When pitchers and catchers report next month, the San Francisco Giants will still be world champions. And they will still be the defending champs for at least the next 11 months, which is comforting for all of us Giants fans.
The front office has done their part to try and keep it that way in 2011, and with the exception of the heart-wrenching, bile-inducing, loyalty-destroying defection of Juan Uribe to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the roster that got the Giants to the playoffs will look very much the same as it did in 2010.
One part (the main part) of the team that got the Giants to the pinnacle of the baseball world was another outstanding year from the starting rotation. Granted, there were no brilliant standout performances like those Tim Lincecum produced when he garnered back-to-back Cy Young awards,but the consistency and quality up and down the rotation was remarkable.
The lowest ERA on the staff belonged to the rookie, Madison Bumgarner (3.00). The highest, to the oldest member of the staff, Barry Zito (4.15). The average ERA of that starting rotation was a highly respectable 3.35, and the fact that everyone was fairly consistent in this case meant that the Giants were always within reach of winning the game.
However, not one of the Giants' front four starters missed a start due to injury. Each one of them pitched an identical 33 games. Madison Bumgarner took over for Todd Wellemeyer after his injury, but didn't miss any games for the rest of the season (or postseason, for that matter).
What's the best option for an emergency starter?
And even though San Francisco didn't carry Barry Zito on any of the postseason rosters, his second-half collapse cannot be discounted. Basically, the Giants were very lucky, and to expect another season of injury-free starters isn't exactly ridiculous, but careless.
Over the years, the Giants have had a bevy of pitching prospects waiting in the wings. More often than not, they were traded away in the Sabean days pre-dating the current prospect boom (more to come on that). Yet now it comes to pass that they're all here in the majors, making up 80 percent of the starting rotation.
There were the dark days of the fifth starter, when the fifth day was split between Brad Hennessey, Dustin Hermanson, Chad Zerbe, Ryan Jensen, Pat Misch, Kevin Correia and others, and when every few days a win was an amazing feat, and was usually due to the bullpen and some late-inning heroics.
Those were not good times.
Remember when Jonathan Sanchez was a swingman/emergency starter out of the bullpen? He's now the No. 4. And when Tim Lincecum was a rookie phenom? He's the ace. And remember when we were all itching for the day that Bumgarner would have a chance to crack the already stacked rotation?Well, he did.
And remember when Barry Zito was under contract until 2035? Me too.
The truth is, there's no longer anyone waiting in the wings in case something happens. That's not to say that the Giants are without legitimate pitching prospects. Not at all. They're just all down in the lower minors, and none of them have the kind of experience needed to hop into an emergency role.
Gone is Kevin Pucetas, who was competing with Wellemeyer during spring training last year. Gone is Eric Hacker, who has spent seven years in the minors but recently signed on with the Twins. Denny Bautista had experience as a starter but is also gone. Joe Martinez and Ryan Sadowski aren't around anymore.
Dan Runzler has apparently been working on being a starter. With Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt already presenting a southpaw-heavy bullpen, this might be his way to stick with the major league club.
There are still some free-agent starters out there, but I would prefer that the Giants find someone low risk, high reward, who is comfortable with a minor league deal but who can still perform against major league hitting.
The market for such a starter will clear up in the weeks leading up to spring training as clubs start making cuts.
Again, all five of the Giants starters have a pretty solid track record when it comes to injuries. But you never know, anything can happen. Just ask Stephen Strasburg.
And the Giants have to be prepared.