Off to Camp We Go: 10 San Francisco Giants Storylines Heading into Spring Training
Just a few hours remain before San Francisco Giants pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Giants enter 2010 with raised expectations after a 16-game improvement on their record. That was good enough to get GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy sparkly two-year extensions.
Sabean stayed away from the big-name free-agent hitters and instead decided to go with short-term solutions—something he has done time and time again in the past. Whether they will work or not still remains to be seen, but any improvements will make the Giants a better team in 2010.
Like the past three years, it comes down to how the team hits. Runs have definitely been a premium in San Francisco. And now with one of the best rotations in the business, it's even more important they give at least an average amount of support for the likes of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
In no particular order, these are 10 storylines heading into the 2010 San Francisco Giants season.
Will the Giants Get Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff v. 2008 or v. 2009?
The Giants' offense the past three seasons has ranked 15th, 15th, and 13th in the National League in runs scored.
Brian Sabean's solution? Bring in a couple of guys who are coming off disappointing 2009 seasons.
Genius! Where do I sign up for season tickets?
On paper, the Giants' offense will be better with Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff in the lineup. Then again, anything would really be an improvement over what the offense has done the past three years.
Both DeRosa and Huff had very good numbers in 2008. Their 2009 numbers? Not so much.
Huff's 2009 line of .241/.310/.384 with 15 HR and 85 RBI was one of the worst of his career. And this was the season after he put up one of the best years of his career, hitting .304 with 32 HR, 108 RBI, and a .912 OPS.
The same goes for DeRosa, whose 2008 numbers were the best of his career. While he hit a career-high 23 homers in 2009, his average fell 35 points, on-base dropped 57 points, and his OPS fell a whopping 105 points.
And seeing as Huff and DeRosa will be hitting fourth and fifth to begin the season, they're going to have a lot on their shoulders right off the bat.
But banking on two players in their mid-30s to get back to where they were two years ago is a lot to ask. Time will only tell if Sabean's gamble will pay off.
The Experiment That Is Aaron Rowand as a Leadoff Hitter
While Fred Lewis and his career .355 OBP wonders whether he will actually be with the Giants, Aaron Rowand and his love for swinging at sliders in the dirt gets the first crack at leading off this season.
Rowand's failure to live up to his five-year, $60 million has become another one of the famed Brian Sabean blunders.
Ironically, the only hot streak Rowand had last season was when he got hot and was moved to the top of the order. In 201 at-bats as the Giants' leadoff hitter, Rowand hit .294 with a .341 OBP, .809 OPS, six homers, and 24 RBI.
Does that mean he's going to repeat that kind of success? No. He still has a whole lot to prove that he can even be a competent leadoff hitter.
Judging by his past performances as a Giant, he'll have a decent first half and then completely nosedive in the second part of the season. It's just how he has been. That's just reality.
The Health of Freddy Sanchez
Seeing Freddy Sanchez in a Giants' uniform was awfully tough after he arrived from Pittsburgh before the deadline.
Not because he wasn't hitting, but because he didn't have a chance to. Due to shoulder and knee injuries, Sanchez was limited to just 25 games down the stretch in a Giant uniform. His line of .284/.295/.324 left a lot to be desired.
Despite the injury concerns, Sabean felt the need to secure Sanchez's services before the free agent market opened and signed him to a new two-year deal worth $12 million. The same Sanchez who, besides not staying healthy, has seen his numbers decline over the last four years and is on the wrong side of 30 years of age.
Then, whether he meant it or not, Bruce Bochy said that Sanchez's status for Opening Day is still up in the air after yet another surgery on his shoulder. That makes his number of surgeries as a Giant even with how many extra-base hits he has had in San Francisco.
Sanchez staying healthy, something he hasn't proven as a Giant, will be one of the biggest things that needs to happen if the Giants want to contend for a playoff spot. If he's healthy, he's being penciled in right in front of Pablo Sandoval in the batting order.
But if he isn't, there could very well be a whole lot of Edgar Renteria hitting second. That's not a very good thing.
How Much Will the Giants' Defense Regress in 2010?
With the offensive upgrades that the Giants have made this season, the general consensus is that the defense will suffer a significant amount compared to 2009.
According to the fangraphs, the Giants had the fourth-best UZR figure in the 2009 season—which isn't surprising considering they were built around pitching and defense with the offense being as bad as it was.
They are still going to be highly dependent on the pitching staff this season, but the defense won't be as good. Take out Travis Ishikawa and his 19.1 UZR/150 from last season and insert Aubrey Huff, who has a career UZR/150 of -4.0 at first.
An older and slower team doesn't exactly make you think the defense will be close to as good it was a season ago.
Will Madison Bumgarner Get His Velocity Back?
This time last year, Madison Bumgarner could do no wrong.
He was coming off a debut season where his 1.46 ERA led all of the minor leagues. His overpowering fastball blew away South Atlantic League hitters and 7.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio is reflective of that.
