Here is my stand. It is much like a plan. No plan is perfect or foolproof. But you have a starting point for what you think will happen, and based on that, you can have an expected endpoint. Then you adjust from that as the season wears on, like when all the injuries hit last season, I downshifted my expectations on how they would do. It's not all good, but it is what it is. That's OK, we got two shiny trophies to keep us warm in the off-season.
The opening day roster has been announced. Here is Schulman's which I liked since it was easy to read and take in:
The roster includes five starters (Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Lincecum and Vogelsong), seven relievers (Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi, Yusmeiro Petit, Gutierrez and Huff), two catchers (Buster Posey and Hector Sanchez), six infielders (Brandon Belt, Arias, Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Hicks and Adrianza) and five outfielders (Michael Morse, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Perez).Bochy also announced that Arias is a starter, per se, right now. He gets to start at 2B most of the time, but when Bochy holds Crawford out for select LHP, he'll start at SS instead, and Hicks would get to start at 2B. Bochy announced it as a platoon, so Crawford will be sitting out for a lot of LHP for that to be true. Otherwise, the starters are who we thought they would be, except for Scutaro. He also mentioned that depending on the pitching (L/R), either Pence or Belt would bat 2nd.
I think the Giants can win 90-100 games this season. That should be good enough to make the playoffs, and win the division most of the time.
This is based on a variety of datapoints. First of all, I used a variety of player projections, plugged them into the lineup calculator, then used Pythagorean with the pitching projections to get a winning percentage that I applied to a 162 game season. Most of the projections worked out to 90-92 games won. I think there some good chances to outdo those projections.
First of all, Sandoval is a huge upside (and downside) outlier. If he's injured a whole lot, it could be as bad as last year. But he's fitter this season and he showed what he could in 2011 when fit; that's the huge upside vs. the possible, but not as bad downside. But I expect an upside, but at worse, he should not be that much lower than the projections, which has him around 800 OPS. But if he hits, he should be way over 900 OPS.
Last season, we only had Belt and Pence as very good hitters, but if Sandoval and Posey comes through, we could have four of them plus an average one in Pagan, which we didn't really have either, as both Torres and Blanco were below average in his stead. That would be day and night between the two seasons, offensively.
Plus, second of all, Morse can be an upside. Frankly, I don't know what he will do. However, with Blanco as backup, the downside can be tolerated if the other guys are hitting, plus this would give opportunity to other OF to show what they can do. However, if Morse can be kept healthy, he had some pretty good seasons not that long ago. Heck, he had a great start to 2013 before he got injured, he had 11 homers and a .789 OPS. That could give us five good hitters in the lineup, plus Pagan, and I think Crawford is ready to break out at some point, though the platoon shows the Giants don't think so, not against LHP.
Third of all, Lincecum can be an upside. With three good to great starters in Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Lincecum is our new Zito, who keeps the rotation going good at around 4 ERA. He should be no worse than 2013, but if he can continue improving, he could give us four good to great starters.
Fourth of all, Vogelsong can be an upside. Who knows what he can do. Don't look good from spring training. However, as I've shown from 2009-2012, the Giants had one really bad rotation slot each season, and still were among the Top 5 teams in RA during that period. So there's no downside here, if he flops, we have survived that before with 3 good to great starters and 1 average 4 ERA starter, and that gives opportunity to Petit and Escobar to show that they can do. However, if he can figure out how to return to his 2011-2012 performance, that is a huge upside. Even if he can be around 4 ERA, that's still an upside.
Fifth of all, Belt should be an upside. He hit really well last season, but after his grip change, he's been a different hitter, a much better hitter. I will be disappointed if he's not over 900 OPS this season. And I'm disappointed that no long-term contract was done with him, I expect his price to go up a lot this season, and perhaps that is why there was no deal.
Sixth of all, none of the projections look hard to reach. If anything, they are conservative, and that's OK, it gives us a starting point that we can pivot off of. Particularly with the hitters, like Sandoval and Belt. The projections look easy to meet barring injuries, but could be easy to beat if hitters do as well as hoped. If they just meet the projections, that's a 90-92 win season.
The 25-man Opening Day Roster
Not a lot of surprises. With Scutaro placed on the DL, that gave Hicks an open spot, though he'll mostly be platooning (short of) 2B when Arias is playing SS against LHP. Looks like he'll be the one gone when Scutaro returns. With Affeldt on the DL, that gave Gutierrez a spot, as it had been pretty clear going into the final days that the Giants were going to go with Petit and Huff as the long men out of the bullpen, and Machi as the other reliever, after Hembree got sent down and Law, as good as he was doing plus being one of the last cuts, the Giants tend to not dump talent they like (such as Machi) when Law could easily be sent down to minors without losing a option or anything. Still, injuries are regular in the bullpen, so expect to see Hembree and Law up at some point in 2014, and don't be surprised if they make the playoff roster, a la K-Rod.
