Sabean set out to improve the offense for 2010 and in my opinion he did succeed to that end. Unfortunately, because he doesn’t appear to fully grasp the importance of a well-rounded player he may have failed in actually improving the team. You could probably make a solid argument he doesn’t place correct values on hitting or defense. Opening day, unless something else changes, should look something like this.
1. Rowand (0,+)
2. Sanchez (+)
3. Sandoval (-)
4. Huff (-)
5. DeRosa (0, -)
6. Schierholtz (+)
7. Renteria (-)
8. Posey (?)
Glove = (Bad (-), Average (0), Good (+))
1- Allow me to dissect. The very idea of having Aaron Rowand bat leadoff is something that only Sabean and Bochy could conjure up. Rowand doesn’t run all that well (at the very least in terms of stealing bases) and certainly isn’t going to get on base at a even a respectable enough clip to warrant leadoff consideration. But, as we learned from Sabean’s refusal to offer Garko arbitration, he has little difficulty making determinations with miniscule sample sizes. Rowand had a very nice couple of months hitting leadoff in 2009, so he must be the best option for leadoff in 2010. Garko didn’t hit well in 127 sporadically placed plate appearances for the Giants (despite having done so regularly in 1,587 other plate appearances in his career), so he’s a terrible player not worthy enough to tender a contract. I shall return to Garko. Fred Lewis should probably be hitting leadoff and playing left field (moving Schierholtz to the bench and DeRosa to right where he’s surprisingly played best defensively throughout his career). Lewis is one of the few Giants that has actually shown the ability to consistently get on base (his is OBP in 2009 was second to only Pablo) and couple that with excellent speed. But for whatever reason it appears that the Giants have soured on Lewis (and he possibly he on them) and will either earn a bench spot or perhaps be dealt before Spring Training. I did read that Bochy acknowledged he would be a good fit at leadoff but apparently Lewis said he wasn’t comfortable hitting 1st. Personally, I would be inclined to say; who cares? Lewis could probably learn to get comfortable there, especially if he felt the Giants were going to play him every day. Why is that? Something tells me he’s more comfortable at leadoff then on the bench. Rowand has been an excellent center fielder in the past (such as 2007 where UZR and the Gold Glove voters agreed) but at this point is probably average to a bit above average. Giants fans will also probably note that he has a tendency to miss the cutoff man and thus unnecessarily allow free extra bases. He’s clearly lost a step or two and as he ages over the final 3 years of his contract I’d be extremely surprised if his defense improves to the level it once was.
2- Assuming Sanchez stays healthy he will hit second. This is where the question marks begin. The hope is that Sanchez will be healthy to play most of the season but he is one of a few players (DeRosa & Renteria also) coming off surgeries. The Giants are probably hoping for something like the batting title Sanchez but unfortunately that was a career year and aberration. The 2 hitter should be someone that’s capable of handling the bat in a variety of capacities (bunting, hit and run, etc). With this I have at least relative confidence. But also, a 2 hitter should be able to get on base at a respectable rate. This worries me with Sanchez. The 2 hitter stands to get the second most AB’s during the course of a season, and thus, having a player who makes a lot of outs is a liability. Aside from Sanchez’ 2006 in which he hit .344 and got on base at .378; he’s never been particularly adept at reaching base because he doesn’t walk very often. Though he may be Bochy’s ideal 2 hitter, he’s not mine. I’d probably hit DeRosa here. Defensively, Sanchez posts quality UZR numbers at second and should stand to be one of the few Giants that plays above average at his position. That being said, I’d be concerned that he may have lost a step or two with the surgery and his age may soon start to show as well.
3- At least they got this one right. Panda should hit 3rd. Panda’s weakness of course is his glove. He’s too big to play the hot corner so he lacks range. Also, he made a fair number of errors in 2009 so he certainly won’t make all the plays. He’s much more suited to play 1st and will eventually end up there. Unless, he truly does lose the weight the Giants have requested him to (and which he did before gaining most of it back over Christmas in Venezuela). He might then be an average fielder at the hot corner.
