Heading into Spring Training, the Giants have some major questions at first base and about the health of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez.
Now a full year removed from their first World Series title in San Francisco, the Giants head into the 2012 season looking for a return to the promise land, and maybe even another title to put up in the trophy case.
But you can't win it all in February or March, but you can get yourself into position to do so, which the Giants will begin this weekend as pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training at the team's Scottsdale Stadium training complex February 18, and the rest of the squad soon there after on the 23rd.
There are a number of positional battles and overall questions heading into spring Training this season, headlined by who will play first base this year for the Giants, and the overall health of two of the team's lynchpins in catcher Buster Posey and second baseman Freddy Sanchez.
Aubrey Huff was the first to admit he had a piss-poor 2011 season (.246/.306/.370), and refocused himself to the game and his fitness this offseason, utilizing Pilates to regain his form that helped the Giants win a title in 2010 (.290 BA, 26 HR, 86 RBI).
His main competition will be Brandon Belt, who didn't perform all that well in 2011 after being pushed on the team prematurely due to injuries last season, and proceeded to bounce back and forth between Fresno and the Bay the rest of the season.
This will certainly be the tightest race this spring, with much of it hindering on how Huff performs in his last contract year with the Giants. Belt's bat will likely force him into the lineup on a regular basis somewhere down the line, whether it is on opening day or later in the season. GM Brain Sabean noted that both Belt and Huff know what lies ahead of them:
"He knows what he needs to do," Sabean said. "It's a matter of applying it and whether he can do it fast enough. Having said that, there's no secret we need Huff to bounce back [as well]."
But with a somewhat crowded outfield (we'll get to that), Buster likely playing some more first base with his healing injuries (that too), and youngster Brett Pill possibly in the mix as well, it will be interesting to see how this plays out the rest of the way this year.
Newcomers Angel Pagan (acquired from the Mets for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez) and Melky Cabrera (acquired from the Royals for Jonathan Sanchez) weren't picked up this offseason to ride the pine, they were brought in to make up two-thirds of the outfield and utilize their speed to score more runs.
Bochy is leaning towards Pagan as his center fielder but will likely do some tinkering to see where the pieces fit best, along with utility fan-favorite Nate Schierholtz. Belt, Pill and Huff could all be used in the outfield as well, and even Emmanuel Burriss who seemed to play a little bit of everywhere last year.
With Bochy's fervor for interchanging lineups, who knows who that third outfielder could be everyday. But if I had to guess, there might be a lot more Nasty Nate this year for the Black and Orange.
The Giants love youngster Brandon Crawford's glove. So much so that they've already said the shortstop job is his to lose despite his sub-horrible offensive output (aside form that salami in Milwaukee last year). He likely will be hid in the 8th spot in the lineup and sat against lefties with capable backups in Buriss, Mike Fontenot and newly acquired veteran Ryan Theriot to fill in.
Freddy Sanchez's reconstructed shoulder is still a work in progress, but is getting closer to game shape everyday. Regardless, the Giants need to have backup plans in place, and do in Fontenot, Theriot and Burris.
But before he went down last year Freddy was pulling some serious weight for an All-Star bid, batting .289/.332/.397 with 24 RBI in 60 games while playing some very tidy second base to boot. That's they guy the G-Men need back badly.
Pablo Sandoval's weight is once again in question, but after spending the offseason in Arizona doing a similar workout I'm confident he can have a similar season to his All-Star 2011. He even had offseason lasik surgery to improve his vision, which can only improve both his fielding and his hitting in theory.
Here's hoping for another All-Star bid...starting the Panda watch now.
Obviously Buster's health is the No. 1 concern of most Giants fans heading into Spring Training, and will be taking it easy on that surgically repaired leg as much as possible. Chris Stewart built a nice rapport with the staff in Buster's absence last season while throwing out 39% of would be base stealers, while Hector Sanchez's powerful bat is there to consider as well though he likely will start the season in Fresno. Then there's Eli Whiteside waiting in the wings as well, who batted only .197 with 17 RBI and a.264 OBP last year.
Stewart would be the better backup in my mind, and likely will start there on the depth chart behind Buster come opening day.
Concerns over Brian Wilson's throwing elbow remain entering the season, meaning he likely will be taking it a bit easy this spring, at least to start of anyway. The combo of Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Guillermo Mota are all returning as well but there will be some open space with Ramon Ramirez's departure, possibly filled by a number of guys on opening day, possibly Steve Edlefsen or Dan Runzler. There are also guys like Heath Hembree and the newly acquired Clay Hensley to consider. They'll all be on display this spring.
Tim Linceum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito is the likely starting rotation, though not necessarily in that particular order. Timmy and Cain seem to be a pretty consensus 1-2 punch, but Vogelsong had the best ERA of all Giants starters last year, while Bumgarner seems to be getting better every year. These are problems the Giants are happy to have.
As for Zito, well, the questions still abound as to what the hell is going to happen of him this season. His command and velocity are two big areas of concern; about the two biggest a pitcher can basically have, because if he's lobbing up 83 mph fastballs and can't locate his curve, he's no good to any major league ball club. Hopefully the Giants can get some production out of the $19 million he's going to earn this season.
The Giants also signed veteran Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract Wednesday, so there's always that option as well.
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