The Giants won the World Series last season, in case you didn't know. As it is for any team that rides that wave of fall success (we are familiar with this from 2007), every player involved takes on a special aura - the Tim Harrikkalas, Ramon Ortizes, Cody Rosses and Edgar Renterias are remembered with so much more sentimentality than their talent often deserves.
As the Rockies and their fans did with the 2007 Pennant team, Brian Sabean appears to have fallen in love with his 2010 squad. The off-season after 2007, Dan O'Dowd did little to attempt to add to the roster, counting instead on the same guys to produce the same in 2008. Actually, to produce even better - they were young after all.
That didn't work out so well, and yet Brian Sabean has taken the same approach with his club - try to win again with the same guys that did it before. He allowed two aging shortstops to leave (Renteria and Juan Uribe) and added one more aging shortstop (Miguel Tejada). He made darn sure Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell didn't leave. That's it.
This is essentially the same roster as the 2010 World Champions. But is it really the same team?
SS Miguel Tejada (FA), SP Jeff Suppan (FA), SP Ryan Vogelsong (FA), RP Marc Kroon (FA), RP Casey Daigle (FA), RP Shane Loux (FA), 1B Brad Eldred (FA)
1B/OF Aubrey Huff, LF Pat Burrell, RP Guillermo Mota.
SS Juan Uribe (FA), OF Jose Guillen (FA), SS Edgar Renteria (FA), UT Eugenio Velez (FA), RP Chris Ray (FA), RP Waldis Joaquin (release)
|1) Andres Torres - CF
|OF - Aaron Rowand
|1) Tim Lincecum
|Closer - Brian Wilson
|2) Freddy Sanchez - 2B
|OF - Nate Schierholtz
|2) Jonathan Sanchez
|Set-up - Sergio Romo
|3) Aubrey Huff - RF
|1B/OF - Travis Ishikawa
|3) Matt Cain
|Set-up - Jeremy Affeldt
|4) Buster Posey - C
|IF - Mike Fontenot
|4) Barry Zito
|LOOGy - Javier Lopez
|5) Pat Burrell - LF
|C - Eli Whiteside
|5) Madison Bumgarner
|MR - Santiago Casilla
|6) Pablo Sandoval - 3B
|MR - Guillermo Mota
|7) Miguel Tejada - SS
|MR - Ramon Ramirez
|8) Mark DeRosa - 1B
The line-up still hasn't been finalized in order, but the starting eight is set. With Cody Ross out with a calf tear for the first few weeks of the season, Aubrey Huff will move to right field, with Mark DeRosa taking over first base. Once Ross returns, DeRosa will go back to the bench. At that point, one of Travis Ishikawa, Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz or potentially Pat Burrell would need to be traded/injured. None of the four have options remaining, and one of the four would have to be moved for Ross. The lineup features two 24-year olds (Posey and Sandoval), with the rest being 33 years of age or older. Posey will be great, and I believe Sandoval will rebound, but Huff, Burrell and Torres are likely in for regression. The right side of the infield is hobbled constantly, and aside from center field, the defense has question marks at every spot. Aside from health, the key to the Giants' season is how this line-up staves off age and regression.
Aaron Rowand has been so bad for the Giants that not even an injury to an outfielder gets him in the starting lineup. Nate Schierholtz and Travis Ishikawa always seem to be on Bruce Bochy's bench, and Mike Fontenot has the duties of backing up Sanchez and Tejada. Eli Whiteside won't get much playing time behind the plate. It's an uninspiring bench, but the bases are mostly covered.
Yeah, it's really really good. Perhaps the best in the game. They could potentially carry Seattle's offense into the playoffs. The question everyone wants to ask is if they can repeat their perfect bill of health in 2011. Not a single member of that rotation missed even one start in 2010. Not one. Can that continue? Highly unlikely. Jeff Suppan and Ryan Vogelsong are the back-up plans, both of whom might be intimidated by the Sky Sox rotation. Moreover, can their effectiveness continue? Tim Lincecum's fastball has lost velocity each year since 2008. To combat the lack of effectiveness in the pitch, he has thrown his offspeed stuff progressively more. If that fastball continues to lose velocity, there's only so much more Lincecum can lean on his offspeed stuff before he becomes a different (read: worse) pitcher. One way or another, the Giants' rotation will not produce as much WAR in 2011 as 2010.
Brian Wilson is still battling minor injury issues and is less than 50/50 for opening day currently. While he's out, Affeldt and Romo would close games dependent on match-ups. Javier Lopez joins Affeldt as the best lefty duo in the division (both former Rockies), with Casilla, Mota and Ramirez filling out the pen. It isn't evident who will be the long man - perhaps Bochy is cocky and thinks his rotation won't require one. The bullpen was overshadowed by the Padres in 2010, yet they were still 4th in fWAR in MLB, so it is a very talented group. The biggest component to that is obviously Brian Wilson. His health status bears watching.
Why They Could Be Just as Good
Andres Torres could easily be just as good, as he has completely reinvented himself. In the same vein, Pablo Sandoval has been receiving rave reviews from hometown, opposing and national sportswriters alike for his transformation. A return to All-Star form for Sandoval makes the Giants significantly more dangerous at the plate. A full year of Buster Posey will certainly be better than partial Posey plus Bengie Molina. If Brandon Belt pulls a Buster Posey, the line-up could be decent at worst come midseason. And while injuries are likely to happen eventually to the rotation, banking on long periods of lost time for a five-some with heretofore immaculate health may fall under "wishful thinking." The club is built to win with pitching, and all 12 men on staff are difficult to face.
Why They Could Be Bad
Aubrey Huff won't be nearly as good. He had great seasons when he was younger, but 2010 was the best of his career (by wRC+ and fWAR). It is rare for a 33-year-old 11-year veteran to have a career year. It's unheard of for that to be matched. Age will likely sap Pat Burrell, and it already appears to be taking a toll on Miguel Tejada. After letting two older shortstops go, there won't be an old man to take over for Tejada when he falters. Mike Fontenot isn't a desirable option - he only has ten career starts at short. Age riddles the line-up, a line-up that is a year removed from being the second worst in MLB. Oh yeah, and that whole injuries thing makes comparing teams based on 2010's standings a fool's errand. If all things were equal injury-wise in the division, the Giants wouldn't even have made the playoffs last season. Remember, they only snuck in by a single game.
Prospect to Watch - Brandon Belt
The first baseman/outfielder is still in Major League camp at this hour. Speculation is he will head to AAA Fresno and appear mid-season a la Buster Posey v 2010. If he does get the surprise addition to the roster, he would start at first base, Mark DeRosa would shift to the bench, and the Giants would be forced to trade Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz or Aaron Rowand (ha!). This is one big reason why Belt is likely to stay in AAA to start the year.
For more details on Belt the player, read this.
The status-quo-after-success method didn't work with the Rockies three years ago, and Dan O'Dowd had the benefit of expecting some growth from the young core. Brian Sabean is instead betting that his line-up is immune to Father Time and that the Off! he keeps in his office is actually Injury Repellent.
The Giants are a legitimately talented team, and their fans have every right to be annoyingly cocky. One could see a path in which they do repeat without too much trouble. But I don't believe it to be. Regression is a word that usually induces simultaneous glazed and rolled eyes, but the Giants are ripe to fall back to the pack in 2011. I see their overall talent level on par with the Rockies and Dodgers. As I said in the Dodger preview, I expect Los Angeles and San Francisco to fight it out for second place, with the Dodgers taking the surprising upper hand. I'll stick to that. I really miss the old Giant fans. Maybe this year in place of SpillySlam, we can delight in their despair at the hands of WiggyWalkoff.