4- What is Sabean Huffing? Again in 2010 the Giants won’t have a very formidable middle of the order lineup. Given the players on the roster I might hit Huff here as well, but he’s far from ideal. Huff is well into his regression years and coming off the worst year in his career (he didn’t even break a .700 OPS). While it’s probably a safe bet to assume he will have a better 2010 than 2009, he still isn’t the middle of the order bat the Giants so desperately require to contend. Huff should hit for decent power overall but AT&T isn’t going to do him any favors (albeit his humor when he said something along the lines of, “If Bonds can hit HR here, so can I”). He is, however, a better option at cleanup then Bengie Molina. He will get on base far more often and hit for at least comparable power. Huff had a monster 2008 season (32 HR and .900 + OPS) with the bat before laying an egg in 2009, so Giants fans can start praying for ’08 Huff now. It’s more likely that his numbers for 2010 will end up somewhere in between the two seasons. He really is another huge question mark in this lineup. I don’t think anyone would really be able to predict what the Giants will get, except for a crummy glove because he can’t play defense. His work at first will pale in comparison to that which Travis Ishikawa is capable of. What’s strange about the Huff signing is that Garko would probably hit about as well as Huff in 2010, earn a similar salary in arbitration and play defense quite similarly. I guess you could say has more upside, but then again, he probably has more downside too.
5- DeRosa would probably be more valuable batting second but hitting him 5th isn’t half bad. DeRosa has decent pop and I did like him as a signing. He should be able to post a pretty decent OBP while also accumulating a good number of doubles and respectable HR totals. But DeRosa, like Sanchez, is also coming off surgery. Wrist surgery no less. Wrists can be quite finicky (and are also obviously quite important to hit). DeRosa will have to remain somewhat of a question mark because of his surgery. Here’s to hoping he’s healthy and productive in 2010. DeRosa won’t embarrass himself with the glove but he won’t be mistaken for Carl Crawford, either. UZR actually shows that DeRosa’s best defensive position is RF but I’m fairly confident the Giants don’t plan to play him there. They will more likely go with Nate Schierholtz who is the better defensive option in RF. Again, were it me I’d have DeRosa in RF and Lewis in LF, but you can probably forget about that.
6- Schierholtz will compete for an everyday job with John Bowker, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres and maybe a an invite or two. Eric Byrnes* has expressed serious interest in the hometown Giants and I’d certainly be willing to see what he has left for the league minimum or slightly above that. Schierholtz has to be the favorite for a couple of reasons going into the spring. He plays excellent defense and his strong accurate arm help him to do so. Offensively, he really hasn’t shown the power he displayed in the minors and that which he showcases in batting practice. His real weakness is that he doesn’t walk hardly at all and thus must rely on posting a very high average to limit the number of outs he makes. On the plus side, Schierholtz has proven to hit lefties extremely well (he actually faired better hitting lefties in 2009) and thus doesn’t require a platoon. Somehow Bochy failed to realize this in 2009 and kept sitting him against lefties. Go figure? I can envision 2010 being very fluid in terms of which players are playing the corner outfield positions for the Giants. This position is another unfortunate question mark.
*Eric Byrnes did a lot of things well before being derailed by injuries the last two seasons after signing a 3 year $30 mil extension with the Dbacks. He was released when Arizona signed Laroche (to $11 mil less guaranteed after he passed on the Giants –Whoops!). Byrnes was a darn good outfielder when healthy. He was also a guy that could steal bases and hit for power. As I said, he did a lot of things quite well. I’d be willing to spend a few dollars to see if he still can.
7- Renteria will be looking to rebound in 2010. He will also hopefully be healthy after coming off of surgery to remove bone spurs. I would be pretty shocked if he repeats his 2009 campaign offensively. He hasn’t aged particularly well and no longer plays a solid SS. His range has greatly diminished over the years and it is clear now that his bat will not make up for the lack of glove. I would expect Renteria to hit for more power and average in 2010 but wouldn’t exactly bet my life savings on it. If he continues on the path he did in 2009, there’s a strong likelihood he is replaced by Juan Uribe. Some Giants fans will urge for this to happen sooner rather than later, however, they are probably assuming Uribe will produce offensively in 2010 as he did in 2009. This is unlikely. I don’t expect SS to be a particularly productive position for the Giants in 2010.
