Playing Pepper 2014: San Francisco Giants

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

San Francisco Giants
76-86, third in the NL West

That wasn’t exactly the title defense that Giants fans had planned on.  At least in 2011, they had the excuse that Buster Posey had been injured.  In 2013, there wasn’t that one defining moment that led to the sub-.500 season.

So does that mean the Giants are ready to rebound like they did in 2012?  To find out, we’ve got a great panel of San Francisco bloggers ready to go.  That includes:

  • Dan from The Ball Caps Blog.  Dan doesn’t write specifically about the Giants–he’s part of the General Chapter of the BBA–but still has a soft spot for them.  He’s on Twitter @danielday.
  • Richard at The Giants Cove, part of the Bloguin network and a member of the BBA.
  • Craig, who writes THE San Francisco Giants Blog and is also part of the BBA.
  • Kevin from San Francisco Lunatic Fringe, another BBA member and one that has a unique way of approaching these questions, as you might remember from past year.  He’s on Twitter @sflunaticfringe. A hat tip also to Rog Hernandez for doing the artwork below.

Let’s jump right into the bay, shall we?

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

BCB: Give it a B.

Until hitting the wall last season, the Giants had won two World Series and been solid contenders over the previous four seasons. The core stars of the team have been remarkably stable over those five years, especially the one-two punch of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum with Madison Bugarner and Ryan Vogelsong on the mound as starters. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval have remained productive at the plate (and behind, in the former’s case).

That nucleus remains formidable, more so when relatively recent acquisitions Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro are healthy.

With such a strong core, the Giants have spent a fair amount of time most winters signing existing players. This time around, the front office showed a bit more spunk with two major pickups for the field: Tim Hudson has a spot reserved in the starting rotation and Mike Morse should start in left field (long a troublesome slot in the lineup for San Francisco).

A return to the Bay Area for Hudson, who first made his mark with the Athletics in Oakland, should give him a lift. As for Morse, I had no idea who he was and had to look him up.

Special note: I’d have dropped this grade to an F had the Giants brought Barry Bonds back in any capacity for more than a week of spring training.

GC: San Francisco’s 2013 performance was a disaster: finishing third in the NL West, 16 games out of first place and 5 games under .500. Forget about the injuries excuse—every team has injuries to key players; well-built teams have the depth to survive injuries and continue winning.

The Giants did very little in the 2013-2014 offseason. In terms of improving the team’s most glaring weaknesses (left field run production, having only two quality starting pitchers, lack of power, second base questions, a weak bench, and little help from the farm system) the Giants get a solid “D”.

San Francisco made two moves to improve their third place team: they swapped veteran Barry Zito for veteran Tim Hudson, and they swapped veteran Michael Morse for veteran Andres Torres. These moves don’t come close to keeping up with what other NL West teams have done this offseason.

SFB: I grade it a B. I love the Huddy signing and Morse is a low cost answer to the black hole we call left field. Locking up Pence early was brilliant as it turned out he would have gotten significantly more had he tested the market. People scoffed at the dough thrown at Timmy but it was only 2 years and I expect him to have a very good year. I would have liked to have seen them sign a “Kelly Johnson” because he’s affordable and the one thing the Giants can’t afford to do is suffer injuries and have to turn to the farm system for long term help. It is not there.

SFLF:

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C70: How strange (and perhaps liberating) will it be to not see Barry Zito on the Giants’ roster this season?

BCB: Barry was a bust. His contributions-to-salary ratio must rank among the lowest of all-time, and I’ll leave that to my SABR colleagues to prove that.

But that’s not the whole story.

Even with his struggles, Zito gamely answered his turn in the rotation on a remarkably consistent basis. He gave the Giants a lot of innings and he actually had a number of strong outings here and there during their pennant drives in 2010 and 2012. When he lost, he owned up to it.

There’s a touch of irony that his spot in the rotation is being taken not by some hotshot rookie but by Hudson, who flourished with the A’s alongside Zito early in their careers.

I’ll miss Barry in a way. Like many Giants fans, I pulled for him as an underdog — albeit as the most highly compensated underdog in the history of the game.

GC: It certainly is not “liberating” to see Barry Zito leave the Giants. Without Barry Zito the Giants don’t win the 2012 NL West title. Zito went 15-8 with a 1.39 WHIP in 2012, and the Giants finished eight games ahead of the Dodgers.

Without Barry Zito the Giants don’t win the 2012 postseason. Zito went 2-0 with a 1.68 ERA, 16 IP, 13 SO, and 6 BB in the playoffs. He won Game 1 in the 2012 Series sweep against the Tigers.

Zito had a number of poor seasons and several good ones with San Francisco, but I will always remember his performance and contributions during the 2012 season.

