Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Saltzman Says... The State of the Giants Franchise

The State of the San Francisco Giants

The Giants are poised to repeat as World Series Champions.  Not because they are the best team on paper, because that would go to the four headed monster in Philadelphia and the perfect when healthy lineup in Boston.  Since 2011 will be played on grass, the Giants have done the best they could possibly do to bring back their championship team from 2010.  Juan Uribe has been replaced by Mark DeRosa, and Edgar Renteria was replaced with Miguel Tejada.  Or at least, those are the two players the Giants will count on to fill the only four shoes no longer in the locker room. 

Starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, OF's Cody Ross and Andres Torres, and relief pitchers Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Santiago Casilla all avoided arbitration and were brought back.  Before those signings, the Giants brought back Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff and Mike Fontenot as well and invited Guillermo Mota to spring training.

However, none of these players are cornerstones of this franchise.  The players that can make the Giants the team of the decade (2010-2019) is Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster PoseyBrandon Belt, a newly named Top 50 prospect by Baseball America, may one day join this group.  However, Pablo Sandoval, who hit .330, with 25 home runs and 90 RBI's in his first full season, had such a drop off in 2010, that it's too early to assume anything about a minor league prospect.
Jonathan Sanchez will eventually be our 4th best pitcher and Barry Zito, who still has three years left on his $126 million nightmare, is at best our 5th starter.  Sanchez will not stay if keeping him forces us to break the bank.  Zito will be gone in three years, if not sooner.  The Giants can be the Yankees and Red Sox, and be great every year if they continue to re-sign Lincecum, Cain, Wilson, Bumgarner and Posey. 

The Giants will have a player in San Jose this year named Tommy Joseph, who's ability to hit for power will find him rising up the levels, despite his lack of defensive ability behind the plate.  However, with Buster Posey in San Francisco for good now, Joseph's rise will not be crucial.  Posey, last year's Rookie of the Year, has been compared to both Joe Mauer and Johnny Bench for his all around ability.  I think he plans on becoming the first Buster Posey.  And that is just fine with me.  Eli Whiteside, who began the year as the backup to Bengi Molina and Jonathan Sanchez' personal catcher, remained in that role behind Posey.  Whiteside will go into 2011 with the same job title, and unless someone impresses in camp, will be the Giants backup catcher once again.  Outside of Joseph, there is little else in the minors to suggest any competition for Posey, let alone Whiteside.  The Giants brought in several new catchers this off-season to compete with holdovers in the minors like Jackson Williams, Johnny Monell, and Nester Rojas.

The Chosen One: Buster Posey
First Base
Aubrey Huff was the most important free agent the Giants have signed since Barry Bonds.  His leadership, production, friendship with Pat Burrell, and thong wearing led the Giants to something Bonds was never able to do.  Bonds was one of the greatest players in the history of the game, but Huff has a ring.  That doesn't make Huff better than Bonds, but it makes his bat as valuable in the history of the Giants.  All that being said, Brandon Belt is the future for the Giants at First Base.  Belt will be in camp this year to show the major league staff what Triple-A manager Steve Decker, Single-A manager Brian Harper, and Vice President of Player Development Bobby Evans already know...this guy can hit.  His bat has been compared to Will Clark's and Buster Posey's.  His defense is the best since J.T. Snow, and he can play the outfield too.  I see his time in the outfield similar to Posey's time at first in 2010.  If it gets him in the lineup, they'll play him there, but he is a first baseman.  The Giants will be paying Huff $11 million each of the next two years, mainly because he can play more than 1st base.  Belt and Huff will eventually be batting in the same order.  When and at what positions is the only question.  Travis Ishikawa, the Giants dependable glove at 1st, will have a good chance of making the Opening Day roster again.  Ishikawa proved to be a dependable pinch hitter and a good late inning substitute at 1st.  With Belt in the wings, his days may be numbered, unless the Giants part with an outfielder or two.

What will Huff Daddy do for an encore?

Second Base
Freddy Sanchez is our second baseman in 2011.  There is no set plan for 2012 and beyond.  When Sanchez is healthy, he is one of our most dependable players, but that sentence in and of itself should tell you that injuries are a big part of his story.  If healthy, Sanchez could be re-signed beyond next year without a second thought.  If he struggles to stay healthy in 2011, he might not be brought back at all in 2012.  If that is the case, the Giants will be counting on several unknowns in their system or looking at another organization for help.  Charlie Culberson, who spent last year in San Jose, is the most promising.  Manny Burriss, who has major league experience at 2nd, and Nick Noonan, who played in Richmond last year, haven't showed enough to be given the job.  If Culberson is given time in Fresno in 2011, he might be given a shot to replace the oft-injured Sanchex in 2012.  If not, the Giants will either give the job temporarily to Mike Fontenot, or find a free agent.

