These Giants Can Win, but Tinkering with Roster Will Remove Much Doubt
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Just over five months after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, fans are flipping their lids over a mediocre start and calling for all type of outlandish changes.
The Giants aren't scoring enough runs? The 2010 Giants didn't score enough runs either, until they scored just enough to win the World Series with a patchwork lineup sans any real superstars.
The Giants need to dump aging shortstop Miguel Tejada and admit he was a free agent mistake? A year ago at this time, the same was being said about eventual World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.
The 2011 Giants were created in the image of the 2010 world championship Giants.
The starting pitching will be good, perhaps great, and the bullpen is greatly improved over last year. Tejada isn't going to kill the club defensively at shortstop, especially given that Juan Uribe and Renteria were virtually without any range at the position a year ago. It could be that Tejada might find Uribe's feast-or-famine stroke, too, and simply interrupt long droughts with the stick with clutch home runs...followed by another series of inopportune pop outs and strikeouts.
The same people who marveled that a team the quality of the 2010 Giants could win the world championship have forgotten that a team like that 2011 Giants can win the world championship.
The Giants should consider personnel moves, but not those born from panic shown by boneheaded fans who forgot the lessons they learned in 2010.
The moves must come because of injuries and surprises—like Aaron Rowand's rebirth as a hitter. The bullpen is loaded with arms, but somebody has to go when Barry Zito and Santiago Casilla are healthy. Center fielder Andres Torres is due back from the disabled list soon, but it shouldn't be a given that speedster Darren Ford is the guy sent packing.
Then, there is the matter of young Brandon Belt struggling in the big leagues only to tear up the Pacific Coast League upon arrival in Fresno. The Giants need to find ways to create runs, just like always, and runs lost to Pablo Sandoval's injury. So, if Belt's going to hit .450 in Class AAA, he belongs in the big leagues. But, where is he going to play?
The Giants will find a creative way to fix the left side of the infield. The idea of them trading a top pitching prospect, a starting pitcher and more to get shortstop Jose Reyes from the New York Mets is utterly nonsensical. The club won the title with Uribe and Renteria at shortstop, but has to mortgage a pitching-rich future to get Reyes now? No way.
Tejada would've been on course to duplicate the performances of Uribe and Renteria at shortstop—especially playing alongside a rejuvenated Sandoval. Sandoval's sidelined for two months, though, and Tejada can't provide enough punch or sufficient defense playing third base—particularly playing alongside utility man Mike Fontenot at shortstop.
While they somehow won with marginal shortstops and Sandoval, lost at bat and on defense, the 2010 Giants were recipients of good fortune the 2011 Giants can't expect. The club used a lifetime of good luck in the 2010 postseason and will need to do something to provide a two-month answer on the left side. Heaven knows, that Fontenot and Tejada aren't the answer.
Conor Gillaspie's a former first-round draft pick who's hitting .280 with an .808 OPS in Fresno. This would be a good time to give the 23-year-old an extended look as a big league third baseman. Then, let Fontento and Tejada see if they can make things work at shortstop.
Ford's a speedster who can win a game with his base-running dare. The Giants can't afford to keep him as a designated runner, even if the argument can be made that veteran Pat Burrell's magic 2010 campaign has given way to the Burrell who lost his swing and then his job with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays almost exactly a year ago.
Still, when Torres returns to center field, the Giants will want to find at-bats for Rowand. Rowand has inexplicably become the Giants' hottest, most consistent hitter. He has to play, even when Torres returns. Cody Ross will play right field so—Rowand will have to play left field. There's no way to know if this streak won't end with him settling back into being a serviceable everyday big leaguer, right?
If Rowand has to play left, the Giants won't need Burrell. Oh, yeah...he's good in the clubhouse, right?
If the world champions need Burrell's clubhouse presence, then their world championship was a fluke and more freakish than anyone imagined. The clubhouse belongs to Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Matt Cain and the rest. A guy barely hitting .200 with single-digit RBI and double-digit strikeouts in 28 games simply can't be that important to the clubhouse.
With Rowand, Torres and Ross in the everyday outfield, there's a need for a backup center fielder and room for Ford.
Don't want to see Burrell leave? The decision will come down to the Giants deciding whether Ford's speed and defense will win more games than Burrell's bat.
The need for Burrell would be diminished if the club recalls Belt. He's a confident kid who is crushing PCL pitching. If he keeps it up for another week, there'd be an argument to be made for recalling him to share left field with Rowand and first base with Aubrey Huff.
What if Belt returns and flops again? Good question.
What if he doesn't?
There aren't easy answers to the over-stocked pitching staff.
Dan Runzler was being converted into a starting pitcher this spring, so it might be worth getting him back in that role to make room for Casilla. It'd cost Ryan Vogelsong his spot in the big leagues. Somebody has to go, though. And, that move wouldn't even take into account what the club will do when Zito returns. Guillermo Mota was most likely to be released in early April, but has been invaluable in long relief since then.
Perhaps the Giants can package some excess big league pitching for a serviceable left-side infielder? No pretense of landing a star, just the thought that a couple pitchers from an overflowing bullpen could fetch a third baseman—assuming that the Giants are still no happier with Gillespie's lack of long ball power now than they were last year.
One idea should be put to rest for now.
Buster Posey is the Giants' best hitter, their best overall player. The guy will be the National League All-Star catcher, especially when his bat heats up. This team can afford to use Eli Whiteside behind the plate more often if they want to use Posey at first base against tough left-handers to give his legs a rest. The Giants can't seriously consider using Posey at a corner infield position every day, not now. That is an idea to be dismissed for now as ridiculous.
Oh, the 2010 Giants proved that the 2011 Giants can win in spite of how they're playing right now. General manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy didn't guide the world champions to a title by standing pat and hoping things worked out. They juggled the lineup and made intriguing personnel moves last year. They'll do the same thing, starting soon, this season.
(Ted Sillanpaa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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