Pitchers and catchers report in about two months, but that does not silence the baseball talk.
The winter meetings have come and gone, but it seems the Giants prefer to stand pat. They have publicly stated they aren't going after any of the top free agents, and why should they? The team of misfits they put together last year achieved baseball immortality, so why should the team be assembled any differently?
So far, the Giants appear to be the favorite in 2011. They have retained most of their tremendous pitching staff, which was first in baseball in ERA and strikeouts in 2010. All they lost was Chris Ray out of the bullpen, but their whole Cy Young-caliber starting rotation remains intact for 2011 and beyond.
Even with Tim Lincecum's August struggles, the Giants still have one of the best starting staffs in all of baseball. Matt Cain had a phenomenal year and competed against Lincecum for the ace status, but Lincecum showed why he was an ace during the postseason. Zito and Sanchez remain a question, but they are undoubtedly one of the best four and five starters in baseball, depending on how the Phillies' newly beefed-up staff does. Expect another solid year from the rotation.
As for the Giants bullpen, it should also be stellar in 2011. Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez and the rest of the staff are all back for next season. With the Giants re-signing Guillermo Mota, the Giants shored up the back end of their bullpen in case of injury or if mop-up work is needed. Basically, what got the Giants to the World Series in 2010 will return for the 2011 season.
The Giants offense only needs mediocrity to win the West, but anything less will not get the job done. In 2009, the Giants offense was abysmal, nearly the worst in baseball. Even so, they somehow won 88 games, but it was not enough to beat out the Rockies for the Wild Card.
In 2010, the Giants were closer to the middle of the pack in hitting, and they won the West with 92 games. Now that the Giants added Tejada, Cody Ross (mid-2010), Pat Burrell (mid-2010), re-signed Aubrey Huff, and a healthier Pablo Sandoval (who lost 15 pounds in San Diego so far), the Giants' offense is worlds better than on April of 2010. They also have a stronger bench, with Mark DeRosa returning in 2011. Don't forget Buster Posey, who just jolted the offense in July.
In order to keep their bench strong, the Giants offered Edgar Renteria a one-year contract worth $1 million. I think it is fine to bring him back as a backup infielder, but for no more than the $1 million they offered him. He can fill a hole if, say, Freddy Sanchez or Miguel Tejada were lost to injury. He can be a short-term solution, since he is streaky, but is not ideal for a starting role. Still, he has a flare for the clutch as shown by the World Series, and his game-tying home run during the home opener.
Despite him feeling disrespected about the Giants contract offer, Renteria needs to realize the Giants did anything but that, considering they were the only team thus far to offer him a major league contract.
The one weakness I see for the Giants is athleticism. With the exception of Torres and Schierholtz, team speed is weak and so is their range. If Pablo Sandoval loses a few more pounds, I think he can give the Giants more athleticism as he did when he first came up in 2008. Watch any of his baserunning from '08, and you would think he was Carl Crawford compared to the way he runs now. Any speedster who isn't a loss at the plate (a la Eugenio Velez) will give the Giants another dimension offensively. Darren Ford can fly, but I don't think the Giants trust him entirely at the plate yet.
What was once a weakness back in the early part of the decade, the Giants' farm system is now a strength. The Giants have some decent options offensively, including hot prospect Brandon Belt.
Some would consider Belt the next Buster Posey. Although he hit .337 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs in 46 games at AA Richmond, he tapered off dramatically average-wise at AAA Fresno, hitting only .229 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in 13 games. Granted, it was a small sample size, but Sandoval better watch out in 2011 because the Giants seem to be comfortable with Belt as an option in the infield if the offense struggles.
Another prospect who can contribute in 2011 is outfielder Tyler Graham. He brings one offensive aspect that the Giants have been lacking in recent years. Despite his low power numbers (two home runs) at AAA Fresno, Graham posted a .343 batting average with 35 stolen bases and a .393 OBP in 109 games. This might spell a future lead-off hitter and an improvement on the Giants' athleticism, but only a big league sample size can paint a more adequate picture.
That said, I pick the San Francisco Giants to win the West once again. Their pitching is just superb, and I think having Burrell, Ross, Buster Posey and Torres in the lineup for a full season will get them 95-100 wins. Imagine how many of those early-season 2010 games they would have won with these players.
This article was featured on the blog Talking Giants Baseball.
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