been something that he has been able to avoid, and he will be looking to do the same with Lincecum. It really is a decision the Giants have to figure out. They can sign Lincecum to a long-term deal to buy out his arbitration years, or they can continue going year-by-year and likely watch his price tag continue to rise.
Either way, Lincecum is going to get paid.
5. The future of Freddy Sanchez
Due to Ryan Garko essentially being buried on the first base depth chart just a couple weeks after being acquired from the Cleveland Indians, Sanchez was the trade deadline deal that got all the headlines—and not really for anything good.
The final weeks of the season brought a pretty big piece of news—Sanchez had a partially torn meniscus before he came to the Giants before the trade deadline. The injury was made even worse when the Giants made their way down to Arizona last week.
When healthy, Sanchez is a very good No. 2 hitter and even better with the glove at second base. He won't give the Giants a whole lot of power, but that isn't going to be his job if he returns and has Sandoval hitting behind him in the order.
But the problem is keeping him on the field. Sanchez arrived with the knee problem, as we have now found out, was also forced to the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and also had a bad back when the trade was made.
You have to think, though, with the kind of arm that the Giants gave up in Tim Alderson, they won’t let Sanchez leave in free agency. It would be a disastrous move to give away a 20-year-old already pitching in Double-A for 25 games of Sanchez.
It's unlikely that the Giants will pick up Sanchez's $.8.1 million option because he played so few games after his trade. With that high of a price, it would take up a large portion of the money the Giants have coming off the books.