Spots Locked Up
- Tim Lincecum
- Barry Zito
- Matt Cain
- Jonathan Sanchez
- Brian Wilson
- Jeremy Affeldt
- Sergio Romo
- Brandon Medders
- Dan Runzler: continues to leave no doubts that he's here to stay and perhaps could be a future closer.
- Bengie Molina: he has had a hot spring, hoping to show that he's worth the money he signed for, saying all the right things about him and Posey. And, showing support for a fellow Latino in a new job and trying to impress, he says that he is listening to Bam-Bam Meulen's instruction to lay off pitches and take more walks: he has picked up 3 already, which is pretty good for him, he normally would have 1, at best.
- Aubrey Huff: has been one of the team's best hitters this spring, but unfortunately not one of their best or even average defenders. It was his struggles there that made the impetus to play Posey at 1B seem more acute for fans and the return of Ishikawa to the team and the roster more important. But he leads the team in homers (tied with Lewis) and SLG plus taking a lot of walks while keeping his strikeouts low, all great signs. And a recent article notes improvements in his defense, as well as his view that it was a bum rap that stuck with him. Still, looking at his UZR/150 on fangraphs, he was rated as costing his team nearly half a win with his defense at 1B - slightly below average but still not that good. In comparison, Ishikawa's defense last year over a full season would contribute 2 wins to the Giants. The key whether he makes up for that difference is how he handles AT&T's tendency to destroy the ISO and SLG for left-handed hitters. I also hope that he can pass on some vet savvy to Ishikawa regarding hitting, he is stil the future 1B for 2011, at least for the moment.
- Juan Uribe: given the starting 2B spot in Sanchez's absence, but not doing so well this spring, he's going to have to hit much better once the season starts, or the Giants could start DeRosa there instead and give starts to Lewis in LF instead, given how well Lewis has been hitting.
- Pablo Sandoval: took a gash on his leg that took 5 stitches, but he should be ready to play once the season start. He's not hitting that well this spring (though great for power), but his numbers would change dramatically with just one or two extra hits instead of outs, so I'm not worried.
- Edgar Renteria: has not been hitting great, but with so few AB in spring (34 so far, but among the leaders), one extra hit separates him from his current .265/.306/.353/.659 batting line and a .294/.335/.382/.717 batting line (before today's game), which is OK for OBP. Not the greatest, but his swing is cleaner this spring and he's able to extend his arms, which will allow him to slash line drives towards right field. I am still hopeful for him to return to his career norms in 2010, and he's been warming up, he is 8 for 23 in his last 7 games, including his first XBH of spring (2B today and HR on Sat), roughly .348/.375/.522/.897 for that short stretch. If he can return to the plus hitter he was before, our offense will be much improved.
- Mark DeRosa: held off from playing games because of his surgery recovery, he hasn't played many games, nor as been doing much in those games, mainly in the power department, which is one strong reason why we got him. Hopefully his power returns soon.
- Aaron Rowand: hitting .500 and looking good overall, except for his injury (always a worry with him).
Spots Pretty Much Locked Up
This is where it gets more interesting.
- Nate Schierholtz: out of options, they would lose him if they should cut him, so he's at least got a bench OF job, at minimum. By hitting for more power this spring, despite his low batting average, his OPS is in the mid-700's, doable for winning RF, I think, despite how well Torres is doing. He should be our starting RF at the start of the 2010 season.
- Travis Ishikawa: out of options but more importantly, the only major league ready (and viable) option at 1B right now (Brett Pill is reportedly pretty good defensively too, but was only in AA last season and only did OK there; he will have to hit a lot better to start in the majors) that the Giants can go to if Aubrey Huff's decline in 2009 continues. Huff's spring suggests otherwise, but still, he's only signed for one year and his defense is reportedly mediocre, at best, meaning there appears to be a great need for a good defensive 1B to come in for Huff at the end of close games. Ishikawa appars to be that guy.
