It is very difficult to top winning a World Series. A repeat would be great, as that is often mentioned in the locker room or during the following spring training. Winning three World Series Championships in a five-year span is nothing short of amazing, especially with a team not known for having all the best talent in the game. Baseball is defined as the ultimate team sport and the 2010-14 San Francisco Giants are the perfect example of it.
With all success comes the target that comes with it. Every team in MLB aspires to win a World Series Championship at some point. When a team wins even one WS, these goofy MLB analysts yap all day about how every team in MLB should be like the team that just won. In my opinion, that narrative is getting old.
One of the things that has allowed for the Giants to have the success they have had is how General Manager Brian Sabean (and manager Bruce Bochy) has managed to keep their core players together. That is taking a big chance, a chance few other teams have taken. It has worked on players such as Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner and hasn’t necessarily hurt in the cases of Angel Pagan and Matt Cain. It probably has not worked, for the most part, in the cases of Marco Scutaro and Tim Lincecum. But even in the Barry Zito contract, you wonder if the Giants win their three World Series Championships without a single player that was on each of those teams. Once again, the Giants have been the best “team” in sports over the past five years. (Of course, open for debate).
What makes it more difficult to repeat is when one of your best players is eligible for free agency and signs with another team. Pablo Sandoval did just that, signing a 5-year, $95 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. The two time All Star is an above average player, but has taken his game to a different level in the postseason. In 39 games and 154 ABs, Pablo has hit .344, 6, 20 including a fantastic .426 (20-47) in World Series games. The Giants replaced Sandoval with Miami Marlins 3B Casey McGehee (.287, 4, 76). I agree that McGehee’s SLG (.357) was less than stellar, but he is certainly capable of producing more extra base hits. However, he is not the Panda, and the difference in the offensive production will be known.
In addition to Sandoval, the Giants lost 1B/ OF Mike Morse (.279, 16, 61). They added McGehee as well as free agent OF Nori Aoki (.285, 1, 43). Outside of that, the Giants are returning everybody from last season, including free agents Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong. Aoki adds some depth to the OF, especially if Pagan (.300, 3, 27 in 96 games) can be healthy all season. Gregor Blanco (.260, 5, 38 in 146 games) is an ideal 4th OF and the Giants would like to use him in that role. Hunter Pence (.277, 20, 74, 10 3B, 106 RS, 180 hits) is the team’s ironman as he hasn’t missed a game since 2012 and has played in 154 or more games every year since 2008.
Posey (.311, 22, 89) continues to be the one of the best offensive catchers in the game today. He is also known to be a heck of a pitch framer. 1B Brandon Belt (.243, 12, 27 in 61 games) seemed to be breaking out after his 2013 campaign (.289, 17, 67, 39 2B, .844 OPS), but struggled even when he was healthy last season. An uptake in the power department from Belt and McGehee could work towards accounting for the extra base hits lost by the departures of Sandoval and Morse. Infielders Joe Panik (.305, 1, 16) and Brandon Crawford (.246, 10, 49) round out the starting 8. I would go Pagan CF, Aoki LF, Posey C, Pence RF, Belt 1B, McGehee 3B, Panik 2B, Crawford SS. The bench is led by Blanco. Travis Ishikawa, Joaquin Arias and C Andrew Susac. Hector Sanchez will get another shot to reclaim the backup catcher job in camp, though his window is closing based on Susac’s abilities.
The Giants rotation is led, of course, by the World Series and NLCS MVP Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98, 33 starts, 4 CG, 219 Ks). Bumgarner was even better in the postseason, going 4-1, 1 save, 1.02 ERA in 7 games, 6 starts with 2 CG SHOs and a 4 shutout inning save in game 7 of World Series. Matt Cain returns from an injury plagued 2014 (2-7, 4.18 in 15 starts). The Giants hope his elbow surgery cleans things up and was the reason for his struggles in 2014. Cain also battled problems with his hamstring and cut finger. The Giants are also bringing back Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57, 31 starts- the second year of a two year deal), Peavy (7-13, 3.73, 32 starts for Red Sox and Giants) and Vogelsong (8-13, 4.00, 32 starts).
Tim Lincecum (12-9, 4.74, 32 games, 26 starts) is likely battling for the 5th spot in the rotation with Vogelsong. The Giants will be happy to have six healthy starters, but if they do, either Lincecum or Vogelsong will be in the bullpen. The interesting thing about that is Lincecum has pitched in most of his relief games in the post season, at least percentage-wise. Out of his 254 career regular season appearances, Lincecum has started 246 of them, with 7 of his relief appearances coming this past season. Out of his 13 career postseason appearances, he has started just 6 of them, with 6 of his last 7 postseason appearances coming out of the pen. Though Vogelsong has not made a relief appearance since 2011, he has made 91 in his career, including 17 for the Giants in 2000 and 2001. Barring injury, it also seems Yusmeiro Petit (5-5, 3.69 in 39 games, 12 starts) is ticketed for the bullpen.
What is interesting about the Giants World Series Championships is the fact that they have won with three different postseason closers, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. Casilla actually had more saves in 2012 than Romo (25-14) and Romo had more saves in 2014 than Casilla (23-19) even though Romo was the 2012 postseason closer and Casilla was the 2014 postseason closer. LHPs Jeremy Affeldt (4-2, 2.28, 62 games) and Javier Lopez (1-1, 3.11, 65 games) anchor the left side with RHPs George Kontos (4-0, 2.78, 24 games) and Hunter Strickland (1-0, 0.00, 9 games, 7 scoreless innings) joining Casilla and Romo from the right side. Romo too was a free agent but decided to sign with the Giants for another two seasons.
There is much coming on the horizon in regards to pitching in the Giants farm system as eight of their top ten prospects are pitchers, led by 22 year old RHP Kyle Crick and 2014 1st-round draft pick Tyler Beede. Susac is their number 3 prospect and if he provides the combined power and on-base ability he has shown in the minor leagues, he may spell Posey a little more to give him a rest and allow him to play a little 1B, especially against some tough RHPs giving Belt a rest. Ironically, the only other top-10 Giants prospect not a pitcher is Aramis Garcia, the team’s 2014 2nd-round draft pick — another catcher.
Outside of not re-signing Sandoval, the age of the Giants is something to be concerned about. Hudson, Peavy, Vogelsong and even Lincecum and Cain, who will both be over 30 in 2015 is something to think about. Las Vegas has the Giants at an 84 1/2 O/U and I think that is based solely on the fact the team just won the World Series. If they did not win the WS in 2014, their O/U would have been closer to 81, because on paper this is just about a .500 team. I am still going with the under, even if it was 81. I predict 78-84, 4th place in the NL West division.