And it was pretty clear that Adrianza had won the fight for the backup spot since Abreu was DFAed (he got through though and resigned to a minor league deal). Even Colvin/Perez was pretty clear because Colvin had been battling back issues and Perez, while delivering his special brand of superlative defense, was also hitting well this spring.
The biggest surprise was the DFA of Kieschnick in order to clear a spot for Gutierrez. He did not do well last season in his call-up - there was media notes that the Giants did not like his lack of aggressiveness with the bat while hitting, an odd thing since he's known for striking out a lot while hitting for homers - and he had not done well this spring. Should he end up leaving, good luck, sometimes a change of scenery helps loosen up a player enough to play to his potential in a new place.
Some players come back, but I don't know if Roger will even be necessarily welcomed back. The Giants have cleared most of the AAA outfielders except for Brown plus now there is Colvin there, assuming he accepts that designation (not sure what type of contract he signed), and perhaps Herrera and Parker will be promoted from AA to AAA this season, plus Dominguez needs a spot too (OF?) with Duvall and AnVil probably in AAA taking 3B and 1B, respectively (AnVil not as sure a thing for that, but it appears that he only has one more option left that will be used this season, so they need to see where he's at this season). In addition, Perez has been hitting well this spring and in any case, provides the great defense. So the move, while initially shocking to me, seem to be logical given the above.
I've seen some worry about the starting pitching and relief corps. And some of this is supplied by the beats, looking for something to write about. Most of it appears to be wrapped around how poorly they have pitched recently in spring starts and appearances.
If the worry was about some particular mechanical thing pitchers were doing or worse, something physical, I would be more worried, but if it is just performances, there can be a lot of reasons behind them, including still trying out stuff, hiding your best stuff from opponents that you will see soon, psyching out opponents by letting them think they own you when you are holding back your best stuff (Greg Maddux was a master of that, from what I've read), maybe you have a cold or illness sapping your strength, or maybe your stuff just don't fly in Arizona air, or just plain bad luck in one or two starts, that happens a lot in baseball, the BABIP gods can strike back at any time.
In addition, at least Escobar is probably ready for the majors by mid-season, and I wouldn't bet against Blackburn either, if we really need someone. And Crick when he's on, he looks ready (see the double digit K's start with no walks), he just need to be consistently on. There could be a whole rotation of ready starters at some point in the season, with Escobar, Kickham, Crick, Blackburn, Blach, and others potentially stepping up.
I'm not too worried about Affeldt's injury. He's a pro, he'll get healed up fast and in shape fast, as long as we got him for the last five months at full strength plus the playoffs, it's all good. Meanwhile, it gives Gutierrez to show off whatever it is that made the Giants pick him up. He was the former closer for the D-backs a few years back, so he has some talent. Plus, there is Hembree and Law, both probably chomping on the bit to make the majors this season.
When Affeldt returns, I expect the cut options to include Huff as well as Gutierrez, depending on who is pitching better, and perhaps Machi as well, his spring was up and down. I expect Petit's leash to last into mid-season, at which point the Giants would consider bringing up some of their young arms: Escobar, Blackburn, Crick. Weaver felt it was good to acclimate pitchers to the majors like this before handing them full-time starting jobs. Though Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner seemed to have little problems fitting in.
I'm not too worried about Scutaro's injury either. We have more than enough hitters to make up for that, this is not like 2009 where our offense was anemic. I would like to see the Giants give Adrianza a chance to show off what he can do. Arias appears to have gotten the first nod since he's the pro and got the contract, but if he falters, Adrianza could be taking that role in May sometime. The lineup should be able to cover for any offensive issues here, and if Scutaro can come back healthy enough, he could boost the lineup even more, like in 2012. And, in any case, there seems to be a steady supply of aging, long in the tooth secondbasemen who has one last gasp in their bats, to help propel the Giants to their championships.
Overall 2014 Season
So given that the lineup calculator puts the offense calculator puts the lineup to be above average, and the upsides noted above, I feel pretty safe to say that the Giants should win 90-92 games this season, which usually is enough to win an NL division title. But if things go our way, which I think a number of them should, like Sandoval and one of Lincecum/Vogelsong, I would not be surprised by 95+ wins. In fact, I think there's a good chance that they will be closer to 100 wins than 90 wins, and remind us of the 2003 season, when we led from start to finish (obviously won't happen this season since LA already is 2-1).
More importantly, the rotation looks pretty good for bear in the playoffs. We should have three good to great starters at minimum, with Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, and my hope is that Lincecum would have made the full conversion to pitcher and not thrower by the end of season. He still has the stuff to strike out guys, when necessary, but if converted, now more importantly knows where NOT to throw the pitch to each hitter. Vogelsong being good, in the playoffs, is not necessary if the other four are going good. If he turns things around, either he or Lincecum would be a great super-utility long reliever, like Lincecum was in 2012.
