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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Giants' Winter Has Been "Quiet" For A Reason

It just wouldn’t be the winter without people worrying that the Giants haven’t made enough moves to contend, would it?

Last month, Big League Stew on Yahoo ran an article questioning whether or not the Giants could afford to be so “quiet” during the offseason, considering the moves made by teams like the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, and Rockies. Some Giants fans might feel the same way, since at first glance it doesn’t appear the Giants have done much to keep up with the improvements made by other contenders.

The Giants, though, could afford to be somewhat quiet this offseason. They only needed to make one lateral move (replacing Juan Uribe with Miguel Tejada) because most of their major needs were filled with moves they made last year (and by players already in their system). Before you come to the conclusion that the Giants have had a disappointing winter, consider what the 2011 season will bring:

Full Season of Cody Ross: Right field was a revolving door for the Giants last year. John Bowker flamed out yet again and was traded, Nate Schierholtz was solid defensively but couldn’t hit, and Jose Guillen’s biggest contribution was stopping himself from going crazy and strangling Eli Whiteside. Not exactly an all-star cast.

Ross didn’t play much down the stretch after being acquired last August, as the Giants seemed more concerned with placating Guillen and his notorious temper than putting their best lineup out every game. No such concerns exist this year, though, as Ross’s strong postseason play cemented his spot as the Giants’ everyday right fielder for ’11. 

Having Ross in the lineup this year is akin to signing a free agent outfielder who’ll put up a .270/20/80 line, have an OPS somewhere close to .800, and play above average to excellent defense. After suffering through the Bowker/Schierholtz/Guillen monster last season (with a brief appearance by Aubrey Huff), the Giants now have a legitimate starting right fielder to pencil into the lineup on a daily basis. That’s a big upgrade from where they stood at the beginning of ’10.

Andres Torres and Buster Posey Starting From the Get-Go: It took Bruce Bochy seemingly forever last year to realize Aaron Rowand maybe, probably wasn’t the team’s best leadoff option. Torres didn’t earn a starting spot until mid-May and then promptly took off, becoming the Giants’ best leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton in ’02. He was slowed by recovery from an appendectomy late in the season, but rebounded to hit .350 in the NLCS and .318 in the World Series. Torres is the engine that drives the entire lineup, so having him there from the start instead of waiting a month and a half is a major plus.

Everybody knows what Posey can do, so there’s no sense going over his game. Instead, I’ll ask this: would the Giants have won more games last year in April and May with Posey batting cleanup instead of Bengie Molina grounding into rally-killing double play after rally-killing double play? Short answer: yes. Long answer: yesssss. Even if Posey would’ve been good for, say, 3 more wins last May, the Giants would’ve clinched the division long before the last game of the season and saved us all a whole lot of heartburn.

None of those worries this year, though: Torres and Posey will be there from the start, and the lineup will be better for it.

More Madison Bumgarner, Less Todd Wellemeyer: Do I really have to explain this one? No? Good, moving on.

Brandon Belt: The Giants are saying all the right things when it comes to Belt. They’re not saying he’s earned a spot on the big league roster, they’re not over-hyping him, and they’re not publicly counting on a big contribution from him this year. By all accounts, they’re predicting he’ll start the year out in Fresno before an eventual call up.

That’s all well and good, but I have a few predictions of my own: Brandon Belt will be the Giants’ opening day first baseman. And he’s going to be a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year.

Belt tore through the minors in ‘09 and there’s nothing left for him to prove in the lower levels. Much like Posey last year, Belt’s bat is big league ready; unlike Posey, Belt plays a less challenging position and doesn’t need more time in the minors to hone his defensive skills. Belt would move Huff to left field, and both of their bats in the lineup at the same time would improve the offense dramatically. 

Deeper Bench: Pat Burrell. Mark DeRosa. Mike Fontenot. Nate Schierholtz. All of those guys could likely find starting jobs somewhere in the big leagues, and all of them will likely be on the Giants’ bench this season. That’s a nice situation for any team to find itself in, plus it gives the Giants options should one of their starters struggle. A healthy DeRosa will be especially valuable, since he can play almost anywhere on the diamond. It also says a lot about the team’s depth when last year’s best pinch hitter, Travis Ishikawa, will likely struggle to find a place on the roster.

Deeper Bullpen: The Giants will get full seasons from Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, three guys who helped make the Giants’ bullpen lights-out down the stretch. That means we won’t be seeing the likes of Waldis Joaquin or Denny Bautista, which are victories in and of themselves.

The Giants’ offseason may not have been a flashy one, but it didn’t need to be. The moves they made last year, from waiver claims to trades to trusting their own prospects, set them up nicely for this season without having to do a lot of heavy lifting over the winter months. It’s not a bad thing that their offseason has been a quiet one. The Giants made most of their roster noise last year, and that noise will continue to reverberate in 2011.

2 comments:

  1. Not quite as optimistic as you on Belt. I don't think we see him until all-star break-ish timeframe. Agree with the rest. Thinking a number of those extras on the bench might be trade-able in the event of an emergency. Wondering what's up with Affeldt.

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  2. You didn't even mention that new third baseman! If Pablo sheds all those pounds, I call that addition by subtraction - get him hitting like it's 2009, and this team might actually score some runs.

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