- Todd Wellemeyer: signed to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, he has made the most of his opportunities, pitching himself onto the team, for the most part, barring any late spring meltdown. Recent reports stated that his 2009 problems were related to a dead arm from throwing so much in 2008, so he worked out more this off-season to get himself ready to pitch strongly throughout the season. He now says he feels like he did two years ago with a 3.71 ERA. And Molina noticed the difference in stuff too, how he's more like 2008 than 2009. He should be the 5th starter, though he might start the year as long relief, depending on how the Giants handle the 5th starter, as they could decide to skip the 5th starter until late April.
Even more intriguing is who will win the final spots.
- Long Relief - Pucetas?: As noted, there is no need for a long reliever if the 5th starter is not used until late April. I go back and forth on that, as I think Kevin Pucetas earned a spot, but I'm thinking that instead of sitting him on the bench during the season, they are going to let Pucetas start regularly in AAA and show that his improvements in spring is a long-term improvement, so that if the Giants should need to bring him up, due to whatever reasons, he'll be prepared to come up and start. May as well keep him conditioned to be a starter.
- Long Relief: That leaves a spot from someone else, which I think they will give to an experienced reliever, which is a position they stated a number of times this off-season. Contenders include Guillermo Moto (not doing well so far, walking a lot, 5 appearances), Santiago Casilla (came in late), and Denny Bautista (doing very well in 7 appearances). Tony Pena has also done well too, but he hasn't pitched much yet (3.2 IP in 4 games) so his chances are slimmer. Joe Martinez was hampered by his injury, which still appears to be affecting him, so he'll probably end up in AAA. Bautista would appar to be the front-runner for this position at the moment, but a reliever's performance is notoriously variable because of the few opportunities to show what they got and the large amount of randomness that affects their performance, so I would say that it's still up in the air and the winner will probably be someone doing well in the next two weeks.
- Last Middle Relief spot: I think that this spot will go to a worthy internal prospect. Waldis Joaquin came in as the likely filler of this spot but has not done that well, giving up a lot of hits while not strking out many (1 in 7.2 IP). With his velocity, he should be striking out bunches of guys. Kind of like how Alex Hinshaw has been doing, he looks like he could grab this spot (5 appearances, 3.2 IP, 2 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 0 R/ER). Henry Sosa has also done well but he's probably going to AAA this season, as he was in AA last season, and I think they still want to see if he can make it as a starter. It is possible that they could decide to go with two experienced relievers, but if Hinshaw continues to do so well, I don't see how he wouldn't win this spot right now.
- Backup Catcher: I would think Whiteside got the job. I think the Giants have been pushing Posey as a possibility so that they have an excuse to play Posey with the major leaguers all spring and give him more experience against major leaguers plus better evaluate where he is relative to major leaguers, but then make him one of the last cuts, saying he's our future starting catcher and we need to get him ready for that by starting regularly at catcher in AAA and gaining more experience that way. Then he can come up mid-season, he won't be a Super-Two, he would have played a lot of games, but not enough to tire him out, and would be a great bat off the bench while also resting Molina at catcher, picking up a few starts at 1B to get his bat in the lineup, and being a great bat off the bench during the pennant chase. He would also be a great bat to have off the bench if we made the playoffs, as they are hoping/planning for. His bat looks ready this spring though, which is the great news.
- Three Bench Backup Spots - Outfield Possibilities: With DeRosa able to play the entire infield (remember, he has played at 2B, 3B, and SS regularly in the majors, coming up as a SS, and there was initial talk that he would play 1B when he was signed) and the way OFs are hitting, I think that two spots will go to OF (Fred Lewis and Andre Torres). Bowker, despite his homer yesterday, has not been hitting that well plus has been striking out a lot; with an option still, he's slated for AAA, I think, and not the bench, so that he can play regularly, show that 2009 was not a fluke, and be ready to come up in case of injury or Schierholtz not performing. Velez is doing well, but not as well as Torres or Lewis, and he still has an option, so I also think he's slated for AAA so that he can play regularly, show improvement over 2009, and be ready to come up in case of injury or lack of performance from Schierholtz or even Torres or Lewis at some point, if they are not performing. Perhaps even further injuries at 2B for Sanchez. They both need to show that they are not AAAA players like Todd Linden and Lance Niekro. They both needed to hit a lot better in spring to earn a spot on the 25-man to start the season. I thought Torres was gone this season, but he has just been hitting too well to not get a spot. I don't think the Giants are going to trade Lewis, as most people have been speculating, he's been hitting too well to not hold onto and see what happens with Schierholtz in RF, in case DeRosa starts out slow in LF due to the surgery or whatever, say, if any injury happens.
