The 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.
Such a nice ring to it, wouldn't you agree?
The Major League Baseball title drought is over in The City, and the champagne showers that quenched the thirst have passed—but the euphoria is still thick. So thick, in fact, that the reality of the Commissioner's Trophy hasn't set in for many who joined the roller-coaster bandwagon in time to ride out a few of its many valleys.
As for yours truly, I strapped in sometime during the 1988 season.
In time for 1989...and 1992...and 1993...and 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003.
So the pea-soup fog around my neighborhood in Pacific Heights isn't just the literal variety this winter. It's still difficult for me to wrap my head around the concept of the Giants—our Giants—starting the 2011 season as the defending champs.
And I missed quite a bit of the tortuous fun that unfolded before my family arrived in the Bay Area, so there must be Orange and Black diehards even more blissfully at a loss than I.
One thing I do know, however, is that there is no rest for the weary.
Which means there can't be any for the winners, either. So let's take a look at how San Francisco can attack the market heading into the offseason.
As mentioned, the Gents will begin the 2011 MLB season with a big ol' bull's eye on their collective back, which means they'll have their hands full turning away each teams' best effort for a full 162-game slate. It's one thing to do it in a seven-game series with three studs playing hot potato with the ace's mantle, but the Big League schedule is the most intimidating grind in major professional sports.
You typically need a watertight club and/or the stars aligned in your favor to survive from April to October.
For San Francisco, that means adding offense and—if that were the plan—attacking the open market in search of a free agent or trade target who would give the lumber a boost.
Of course, the Giants' brass (pictured above from left to right: Bill Neukom, Larry Baer, Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy) has already said the franchise will not be a major player in the hot stove sweepstakes this winter.
Frankly, with the dearth of attractive bats available via free agency and only SF's starting pitchers sure to draw favorable returns via trade, that's fantastic news.
But it can't stop us from dreaming.
With that in mind, here are 10 players the Giants could (but won't) target to improve their offense.
NOTE: This is all an exercise in the unlikely, but I'm still gonna try to play it straight i.e. you won't find someone like Carlos Gonzalez on the list because, while CarGo is an obvious solution to los Gigantes' vulnerabilities, the suggestion would be absurd to the point of being insulting. I might as well demand that Sabes acquire Santa Claus.
There's a slight chance I'm jumping the gun on this one, but that goes with the territory when you're dealing with the New York Yankees' National League farm club—if you're gonna pry one of the Evil Empire's young pups from Pittsburgh before the Bombers do, you must act NOW.
So, while the Pirates probably are looking to squeeze a couple more years (or 10) from blue-chippers like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, it couldn't hurt for the Giants to start making overtures as soon as possible.
And, hey, the Buccos now have John Bowker, so (as some of the more delusional anti-Sabeanites will tell you) they don't really need anyone else.
McCutchen is the real prize here—he's a 24-year-old center fielder who's already a stunning four-tooler, and his power is on the make. If it arrives in the next couple of years, it will make him one of the most exciting and complete players in the game today.
Before the age of 27.
His glove and blurred cleats would look mighty fine nestled in the sparkling confines of AT&T Park.
Tabata (22) and Alvarez (23) are behind their prospect peer but not by much.
Jose is another rangy outfielder who the Pirates got from the Yanks in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte heist. He only played 102 games in 2010 and still managed to use a blend of speed/knack for getting on base to finish eighth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Meanwhile, Alvarez would solving the brewing drama at third base (though his leather needs a little seasoning) with the kind of raw natural power that could develop into the variety that even AT&T couldn't contain.
We're only on the second name and already one theme should be obvious—high-ceiling combinations of speed and defense on franchises prone to fire sales.
That description fits Choo to a tee.
Cleveland has him on the cheap for a few more years, as he won't go free-agent nuclear until 2014. But the 28-year-old is a Scott Boras pawn, so the Tribe probably made its peace with his eventual exit a long time ago and thusly might be entertaining offers.
It would still take a king's ransom in green talent to pry him away, though, and that's a price that's almost certainly over San Francisco's head.
However, the South Korean whirling dervish is arguably the most underrated player in all of the Show, so he's a talent worth pursuing to the edge of reason.