SFB: I won’t miss Barry pitching for us, it was often disastrous. But I will always hold Barry Zito in the highest esteem for what he did in Game 5 vs the Cardinals in the 2012 playoffs. They do not win the 2012 World Series without Zito pitching in Game 5 of the NLCS. And his final game as a Giant will go down in history, for me, as one of the most emotional single “walk off the mound” moments in Giants history.

This is far from the best video of that moment, but considering how much he was hated for so many years, this send off is most awesome. These fans “get it”. Somebody else might be able to find a better video of the moment. It’s barely addressed anywhere but this is Mark Kotsay’s final at bat as a big leaguer too, and I can’t say enough about Kotsay’s character to take this strike out for his old buddy.

SFLF:

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C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

BCB: The starting rotation and field lineup are essentially set, although injuries to Morse and Scutaro have raised a few questions. Specifically, who gets to back up at second base? Tony Abreu and Brandon Hicks are the candidates, with Hicks hitting more of late.

GC: There are no Giants “roster battles” in 2014. This is the same team from 2013 with two changes (and Hudson and Morse are not “fighting” to make the roster).

The roster “battles” this season will happen during the season when the Giants have to replace players who are past their prime and/or can’t play 125 games. With no offensive help coming from the minor leagues it won’t be much of a battle.

SFB: Marco Scutaro’s battle vs his own back. I said back in Feb 2011 that Freddy Sanchez would never play again and people laughed at me. I do think Marco will play this year but he’s utility material at best. I’d take The Wonger from the Cardinals in a nano-second. Or even Mark Ellis.

SFLF:

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C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

BCB: I will reiterate: This is a solidly performing team with many veterans in place, so rookies play a minor role. The most likely scenario for a rookie to contribute is if one of the starters (most likely a pitcher) gets knocked out with an injury. The Giants have a stable of good arms in their farm system, so it’s likely a matter of who gets called up.

GC: The one bright light in the Giants 2014 season is that several young pitchers will likely have a chance to make the team. Starter Edwin Escobar and RP Heath Hembree should be on the squad out of Spring Training, but might have to wait until July.

No position players look to be ready to contribute any time this season.

SFB: Probably Ehire Adrianza just because he’s out of options and might fall into the 2nd base gig as Scoot continues to battle his back.

SFLF:

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C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

BCB: My educated guess: 84-78, third place.

The team will be better than last year’s 76-86 squad, a plunge from their championship season in 2012.

The Giants joke that it’s an even year, so they’ll win it all again, but the joke is a bit hollow. The starting rotation is showing signs of aging, although Bumgarner should be reaching his prime about now.

Run generation is always a challenge in cavernous AT&T Park, and a lot will depend on Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey playing to their potential.

As for the competition, I don’t see a huge difference in the National League West this year. The Dodgers should take the top spot again, and I’ll take a flier on the Padres finishing just ahead of the Giants in the second slot.

GC: Unless four or five players have “career years”, the Giants look like they’ll finish in third place again in 2014. A .500 finish for San Francisco in 2014 would take a 5 game improvement over 2013. To win 90 games they would have to improve by 14 games.

Right now the improvements made by the Dodgers and D-Backs have made those teams even more competitive than last year.

SFB: Total homer call here, we have to stay healthy across the board, but I am predicting the Giants win 92 and the division. I’ve nailed too many other final win totals cold over the years, I’m allowed to take a flier like this now and again.

SFLF:

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C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

BCB: A lot of Giants players bring a smile to my face when they’re on the field.

Hunter Pence, a stick figure in stirrups.

Tim Lincecum, the gritty bantam on the mound.

Buster Posey, ever steady.

But it’s Pablo Sandoval who endears himself to me with his seemingly boundless joy at playing the game. His stir-the-dirt, hop-skip-jump at bat routine is unique. He’s always the top guy on the rail in the dugout cheering on his teammates. He flings that big, round body at line drives with abandon.

His discipline at bat, while improved, remains optional. He’ll still rip one into the corner off an eye-high fastball or slider in the dirt.

This might be his last year for the Gigantes. I hope he hits .400.

GC: The Giants have several really exciting players to watch. First baseman Brandon Belt’s development has been very exciting to see. If the Giants are going to achieve any success over the next few years it will because Belt breaks out even more and becomes a dominant NL run producer.

I never get tired of watching Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval is easily one of the game’s top hitters and an animated and quirky joy to watch every day.

SFB: The Pagan Salute. If he’s saluting at second base, we’re winning and that’s all this Giants fan cares about…….

SFLF:

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My thanks to everyone for all their insights and thoughts on the Giants.  We’ll have to see if that even-number year thing works out for them!

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