It took all kinds of maneuvering and roster turnover, but the San Francisco Giants fielded the deepest team in the MLB postseason this year and are now World Series champions.
Tim Lincecum and Aubrey Huff are by now household names. The Series also gave a fresh spotlight to players like Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe, who had about fallen into the baseball ether, and a new stage to young players like Buster Posey and Brian Wilson. Everyone contributed for the Giants, because everyone had to.
GM Brian Sabean began building toward this goal years ago, and a flurry of moves over the past two seasons put the team in position to finally win its first title since moving to San Francisco in the 1950s. Here are 10 of the most important moves made along the way.
How badly do the Seattle Mariners wish they could go back and make a different choice? With Lincecum and Brandon Morrow considered the two top pitchers on the board in the early first round in 2006, Seattle chose Morrow over the Washington native Lincecum.
San Francisco gobbled him up with the 10th overall pick, and since then all he has done is win two Cy Young awards and lead the league in strikeouts three straight years.
Lincecum's presence in the rotation allowed the Giants to spend the past two years focusing on solutions to their offensive woes. Such is the power of a true ace: They give you flexibility to mend your other faults.
The Giants found enough offense to go all the way, and of course, Lincecum stood front and center with a dominant performance in the decisive Game 5 of the Series.
Relatively speaking, it took Bumgarner forever to pay dividends for San Francisco.
Sandwiched between wunderkinds Lincecum and Buster Posey, who each reached the big leagues within two years of being drafted, Bumgarner did not stick in the team's rotation until the middle of 2010. Still, he proved to be yet another triumph of a Giants system that does a superb job developing talented young hurlers.
Bumgarner showed up at just the right times this season for San Francisco, allowing the team to avoid having to shop for a fifth starter and thereby helping augment the offense.
Then, in October, he came up huge in one NLCS and one World Series start, shutting down the Rangers on Halloween and putting Texas on the ropes.
Posey made it to the big leagues without switching positions, the way many scouts thought he would. That was huge for the Giants, who were able to fill some of their other offensive deficiencies at more obviously offensive spots.
Posey was a no-brainer in the first round in 2008, but getting him and developing him as both a polished hitter (.305/.357/.505 as a rookie) and a solid defensive backstop still demonstrates the competence of the Giants' scouting and development departments.
Posey had a pretty fair World Series debut, too, collecting six hits and socking a home run in 21 plate appearances.
Cain is the Robin to Lincecum's Batman, so getting him locked in through 2012 was a big win for the Giants last winter. It allowed them to focus even more on offense, and it assured them of a strong pitching duo for any serious playoff run they may have wanted to make during that span.
Cain has been in the organization since 2002, but this year was his first chance to play October ball. He sparkled, allowing not one earned run in 21.1 IP. He carried the team down the stretch, as well: From Aug. 23 through Sep. 26, Cain went 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA, and the Giants won all seven of his starts.
Nothing about Freddy Sanchez fundamentally demanded that the Giants give him a two-year, $12-million extension on Oct. 30 last season. Sanchez had hit just .284/.295/.324 in 107 plate appearances with the Giants after being acquired in a trade from Pittsburgh.
Investing in Sanchez's on-base potential and steady glove, though, Sabean rolled the dice, and one year after the extension, Sanchez played second base for the Giants in the World Series.
Sanchez notched three straight doubles to start his World Series career, an impressive feat. But he contributed all season, fielding cleanly around the keystone sack and posting his best OBP since 2007.
If it weren't for the late charge that put the Giants in the playoffs and carried them to glory, it would be inevitable that some, perhaps even most, would criticize Sabean for the long string of big contracts the Giants have doled out to players who have not panned out.
As it is, those would-be critics are eating crow. Edgar Renteria (two years, $18.5 million) stunk in limited action over the past two years, but came alive with two homers and six RBI to win the World Series MVP. Aaron Rowand (five years, $60 million) had only 11 playoff plate appearances but collected three hits and two RBI. Barry Zito (seven years, $126 million and no playoff invite) pitched perhaps his best season in a Giants uniform and carried the team during the early-season struggles of Lincecum.
Lincecum, Bumgarner and Posey all were great selections, but each was a first-round pick. It hardly came as a surprise when they matured into a three-headed monster this season.
Sanchez is another story. Ever-plagued by command issues, he went in the 27th round of the 2004 draft. The Giants stuck with him despite serious command issues that ballooned his career ERA to 5.18 through the end of the 2008 season. Feeling the confidence that comes with such trust, Sanchez tapped into his remarkable talent in 2009 and really found it this season, posting a 3.07 ERA and striking out 205 in roughly 193 innings. The Giants rotation would not have been nearly as daunting without his nasty stuff.
Cody Ross does a little bit of everything, from playing a solid and strong-armed defense in the outfield to hitting for power (three homers in the first two games of the NLCS) and stealing bases.
He wasn't doing much of any of it for the Florida Marlins this season, though, so they waived him in August—after which he hit .288/.354/.466 in 33 games with the Giants.
A number of teams could have had Ross before San Francisco, but the Giants pounced on their chance to take on another athletic outfielder, and it paid off big-time.
Ross' bat helped propel the team to the playoffs, where he shined on. He wants to stay by the Bay long-term, and one would think Sabean would try to make that happen.
Pat Burrell's career seemed in trouble when Tampa Bay designated him for assignment in May. He could no longer hit, at least in Tampa, and he seemed to be restricted to designated hitter duty.
Sabean saw things differently. Two weeks after the release, he inked Burrell to a minor-league deal. Burrell rapidly reached the big leagues, where he slugged .509 with 18 homers through the end of the season.
He clubbed a three-run bomb against Atlanta in the NLDS that set the tone in a big way. He struggled through most of the playoffs, but the G-men never would have seen October without him.
As great as Lincecum, Cain, Brian Wilson and others were, there is no debate: Huff was the heart and soul of this team, the MVP. And Sabean signed him last winter for $3 million.
Huff had had a miserable 2009, but it should not have marred people's expectations for the veteran slugger. Since it did, San Francisco got their best hitter for next to nothing.
Huff batted .290/.385/.506 during the season and had eight postseason RBI. He also ran the clubhouse, donning a lucky thong more than once to light a fire under the team down the stretch.