Countdown to Baseball: Giants Roster Fluidity, Posey, and Steve Johnson

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Countdown to Baseball: Giants Roster Fluidity, Posey, and Steve Johnson

The San Francisco Giants will be reporting to Spring Training in less than a week. With that said, the roster is almost completely set, and there is a definite lack of substantive story-lines that are permeating other big-league camps, and have even come up in the Giants camp in past years.

Aside from Tim Lincecum's, there are no clear position battles (second base in 2009), comeback stories (Russ Ortiz in 2007), or over-hyped contracts (Zito, Renteria). 

Instead, the fans are left with such questions as were the offseason additions enough to spark the offense? Will Lincecum have a chip on his shoulder after this arbitration process? Where will Buster Posey end up? Who will be the extra outfielders? And who is Steve Johnson?
Definitely not as interesting as wondering how Randy Winn will perform in a contract year, but these are still relevant to San Francisco's success in 2010. 

Will Lincecum come in to 2010 with a chip on his shoulder?
UPDATE:  With the announcement of the deal, Lincecum will make the Giants figure ($8M) in 2010 and his figure ($13M) in 2011, with plenty of incentives. This is good news, and now the Giants have a little bit of lee-way in terms of his last two arbitration years while Lincecum gets his money AND some hefty bonuses. 
Short answer? No. 
Long answer? Not really. More specifically, if he does, it won't be because of Giants management. The Giants offered $8 million to Lincecum in arbitration, and more recently offered a three-year deal for $37 million, both of which have been rejected. But the reason they're hard-lining around $10 million is not because they don't want to pay the guy, but because they're being pressured by Major League Baseball and its politics to do so. 
Whenever a player has a chance to make big bucks, the MLBPA often strongly urges the player to take the deal. Just ask Barry Zito. But just as the players have the MLBPA on their backs, so the club management has the MLB brass breathing down their necks, trying to make sure that prices don't skyrocket. 
You might be thinking, look at Zito: he'll be making $18 million a year to be a third or fourth starter. But, lest we forget, that was AFTER his arbitration, into his free-agent years. If Lincecum can set the bar at $13 million by his third year in the league, what's stopping him from earning $30 million/yr once he hits the open market? 
But, back to business. Even if he loses the case, he'll be increasing his yearly earnings by 1230 percent. Over a THOUSAND percent. If he loses. Do you think he really cares about only making $8 million?  Look at the interviews with Lincecum. He stresses phrases like "no ill will" and "let my agent handle the money" and "I'm just here to play."
No chip, no diva qualities, and no BS. He'll get his due. If not this year, then in 2011. 

Are the additions enough, and will Posey show up?
The Giants lost Randy Winn this offlseason, and that's really about it. If you factor in the replacements they have, they replaced Fred Lewis with Mark DeRosa, which is definitely an upgrade. Aubrey Huff is only an upgrade over Travis Ishikawa if he regains his 2008 form. 
Otherwise, San Francisco got Bengie Molina's offensive presence back, and moved him down the order, so his propensity to clogging the bases in the middle of the order should be reduced. Buster Posey will have to wait at least a few months to get the job, and depending on if he backs up or not, the fact that Molina will be playing less is enough to keep his bat and legs relatively fresh.
If Posey ends up with the starting job by August I won't be surprised. If he starts out at Fresno and tears it up, and Molina starts to falter, look to the front office to shop him on the trade market, and promote Posey back to the show. Eli Whiteside is a serviceable backup, and personally, I'd rather have Posey playing every day in the minors instead of languishing in the bullpen like he was for the last part of 2009.
But the biggest addition offensively will never make a plate appearance, and that's new hitting coach Hensley Muelens. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Muelens and manager Bruce Bochy have stressed taking walks and getting the right pitch to hit. With the subtraction of the hard-headed Carney Lansford, who was more about force-feeding and less about working with players, look for the Giants to get on base more. 

Who's going to come off the bench? And who's Steve Johnson?
With the lineup pretty much solidified, the Opening Day starters will probably be as follows: Rowand (cf), Uribe (2b), Sandoval (3b), Huff (1b), DeRosa (lf), Molina (c), Schierholtz (rf), Renteria (ss), Lincecum (p). Freddy Sanchez takes a spot, and so does the backup catcher, whether it be Posey or Whiteside. 
Fred Lewis seems to have worn out his welcome, and unless he really impresses this spring, it looks like the backup outfielders will be Andres Torres and Eugenio Velez. Before they signed DeRosa, Brian Sabean hinted at a Torres/Velez platoon in left field, at least to start the season.
They're both fast, and Torres is a great defender, but neither has the experience or the consistency to play everyday. Both will be invaluable off the bench if they can get used to playing every couple days. One of them may be gone if John Bowker emerges. 
Infield depth is also a question. Once Sanchez returns from his off-season surgery, Juan Uribe will be back to his super-utility role. I think that Travis Ishikawa will also secure a spot as a backup plan to Huff. In 2009, Ishikawa outperformed Huff both offensively and defensively, and he has proven himself as one of the best with the glove at first base. Since DeRosa, Bowker, and Velez also have infield experience, they could also be used if need be. 
Down the left-field line is the Giants bullpen, which also has almost surely solidified. Brian Wilson will close, Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo will set up, and Brandon Medders will be in the middle relief role. Waldis Joaquin can hopefully become what Merkin Valdez was supposed to be in middle/short relief. 
Dan Runzler breezed through every level of baseball last year, winning Minor League Pitcher of the Year and almost solidifying his spot in the bullpen this year. Which brings us to Steve Johnson.
Shipped to Baltimore from the Dodgers in the George Sherrill trade, he put up decent numbers in the minors, going 12-7 with a 3.41 ERA. It's a relatively low-risk deal for the Giants, and at worst, they'll be shipping Johnson back to the O's for $50,000. 

With the Lincecum signing out of the way, the Giants can now proceed forward with business as usual. Since they have so much versatility, their roster is very fluid and doesn't exactly require backups at every position.
Bowker, DeRosa, Huff, Sandoval, Uribe, and even Freddy Sanchez have the ability to play multiple positions, which could mean that the Giants add another pitcher to their bullpen if need be without ending up shorthanded anywhere. 
Pitchers and catchers report in a few days, and Opening Day is less than two months away! Get your orange and black ready, and let's play some baseball. 
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