Will Sanchez remain healthy and be the spark in the lineup?

Miguel Tejada is not the answer beyond 2011.  He might not be the answer for 2011.  He is similar to the production they got out of Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria last year, but his range will not get any better, and his bat is not what it once was either.  The problem is that the most promising prospect played with Charlie Culberson in San Jose, and he only has the glove to play in the majors to this point.  Ehire Adrianza has a better glove than former prospect Brian Bocock had, and has more potential at the plate, but so far potential is all we have seen.  Same for Triple-A prospect Brandon Crawford, who also has the glove, but hasn't shown enough in his swing to warrant a call-up.  Second and Short could be critical positions beyond 2011 for the Giants.  Will Sanchez and Tejada become a force in their mid 30's or will the Giants usher in a new duo from outside the organization?  Could the Giants go with Burriss and Crawford in 2012, or rush the development of Culberson and Adrianza?  This will be the talk of the off-season, barring a major unforeseen trade.

Will Tejada replace Juan Uribe in the lineup and in the locker room?

Third Base
After the 2009 season, Pablo Sandoval seemed to lock this position up for the decade.  Who saw a .330/25/90 line coming from this free-swinging, fun-loving, Kung-Fu Panda?  One year later, nobody has being looked at with more concern than the lovable Panda.  His numbers dropped to the point where Brian Sabean threatened to start Sandoval in Triple-A if he didn't come to camp in shape.  It seemed to get the message across, as Sandoval has been working had this off-season to prove the doubters wrong.  If he can get back to a line closer to .300/20/80, he will be what Pedro Feliz never was, which is a dependable .300 hitter.  If he doesn't, he is Pedro Feliz.  That proved not to be good enough, despite the consistent 20 home runs and 80 RBI's Pedro put up for the Giants.  His inability to hit for average or improve made his glove expendable.  Even Bill Mueller before him had the average and the glove, but never the power numbers.  Sandoval has neither the glove or the bat at the moment.  Mark DeRosa, who was never healthy in 2010, is a secondary option at third, but if Sandoval loses his job, and DeRosa replaces him, both may be gone after the season.  The 2012 Opening Day Third Baseman might not be on the current roster.  It could be Tejada, if he does well in his first year.  It could be Ryan Rohlinger, who is fighting not to be the next 4-A almost star out of Fresno.  Or it could be a big name free agent to be.  Here's hoping the Kung Fu Panda literally reshapes his image and solidifies the Place Where Matt Williams Played.

Will the Panda return to his 2009 form?

The 2010 season began with Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and John Bowker in the outfield, with Nate Schierholtz winning the 4th outfielder job.  Andres Torres eventually replaced Aaron Rowand in the everyday lineup, and eventually won the 2010 Willie Mac Award honoring the most inspirational player on the team.  The Giants brought in Pat Burrell off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays and in August, the Giants brought in Cody Ross, as much to keep him from San Diego and because Florida wanted nothing for him, as because they liked his ability.  Bowker was traded to Pittsburgh for Javier Lopez, but the rest are still in San Francisco.  Now, going into 2011, Burrell, Torres and Ross seem to be the favorites to start.  The 2010 crowded outfield has become the 2011 crowded outfield.  DeRosa, Rowand and Schierholtz are still in the organization and all favorites to make the Opening Day Roster.  Huff, if Brandon Belt does well, could be the everyday left fielder.  Still with me?  The Giants don't have any sure things in the minors, with Thomas Neal, Darren Ford and Roger Kieschnick having normal seasons in 2010 after huge seasons in San Jose in 2009.  Ross could be a long term answer in the outfield, and Torres will stay in center as long as his legs continue to be gazelle-like.  Left field is the biggest x-factor on the team.  2012 might usher in a free agent to man the post left by the biggest bat in baseball history just 5 years ago.  It could be given to Huff for the next two years, and Neal after that.  Along with 2nd and SS, LF seems to be the most unsure position long term.

Will Torres once again be the catalyst we need?

Will Burrell and Ross provide the same pop?