His 2009 also saw him finishing with an ERA under two, but a whole lot more question marks being put upon him. Bumgarner was not the same power pitcher he was in 2008. His velocity went down as the season went on. When he made his major league debut against the Padres in September, he was throwing 88 more than he was 90—something, far from the 93 or 94 MPH he was hitting in the spring.
It's not a huge deal for somebody like Tim Lincecum to see his velocity drop a few ticks on the gun because he has so many other pitches he can go to. But for Bumgarner, whose secondary stuff is still developing, to have his only plus-pitch lose some steam, it's quite noticeable.
So now we just wait and see if he gets back the zip on his fastball when he has his first bullpen sessions and starts of the spring.
Bumgarner is the definite leader heading into camp to be the Giants' No. 5 starter. And if he doesn't completely implode during the spring, he'll be on the Opening Day roster.
What Role Will Buster Posey Play in 2010?
It's only fitting that after Bumgarner, we talk about the only player above him in everybody's prospect rankings.
Posey looked to be on the verge of being the Giants' starter until, out of nowhere, the word came out that Bengie Molina was coming back to town.
Instead of beginning the season in San Francisco, Posey is definitely bound for Triple-A, right? That's the logical step with Molina entrenched as the starter. If the Giants are concerned about his skills behind the plate and aren't willing to let him learn in the majors, then Fresno is the where he should be spending the first few months of the season, if not most of the season.
So what do the Giants do if Posey is completely tearing up the Pacific Coast League and showing he can handle a pitching staff with no real problems?
Well, that's where the fun begins.
Bruce Bochy says he wants to play Molina less, but he also said Posey would get some meaningful starts last September. So who really knows what is going on in that big ole melon of his.
Will Bochy do something he hasn't done many times before and put his faith in a rookie catcher if the Giants are in the race? Or will he go with who he knows and keep writing Molina's name in the lineup card despite how he's playing?
Will Pablo Sandoval Be a Slimmer Panda in 2010?
Pablo Sandoval is just 23 years old and can absolutely mash. We all know that.
But the biggest news regarding Sandoval in offseason is not what he was doing down in winter ball, but what he was doing doing before he headed back to Venezuela.
The infamous Camp Panda down in the desert two months ago was designed to make Sandoval a leaner and meaner Panda on the field. Eating right and working out was the goal and that's what he did.
The question still remains whether he can keep the weight at a reasonable number over the course of a 162-game season. Can he continue to lay off the burgers and fries and continue to munch on the vegetables?
Sandoval wants to play in all 162 games this season, and the only way is to treat his body right.
Will Nate Schierholtz Establish Himself As the Starter in Right Field?
Just a few weeks ago, there seemed to be a legitimate battle for the job in right field brewing between Nate Schierholtz and John Bowker.
That competition was quickly squashed when both Sabean and Bochy ruled Bowker out of the running to play in the wide open spaces of right field at AT&T Park.
So that leaves Schierholtz as the man in right field for the Giants. Sabean says the Eugenio Velez and Andres Torres could challenge Schierholtz, but it is certainly his job to lose.
Schierholtz has the talent to become a solid regular in the Giants' lineup. He has shown in the minors that he can hit for both power and average. He has just never gotten the consistent playing over the course of the last three years to really put it all together.
Now with Randy Winn gone, there is no excuse for Schierholtz to not get 500 at-bats this season. And that means sticking with him when he has an inevitable slump or two.
The Juan Uribe Factor
For all the flack (and deservedly so) that Brian Sabean gets for overspending on veterans that don't come close to living up to their lofty salaries, he found a gem in Juan Uribe and his $1 million salary in 2009.
Uribe proved to be one of the best bargains in baseball last season when he hit .289. According to fangraphs, his value last season was 13 times how much he actually made. His 2.9 WAR was the best figure he had put since 2004 when he was with the White Sox.
Not bad for a guy who came to camp on a minor-league deal.
The problem is, looking at his career numbers, he is bound to come back to earth a little bit. Can he really repeat the .330 BABIP—40 points above his career average—that he had in 2009? Seems highly unlikely.
Even though he is dubbed the "super utility guy," Uribe will play a big part this season. Whether it's at second for Freddy Sanchez, at short for Edgar Renteria, or playing a little third, he'll be in the lineup.
Can Tim Lincecum Make It a Three-Peat?
A list about the 2010 season without Tim Lincecum? Yeah, not possible.
There are few words that describe how good he has been since he first put on the orange and black in 2007. As his hair has grown longer his repertoire and knowledge of how to succeed in the majors has only gotten better.
The scary part is, he's just 25.
In just a couple of years after he started throwing it, his change-up has become the nastiest pitch in baseball. Add that to a mid-90s fastball and hammer for a curve, you've got a pitcher that nobody wants to face.
And that exactly what Lincecum is.
His numbers in 2009 were close to, if not better than they were in 2008. He's continuing to improve in all aspects of the game and there's no reason to think he will slow down any time soon.
Two full years in the majors, two Cy Young awards.
Can Tiny Tim make the third time yet another charm?