From 1997 to 2004, the San Francisco Giants enjoyed a .570 winning percentage, going 738-557, claiming two N.L. West Titles, a National League Pennant, and all the while never finishing anything below second place in this once elite division. To Giants fans, that seven-year span of success must seem like a lifetime ago.
Fueling those seven seasons out of perhaps the most successful decade of San Francisco Giants baseball, were two sure-fire Hall of Famers in Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, along with very talented hitters at the pinnacle of their careers such as Reggie Sanders, Ellis Burks, Rich Aurillia, and J.T. Snow.
Gone were the days of the Humm-Baby scrappiness exhibited by the Roger Craig Giants teams of the '80s, and in were the flashy, dominant power htting teams of the late '90s and 2000s Dusty Baker Giants.
If nothing more, this past season has showed all of us that a change in team ability and atmosphere has once again arrived.
One of the biggest knocks of this Giants front office has been its ability to draft and scout pitching, yet the apparent inability to develop any elite hitters, resulting in poor planned trades of young pitching for mediocre, washed up hitters.
Names such as Lance Niekro, Adam Shabala, Todd Linden, and Dan Ortmeier remind Giants fans of high draft picks that simply never lived up to their hype or potential, resulting in a waste of both time and patience. Patience however, is exactly what this team and its fans need to exhibit in this upcoming season.
The 2008 First Year Draft saw the Giants highlight their picks with Golden Spikes winner Buster Posey, and Conor Gillaspie, the NCAA's seventh leading RBI hitter in the 2008 season.
Add these players to the already successful Lincecum/Cain duo, the seemingly meteoric rise of young Angel Villalona, and perhaps the Minor Leagues' two most explosive pitchers in Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Alderson, and this franchise's run of poor player development may have at long last come to an end.
Call me a purist, but in my opinion, the best teams are the ones that can develop their elite players as home-grown talent, using free agency and trades only for the purpose of supplementing what they already have.
Tampa Bay seemed to have shown the entire league the power of patient development as we witnessed players like Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, and David Price come up just short of delivering the very young franchise its first World Series in only its first postseason appearance.
It is the hope of Giants fans that names such as Posey, Villalona, Gillaspie, and Bumgarner will soon become synonymous with a World Championship in San Francisco.
Many of my friends ask me, "What are your expectations for 2009?"
I can honestly answer without a second thought that my expectations are just as high as they were in 2008, .500 baseball. Anything more, and the 2009 Giants would be simply overachieving. This team is still a work in progress and thus must still be considered in the "rebuilding" phase once again, a term that Brian Sabean seems so hesitant to use. I, however, do not hesitate to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done.
Yes, we have a Cy Young winner and cornerstone of a franchise in Tim Lincecum, and another elite pitching talent in Matt Cain. Yes, we have two more potential stud pitchers in Bumgarner and Alderson, and possible power hitting prospects in Posey, and Villalona (eventually).
However, with young talent comes growing pains, and all position players will inevitabely experience significant slumps in hitting and roadblocks in their development before they are able to establish themselves as legitimate professional talent.
This will especially be the case playing in AT&T Park, a stadium that is on the short list of many pro's as one of their least favorite parks to hit in.
Will every young Giants prospect find success in the majors? Without a doubt, no. More disappointments and frustrating results are undoubtedly going to occur. However I do know there is, for the first time in a long while, a reason to be quite optimistic about this team's future. What I stress the most is very simple. PATIENCE. This team will not be good in 2009.
In fact, they will be lucky to even finish in second place in the now-weak N.L. West. It is the 2010 and 2011 seasons that I most look forward to, and I hope Giants faithful can hold out for just a little bit longer. Forget the notions of signing Manny Ramirez or C.C. Sabathia.
For all we know, we could have one or more of each ready to start on this team in two seasons.
No Giants fans, what we need now is to weather this storm of mediocrity for just a little bit longer. With any luck, Sabean will see the need to lock up our already successful superstars for long term contracts. This will allow Bruce Bochy to prove if he can actually manage and cultivate a group of young, inexperienced kids, into a team of championship players.