Starting Staff
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner are as good a front four as there is in baseball.  My bias included, they are better than Philadelphia's current front four because we lead 4 rings to 1.  The Giants out-pitched Cliff Lee twice, out-pitched Roy Halladay twice, and beat Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels as well.  Your move Philly.  Barry Zito, the Giants $126 million 5th starter, has shown flashes the last two years that he could at least be the dependable innings eater we need him to be, so that every fifth day we have a chance to win.  The Giants have also signed Jeff Suppan this winter in hopes of some insurance in case one of their horses feels the impact of an extra month of pitching or gets injured in Spring training.  Dan Runzler, one of the most dependable lefties in the organization, will also try his hand at starting after spending most of his career in the bullpen.  The most promising starter in the minors is Zach Wheeler, the 2009 first round pick, who will begin 2010 in San Jose.  Clayton Tanner, who was recently added to the 40 man roster, might be the best prospect option to start a game in San Francisco next year.  He ended last year in Richmond, and might start the year in Fresno.

Will Cain join Lincecum among the elite in 2011?

Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson.  I just wanted to type his name three times so I could have a link to the World Series, NLCS, and NL West Division clinchers Wilson had this year.  The man with the fearful beard and 48 saves will be the closer once again in 2011, and hopefully for the remainder of his career.  With his cut fastball and abuse of the outer part of the plate, Wilson is no longer just a flamethrower.  Here's hoping his career eventually mirrors Mariano Rivera's in New York.  The rest of the bullpen was nearly as impressive over the course of the year, as well as in the postseason.  Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez, and Guillermo Mota were all big keys to the Giants winning the West, the National League Pennant and the World Series.  Lopez was the most impressive, pitching lights out against Josh Hamilton, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jason Heyward during the post season.  Affeldt, who may have been the best pitcher on the Giants in 2009, resurrected his 2010 with his performance in Game 6 of the NLCS to save Jonathan Sanchez and help avoid a Game 7.  Sergio Romo became the setup man for Brian Wilson during 2010, and will look to build on that success in 2011.  Santiago Casilla and Ramon Ramirez helped solidify the 7th inning as they both dominated down the stretch in September, and again in October.  Guillermo Mota, who will start his second straight year with an invite to Spring Training, has been a consistent bullpen presence, much in the same way Zito has been for the starting staff.  He will never blow you away, but when he is on, he can eat up innings and keep his teams in games.  The two games that defined the season and the bullpen were the last game of the regular season to clinch the West and Game 6 of the NLCS.  In both games, the bullpen was called on early.  Jonathan Sanchez, pitched 5 solid innings against the Padres, and the bullpen threw 4 additional shutout innings.  The more impressive game was Game 6 of the NLCS, where the bullpen started in the third after Sanchez was removed for not pitching well, among other things.  Affeldt, Bumgarner, Lopez, Lincecum and Wilson all pitched scoreless innings to clinch the pennant for the Giants.  With every member of the bullpen in the post-season returning, the Giants should be in great shape to support the starting staff again.  In the Minors, the Giants have some intriguing options.  Jose Casilla, Santiago's brother, was added to the 40 man roster in 2010, and has the same type of live arm and his sibling.  His mid 90's fastball should be as fast as his climb up the minors if he continues to strike batters out.  Steve Edlefsen has been the most reliable closer in the minors and was also added to the 40 man roster.

Will we all reconvene at McAllister and Hyde in 2011?

Don't Forget About These Moments that helped shape the 2010 Regular Season:

Juan Uribe's two home runs in one inning, including a grand slam in September in Chicago.
Juan Uribe's walk off single in the 11th against San Diego back in August.
Pat Burrell's grand slam and 2nd home run of the game off the Cubs in August.
Andres Torres' walk off single back in May.
Brian Wilson's 15 pitch marathon with Kazuo Matsui in a 2-1 win that sealed the Giants fate in May. 
2010 - Torture
Aaron Rowand's infield single in the 13th to win it for the Giants over the Atlanta Braves back in April.

Parting Shots:  Edgar, Juan and Bengie are all former Giants now, but they will always be remembered.  Here are some 2010 highlights just so we never forget that they and others helped us win it all in 2010!


  1. Hey Coach,
    Great breakdown of the up-and-coming prospects. Let's hope that Sabean's "new" genius pans out with these young guys.

  2. That is the hope. Brandon Belt being the next Buster Posey sure would be nice.