8- The Giants No. 8 hitter will likely be their catcher and right now it appears that job will go to Buster Posey. If not Posey, the Giants will look to Yorvit Torrealba or a comparable player to keep the seat warm for the Giants’ future star catcher (at least we’re hoping). Oddly, though Posey has only accumulated 17 plate appearances in the bigs and caught a handful of innings, I’m almost more comfortable with him than most of the rest of the lineup. He too will have to remain a question mark if only because a prospect will remain just that until he either ascends to stardom or becomes a dud. Let’s hope for the former. Luckily, Posey is a very projectable and high probability prospect. It’s a good bet he will be a quality everyday catcher with upside that he can someday soon be an All-Star. I earlier wrote a post on Posey in which I argued he could somewhat easily replace the offense of Bengie Molina. I have not waivered on that belief. I also believe that Molina was a lazy catcher (my belief was seconded by Keith Law among others) while Posey has a chance of being a very quality defender. He has a better arm and is athletic. His major question mark will be his ability to catch and lead the Giants’ stellar pitching staff. Despite the consensus among the baseball and scouting community that he is ready the Giants seem fairly convinced that he is not.
The real problem with the new look Giants isn’t really what you might expect. It’s not just the lineup that’s now suspect but it’s also the defense. The offense has improved incrementally and the defense is in much worse shape. While Winn performed horribly offensively last season he played incredible defense. Ishikawa sure didn’t hit like a 1st baseman but he played it like another we recall so fondly, J.T. Snow. The Giants’ defense was one of its greatest strengths in 2009 and certainly helped the outstanding pitching. That strength is now more so a question mark in some cases and, at best, incrementally worse (though I’d probably have to argue it’s much worse). I’ll say this. It is fortunate the Giants’ staff is filled with strikeout pitchers. They will have to pitch better in 2010 to even equal what they achieved in 2009 in terms of run prevention.
Perhaps the biggest question mark of the offseason is…What will Tim Lincecum make in 2010? Timmy is primed to break the arbitration record ($10 mil) set by Ryan Howard after his MVP season. Tim has back to back Cy Young’s under his belt in his first two seasons and has arguably been the best pitcher in MLB two years running. There has been some chatter that Lincecum will file for $20 mil but I highly doubt that will be the case. In the arbitration process, the team and player file their requested figures and don’t tip their hand until that point. After the figures have been exchanged, they can start or continue to negotiate to attempt to find some middle ground. If they can’t the case goes to arbitration in which both parties state their cases on what the player should ultimately be paid. No middle figure is selected. Instead, the arbiter chooses the figure he believes to be closer to the players actual value. Because of this both the Giants and Lincecum won’t want to lowball or highball the other which would risk their ability to win the case. I’ll bet they both file figures between $12 and $16 million. The arbitration process is somewhat undesirable because the team is forced to express the weaknesses of their player. In this case, their Franchise player. I hope the two can come to terms with an equitable agreement prior to the hearing but it seems destined to end there. Though Lincecum and his agent have said to this point they wish to go on a year to year basis I certainly would prefer them to sit down and ink a long term deal (perhaps even buying out his first 1-2 years of free agency). I’d like nothing more than to see the little Ace in Orange and Black for years to come. While Lincecum will maximize his annual salary via arbitration, he could instead opt to lower his risk and guarantee himself a certain sum over a 4 year period. This seems the wiser of the two options. Given all my pessimism thus far in my post, here’s a little silver lining. If Lincecum does indeed choose to go year to year I have to assume he feels quite confident he can continue his unheralded success. I don’t believe I am the only Giants fan that was at least a little concerned by Tim’s short bout with a locked up back and slight dip in velocity towards the end of last season. If he’s willing to go year to year, you’d have to assume he feels healthy and great and should continue to pitch in Cy Young form. In any event, the Giants control Lincecum for at least 4 more seasons, though it seems they will have no ability to control his skyrocketing salary. And those salary figures? They’ll be public tomorrow.