In two full seasons for the Indians, Choo has been eerily consistent:
2009: .300/.394/.489, 87 R, 38 2B, 6 3B, 20 HR, 86 RBI, 21 SB, 2 CS, 78 BB, 151 SO
2010: .300/.401/.484, 81 R, 31 2B, 2 3B, 22 HR, 90 RBI, 22 SB, 7 CS, 83 BB, 118 SO
The only number that changed drastically is the one in the whiff column, and that one moved in the right direction.
It wouldn't be easy...and some would say impossible.
But Shin-Soo is the sort of investment that must remain on the radar regardless of probability.
Think Nick Markakis might cause a little bit of a stir with the ladies in Charm City?
That right there is a handsome man, and I say that with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality.
But Nick's ocular ease is the incidental; the dude can play some baseball.
At the age of 27, he already has about five full seasons under his belt, and he's flashed some excellent numbers. His 162-game averages look like this: .298/.368/.463, 694 PA, 92 R, 42 2B, 18 HR, and 87 RBI.
However pretty the look in the general context, they represent a decline from Nick the Stick's high-water mark set in 2008. That would be the year before he signed a six-year, $66.1 million contract in January of 2009.
In other words, the Orioles expected more. Maybe even much more.
Consequently, one ballplayer's pleasure is Markakis' pain.
Considering that the O's toil in the American League East, where only the strongest of the strong survive, it's possible they're looking to retool by resetting their contention sights on a more distant horizon than 2014 (the year Markakis' deal ends).
If that's the case, a particularly forward-looking GM might see the corner outfielder as a bristling array of prospects rather than the cornerstone of a rebuilding project.
Given that he's a slick-fielding outfielder with above-average speed who's entering his prime power years, it wouldn't hurt to ask.
Ah, the allure of the post-hype sleeper.
Gordon was everyone's darling a couple years ago—in the fantasy world and the real one.
But my how the twinkle has faded from his star. The 26-year-old's career numbers are so pedestrian that they don't bear mention in this space, but that and his age are what make him intriguing to anyone outside of Kansas City.
The kid remains that, a kid.
He's been on the major-league radar for years now, yet Gordon still has plenty of time and room to improve. Considering the talent is there—he had a nice stretch of games after getting recalled in 2010—a change of scenery might be just the thing to unlock it.
Drop Alex in the laid-back environment of San Francisco, made all the more mellow by the 2010 title, and the results could validate the dust-gathering hype.
As an added bonus, he's played extensively at third base, first base and the left field so he's versatile with a glove (though the versatility may better be described as incompetence).
Yeah, yeah, the former Tampa Bay Ray speedster isn't available via trade at the moment because he's a free agent.
I'm bending the rules a little; sue me—it's not like I'm trying to solve the United States' national deficit crisis, after all.
Besides, Carl Crawford is like a poor man's CarGo, and the Giants could acquire him.
They won't because C.C. is 29 and figures to fetch a sizable price tag via free agency as the period's premier bat. But San Francisco had the budget to sign such an athlete before the club raked in the revenue that is incidental to a World Series title. Now the budget could easily absorb a big ticket item.
Again, it probably won't, but just imagine putting his leather and fleet feet in AT&T Park's spacious outfield next to Andres Torres.
Not to mention that his offensive strengths—getting on base and moving around them—play perfectly to the developing, post-Barry Bonds philosophy at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. That is, only a handful of the most elite sluggers can thump in China Basin, so forget about the pure boppers and get hitters who can create runs without leaving the park.
Crawford boasts the following 162-game averages over a nine-year career: a slash line of .296/.337/.444, 100 R, 14 3B and 54 SB.
That is the statistical profile of a man born to play at what the locals still call Pac Bell.
That picture suggests the O's aren't parting with Jones anytime soon, no?
As does the still-limitless potential packed in the 25-year-old's 6'2", 215-pound frame.
However, some of the bloom is off baseball's Pacman after the last two uneven seasons on the diamond at Camden Yards. He's still young, but the all-world talent hasn't yet manifested itself on the field for extended stretches.
After about three full years as the starting center fielder, Jones has posted these 162-game averages: a slash line of .274/.319/.427, 82 R, 71 RBI, 25 2B, 5 3B, 17 HR, 11 SB, 5 CS, and 124 SO. Those are good numbers in a vacuum, except the kid isn't playing in a vacuum—he was the centerpiece of the blockbuster Erik Bedard deal.
In other words, Jones is playing under the weight of substantial expectation.
Perhaps it's time to see what he can do without the burden.
The Snakes are in a weird limbo at the moment in the NL West.