- 25th Man on the Roster: I thought Frandsen was going to get this spot, particularly with Freddie Sanchez now looking to be out for a full month but it looks like Matt Downs is going to take that last spot on the bench with his great hitting, constrasted with Frandsen's very poor hitting. Downs can play 2B and 3B, probably 1B and LF in a pinch, and SS would be covered by Uribe sliding over from 2B or even DeRosa playing a few innings there, as he was a SS when he started out in the majors, and he has played 139 games there, started 79 times, compiling 829.2 innings at SS, roughly 90+ full games. He wasn't the greatest but adequate there, though at 35, probably only good for filler in a long game. Bowker could make a push to get this spot will a spirited run in the last two weeks, but as I noted, I think it would be more prudent to keep his bat ready in AAA to come up and start if necessary, plus let him show that 2009 is the new improved Bowker and not a fluke over the 2008 Bowker. Downs looks like the favorite now but there's still two weeks, plenty of time for someone to surge and take him on.
The roster is still in a state of some flux, though all the major starting positions are pretty much settled, with Schierholtz and Wellemeyer looking like they have grabbed the final spots. Bench spots have been much more in play than I had thought, with great performances from Hinshaw, Pucetas, Lewis, Torres, and Downs.
Todd Wellemeyer has done a lot better than I had thought he would, given his career numbers. Even his good 2008 season was a bit flukey, resulting in a mid-4 FIP, offset by his poor 2009, which also again was a mid-4 FIP (FIP is basically what his ERA should be given his pitching peripherals, BABIP, strikeout rate, walk rate, home-run rate, HR/flyball). Still, that's plenty good for the 5th starter, most teams end up with guys in the mid-5's and 6's pitching 5th for them. He should win a lot of games for us pitching in the back of the rotation.
The Giants offense looks like it will do OK once we get into the regular season, though that is obviously not set in stone. Rowand looks ready to leadoff again and Huff looks ready to supply the power to drive him in. I think Sandoval will be fine once we reach the regular season, he's been suffering from some balls not falling in as they usually do, but has shown the power that is needed in the 3rd spot. Renteria, as noted, not that far away from getting on base regularly for the guys in the middle.
DeRosa is the big question mark out of them, batting 5th but showing little power thus far in spring. However, he could just be starting out slow due to not being able to get into games until much later. And at least he is hitting well (.300) and getting on base (.364). I'm not too worried about him, I think he's going to be fine once we hit the regular season. Plus, even if he's starts off well, I think Lewis will eventually work his way regularly in starts in LF against RHP, as DeRosa is not the best against them. If he's cold, Lewis could see more starts early on.
Molina is most probably our 6th or 7th hitter, where he should have been hitting all the time he has been with us. He is ideal for that position, don't strike out much, hits for a good average and with some power, which would drive in runs. His inability to take walks don't hurt as much batting 6th (or 7th), as most teams don't expect their bottom order players to score a lot of runs.
Uribe is probably the 6th or 7th hitter while he is starting, depending on matchups and prior history, flip-flopping with Molina. People like Uribe, but his years of poor hitting discourages me from being on his bandwagon. I think a very slow start could push DeRosa to 2B and Lewis to LF, plus get Downs some starts at 2B.
Nate Schierholtz will probably end up 8th, at least initially. Though, since that is a tough position to hit at, they could put him 7th while batting one of the vets (Molina, Uribe) 8th. If he hits like I think he can, I think he can force his way into the top of the order, perhaps 2nd because of his speed, I can even see him batting 3rd, pushing everyone down one, if he is doing well and Huff is struggling in the cleanup spot. If he gets off to a poor start, however, it will be like Lewis all over again in 2009: he'll be benched while the Giants experiment with others to see what happens. However, with only Downs as a player with an option to send down, assuming the bench plays out as I noted above, there should not be a lot of yo-yo-ing in 2010 unless someone without options is traded. But I think he'll be able to hit more than adequately for a bottom-order hitter, the key question is whether he can hit as well as the average RF. He'll have to put into use his off-season instructions on taking pitches and swinging for more power to do that.