I wasn't afraid of the Dodgers during the off-season and with Kershaw going on the 15-day DL, that makes my stance even stronger. Remember, they were mostly the same team they were when they were many games under .500 in late June last season. Then suddenly Hanley came in and got hotter than he has been since 2009 (I would call fluke, his BABIP was .363 last season, about 30 over his career, 60 over his BABIP for 2010-2012). And you combine it with a rotation that had an ERA under 2 and a bulllpen with ERA under 1, for two months, that's how you go 42-8 and take over the division. I'm willing to bet that doesn't happen again. And Puig, after his hot start, batted just slightly over .800 OPS, which is still good, just not GREAT. And he has had a bad start to this season.
Same for the D-backs before they lost their ace Corbin for the season to TJS. They were a legit .500 team last season and Trumbo, Arroyo, and Reed won't change that much with Corbin out. And I don't think there's any reason to be afraid of either the Rockies or Padres, they were much under .500 last season and did nothing big to take a jump up, though they do have some young stars who are taking their next step upward, but that's not usually exponential jumps that they will need to reach 90 wins and be playoff competitive, especially the Rockies who were last last season. And the Padres lost Maybin and Johnson for extended periods, two key players to any hopes they have of making the playoffs.
So the D-backs, Rockies and Padres are all either starting from a really bad 2013 roster and/or dealing with big losses in the injury front and thus the Giants should be able to take care of them 1:1, like they did last season when they were 45-36 (90 win seasonal rate) in April/May/Sept against mostly the NL West. And LA isn't that far away from the 30-42 team that they were on June 21 last season before they went into warp drive. Whereas the Giants have improved their roster by adding in Morse and Hudson to the starters, plus Cain should be back to his gold standard ways, and Posey has beefed up his stamina to last longer into the season as a catcher. Only injury (knock on wood) can derail our path to the division title and the playoffs, I feel.
Addendum: Giants Scouts and Coaches Rule!
I heard some of Krukow's radio show this morning. People talk about how he's a homer but he wasn't like that in today's analysis of the new guys on the roster. And I've never felt that way about him other in the general sense that he rooting for the Giants, but that doesn't mean he don't lay down some concerns about Giants players along the way. He's just excited about the Giants generally.
First, he was very positive about Juan Perez. Beyond his superlative defense, Kruk noted that he has made adjustments to his hitting and he thinks he can hit at least .280 in the majors now. Second, while he loves Adrianza's defense, his bat's "a little long" so he's not sure if he'll ever hit in the majors, but sometimes players make that adjustment once they are up here and being easily handled by pitchers. Hicks, however, he only noted how bad his minor league average was (.247) so his only plus is his legit power. Makes it look like he's gone when Scutaro returns, whenever that may be.
About the pitchers, he had nothing really to say other than about JC Gutierrez, a lot of good point, about how JC has good mid-90's velocity plus, oddly for a high velocity guy, a true 12-6 curveball, not a slider or changeup, he seemed to really like him. He seemed to have made the team only because Affeldt is out, but if he pitches well enough, it might be another pitcher who gets DFAed when the DL is over. He could be the Vogelsong of 2014
So the Giants again picked up another guy off the trash heap in JC, and we'll see if he joins the long line of reclamation projects that work (or not, like Wellemeyer, there are misses). I wonder sometimes how the Giants find these guys and get value from them, but it has been pretty clear during this great stretch of competitiveness that the Giants have a lot of good scouts and coaches.
From diagnosing Bumgarner's mechanical issues to diagnosing Belt's mechanical issues, talk about two great examples of turning a struggling prospect, unsure of when they are doing well (both of the B's have noted in interviews that they had no idea of when they were being successful; the Giants coaches have helped them learn when they are doing things right). As both has shown, sometimes players get in the way of their own success by not knowing how to be consistently successful or by not listening to their coaches recommendations. And I understand that, after being successful and rising to the point where they are now, they can't just let go of that and make the changes suggested in fear that they will not be successful anymore. Kind of like what Brown is going through the past couple of seasons, before he started getting with the program and making the changes.
Or their scouts identifying when players have made very positive changes, in Torres and Casilla. Torres changed his hitting techniques greatly - too bad nobody did that for him when he was young, imagine what a career he could have had with his work ethics. Casilla apparently added a new pitch in the off-season, which the A's did not notice and thus why they let him go before the Giants snatched him up. Plus, if that was all he needed to change so greatly, why didn't their coaches teach him that long before then?
And, of course, there is the study that found that hitters joining Bochy managed teams end up adding, on average, one win per season in improvement over what they were doing before. In a variety of ways, in recent years, we have learned that the Giants scouts and coaches are pretty sharp in how they see talent and teach players on how to be more consistently successful. Not all takes to it, and other times, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but these are all good examples of the skills that the Giants staff has in identifying and teaching talented players in how to bring that to the diamond every day.