If Brandon Webb bounces back to full strength and quickly, there's hope for the immediate future. If not, Arizona is up the proverbial creek sans paddle.
The Giants are obviously looking sturdy for the next few years, the San Diego Padres have legs for miles after arriving ahead of schedule in 2010, the Colorado Rockies are thick through the middle with one of the game's most dominant aces (Ubaldo Jimenez) at the top of the rotation and only the McCourts kept the Los Angeles Dodgers from leaping forward off its strong young foundation (Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, etc.).
Even if Webb is right as rain from Opening Day in 2011 (not bloody likely), the Diamondbacks might be looking at a long year.
And that means everything not bolted down could go. So why not see if you can beat the rush?
Drew is another blue-chip Scott Boras commodity destined for free agency in 2013, and those are mortally allergic to bolts i.e. he'd be one of the first out the door if Arizona pushes the plunger on its current cast of characters.
As a smooth shortstop with plus speed, good power and a long shelf-life at 27, Drew would be a heist if San Francisco could swipe him from a division rival.
But don't hold your breath.
It's funny how quickly things change under the microscope in places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
And by funny, I mean perversely pathetic.
After 2009, Ellsbury might've been able to win the mayorship of Beantown. He led the AL with 10 triples and 70 thefts while only getting nailed 12 times, he reached base at a .355 clip and hit .301 while scoring 94 runs. His numbers in 2008 were similar if more modest: .280/.336/.394, 98 R, 22 2B, 7 3B, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 50 SB, and 11 CS.
To complement his top-of-the-order skill set, Jacoby patrolled one of the best center fields in baseball.
One abysmal year later and the 27-year-old streak of lightning has all but been run out of town by an imperfectly handled and nagging rib injury complicated by the incessant New England media.
Though an under-the-radar and calm winter might do wonders to heal those wounds (as well as the ribs), it's possible there's a window to exploit in the meantime. This is arguably the premier lead-off hitter in baseball when healthy, at least he was heading in that direction before 2010.
Toss in the superlative defense and you have a logical fit for San Francisco's team as currently constructed.
Getting the deal done? Well, that's another story.
And thankfully, not mine...
Hardy is another stud whose shine has lost some luster thanks to injury and a seemingly inexplicable drop in performance with the bat. But the former Milwaukee Brewer had a bit of a renaissance with the Minnesota Twins in 2010 and is just 28 i.e. there's a lot of run left in his body based on the average Major Leaguer.
He is appealing from the Giants' perspective because of his position—as a shortstop, he could solve a perennial problem for San Francisco if he panned out—and his line-drive percentage.
The latter had been in steady decline ever since the 21.1 he authored in 2005, his rookie year.
Of course, he didn't become an everyday player until 2007, but his percentage that year (17.2) was still well above the 13.9 he registered in 2009, the year the Brew Crew cut ties with the one-time All Star.
Well, in admittedly truncated playing time courtesy of more injuries, Hardy's 16.9 line drive percentage in '10 was back up to its '07 levels. The Twinkies have multiple options at short in Alexi Casilla (26), Trevor Plouffe (24) and Estarlin De Los Santos (23), so J.J. might be superfluous in their eyes.
Granted, none of the three mentioned have shown much (or anything) in the Bigs so maybe not.
But Hardy might be on the verge of picking up where he left off when he took MLB by storm a few years ago, and that makes him a potential steal of the highest order.
Rasmus gets top billing because he's young, talented, fits one of the Giants' blatant requirements, isn't irreplaceable by the Redbirds and is disgruntled by many accounts.
In other words, he's realistically attainable and would be a significant asset.
Again, the problem crops up that St. Louis would want lots of top-tier, fresh talent in return which is something San Francisco just doesn't have aside from the untouchables—Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, etc.
However, leveraging a substantial portion of the farm system might be something worth considering when you step back from the situation.
The 24-year-old has just over 1000 major-league plate appearances to his name over two full seasons. In those trips to the dish, he's pumped out 39 home runs, swiped 15 bases, scored 157 runs and tallied a slash line of .263/.334/.452 while maintaining a spiffy center field.
He's whiffed 243 times and the St. Louis powers-that-be are on the record as saying they won't trade the youngster.
Nevertheless, Colby reportedly has a strained relationship with manager Tony LaRussa, and the face of the Cardinal franchise, Albert Pujols, called him out in September. So the brass might simply be posturing in anticipation of negotiation.
It says here that the Giants should find out.