And whether that offense will be enough to win with our pitching and fielding is another key question. Lincecum and Cain pitched great last season, and that is not something we can count on for certain, as pitchers' performances are affected greatly by random luck. But Zito and Sanchez showed potential for doing better in 2010 than 2009, and Wellemeyer looks more like his 2008 incarnation than his 2009 this spring, and that would be an improvement over our last starter spot in 2009, occupied by Johnson, Sadowski, Martinez, and Penny. The bullpen lost Howry and Miller but looks stronger with Runzler in there plus maybe Hinshaw and a vet.
And the fielding takes a hit with Huff, but could stay about the same with Schierholtz in RF, gain from DeRosa in LF, and improve from Sandoval's intense practicing at 3B. Rowand also talked about getting himself into shape this off-season (finally, you would think a $60M contract would kick a gamer in the ass to do all he can, NOW) and being ready to play a full season, as he petered out greatly in the second half the two seasons he has been with the Giants. That should help his fielding as well as his hitting. Sanchez, once he is ready to play, should be able to match the defense at 2B, which was part Burriss, Uribe, and Velez, and part him.
And Renteria should see some improvement in this plays at SS now that the huge foreign object is out of his elbow, as that probably affected most of his throws, particularly those to his right where he needs to put more zip on it to get the batter out (the word - and the stats - showed that he had problems with balls to his right). I think overall the Giants should be about the same, down mainly to Ishikawa being replaced by Huff, but with Ishikawa coming in frequently at 1B for late game defense, the fielding defense will not be so down on an overall basis, while getting a big boost from Huff's offense.
Meanwhile, the other NL West Contenders have their own problems that they need to solve if they are to battle for the division title themselves, giving hope to Giants fans that any offensive and defensive problems would not necessarily cost the team a chance to compete:
- D-Rox, who I view as our strongest competitor, because of their pitching and offense, was hoping that Jeff Francis could come in and replace Jason Marquis production, which was a key part of their 2009 success. He has a 6.92 ERA in 4 starts, 13.0 IP, though that's worse than his 5 walks and 9 strikeouts would suggest. Still, that's not good enough production to replace Marquis.
- The D-gers need to replace Lowe's production, and Padilla has been good to great up to now in spring, but was never that great over a full season prior in his career, except for his first full season, back 8 years ago. Even then, he's never struck out so many (high K/9 for LA in 2009) in any season in his career. In addition, Manny stating it is his last year in LA and the divorce between the owner and his wife who was running the team, accused of having an affiar with a D-ger employee, could disrupt their 2010 season. Plus, they still need a 5th starter and picked up Jeff Weaver as a hopeful there (9.00 ERA) and Furcal is still not hitting. Plus, they need to replace Hudson's production at 2B, with Belliard and DeWitt as two unlikely possibilities. Too many question marks in my mind to say for sure that they got the title again.
- The D-backs were hoping that Webb would be back to his old form, and he's having problems still getting healthy. In addition, they traded for Edwin Jackson and he just has not had it this spring, plus need a fifth starter as well. Offensively, they all look as strong as ever.
- The 'Dres I thought had a dark horse chance to do well in 2010 and contend, assuming continued A-Gon brilliance and development among their strong set of prospects, like Blanks, Headley, Venable, Antonelli, Latos, but rumors persist that they are trying to trade A-Gon, and if A-Gon is traded, their pennant chances are a-gone.
So the Giants look like they are going to be able to hold their own this season and be competitive most of the season. Their lineup, based on projections and the lineup calculator, looks like it will be good enough to win 90 games if the pitching and fielding are as good in preventing runs in 2010 as they were in 2009. Right now, I think the Giants can be pretty close to what they did last season in that department, and therefore be somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 wins (which they were in 2009 with 88) for 2010. That's not going to win a pennant for sure, but at least we'll be competitive.
I also think that we will get boosts later in the season from Posey and Bumgarner, and perhaps Neal or Sosa. They could provide the edge we need to push it to the top this season.