Beards, Thongs, Pandas, Freaks, & Giraffes

On the cusp of a brand new season.. I’m stuck in the middle of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings.  Sigh.  (Blessings to all those affected by the terrible weather affecting much of the Eastern US – it’s been devastating, and it’s a disaster.)

Here’s the San Francisco Giants’ current 40-man roster.  Let’s just get this out of the way now – not happy with the offseason.  There were a lot of options on the table that I think could have helped make this team a lot more dangerous.

There are the obvious answers, Albert and Prince.  They were both longshots to be sure, but as I’ve always said, I could give a damn what my favorite team spends – it’s not my money, break the bank for all I care.  Give ’em 500 million apiece, let ’em platoon at first.  Just put a winner out there.

However, it’s no secret this team needed pop, and Melky Cabrera is half the answer at best.  2011 Giants: 29th in runs scored, 28th in average, 26th in slugging.  Of course Buster Posey coming back is comparable to a free agent splash, but once I cover my projected lineup I think it’s still going to look rather punchless.  Time will tell.

The free agent signing that would have made the most sense was easily Carlos Beltran. His combined line last year: 520 ABs, .300/22/84.  And most important, he spent the last two months already in the fold.  Even at 34, he was imposing at the plate.  He’s the kind of player that stands out from the pack – calm and collected in the box, sure of himself, like Tom Brady in the pocket.  The consummate professional hitter.  His presence on the 2012 Giants would have made a major difference.

He signed for 2 years, $26 million with St. Louis.  I still find it hard to believe that the Giants couldn’t have made him a better offer.  And his performance will be missed this season.

Jimmy Rollins was another longshot, but the Giants’ three most glaring question marks besides overall offensive firepower going into winter were CF, SS, and the leadoff spot.  Jimmy would have solved two of those three, and the kicker was that he is a Bay Area local, born in Oakland and attending high school in Alameda.  He’s a lifelong Phillie and it was unlikely he would sign elsewhere, but the Giants should have made a major campaign to bring him home.

He resigned with Philadelphia, 4 years at $11 million a year.  A signing they had to make, but opportunity lost on a potential major coup for SF.

Michael Cuddyer spent his first 11 seasons with Minnesota before hitting the market.  His last 3 years: .276/32/94, .271/14/81, .284/20/70.  He has the ability to play both corner infield spots as well as outfield.  This was one of the players who should have been strongly considered as opposed to giving up Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera.

Cuddyer signed with Colorado, 3 years, $10.5 million per season.

Carlos Quentin.  This one hurts maybe the most.  Quentin has 6 years of service in the league.  Discount his first two seasons, in which he had 166 and 229 ABs.  With the White Sox the last 4 years, he went for 36, 21, 26, and 24 bombs.  In other words, exactly the kind of pop that the Giants greatly needed and still need.  And for the cherry on top, Quentin attended Stanford University, right in SF’s backyard.

Quentin was acquired by San Diego in the last year of his contract for a pittance – two minor league arms.  Just for fun, envision the Giants signing Cuddyer and trading Sanchez, a proven arm, and another prospect to Chicago for Quentin.  Cuddyer and Quentin scare me the most, because they landed in the NL West and have the potential to directly hurt the Giants.

This is a complete list of free agents from the 2011-12 offseason.  There is a fair amount of offensive firepower on the list, firepower that the Giants seemed content to ignore.  Hopefully it won’t come back to bite them.

They added Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Ryan Theriot, and parted ways with Andres Torres, Jonathan Sanchez, and Ramon Ramirez through trades, as well as losing Pat Burrell to retirement and Cody Ross and Beltran to free agency.

All that being said, the Giants still have all those horses in the rotation and bullpen, and as the familiar story goes, if they can cobble together something that resembles a major-league offense, we’re still talking about a potential playoff team.

The road through the West will be Rocky, though. (Pun Intended.)  Colorado still has Carlos Gonzales, Troy Tulowitzki, and Todd Helton.  And do not make the mistake of sleeping on the former Volunteer QB – at 37 years old last year the lifetime .323 hitter put up a line of .302/14/69.

Arizona, the reigning division champs, look largely the same.  They are young, powerful, they can play defense and pitch.  San Diego got a major facelift, so only the calendar will reveal how well their transactions will benefit them.  And the Dodgers?  Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp.  Put The Hawk and his high school team around Kershaw on the bump and Kemp in center, and we still win 85 games.

So, what’s the 25-man roster going to look like for the Giants?  Let’s peek into the crystal ball at a potential roster and lineup.

Starting Pitchers: Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito (5)

Relief Pitchers: Wilson, Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez, Romo, Runzler, Mota (7)

Bench: Belt/Huff, Fontenot, Theriot, Burriss, Whiteside/Stewart (5)

Starters:

1. Pagan CF

2. Sanchez 2B

3. Sandoval 3B

4. Posey C

5. Cabrera LF

6. Schierholtz RF

7. Belt/Huff 1B

8. Crawford SS

I’m relatively confident that the opening day lineup will looking something like this.  It’s filling out the bench and bullpen and making final cuts that will be the hardest part to call. The most glaring deficiency is in the outfield, where there are only three players on the roster with legitimate major league experience.  And no, I’m not counting Aubrey Huff, although to my chagrin he’s likely going to see time out there this year.

A decision will have to be made at backup catcher between Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside, with my money on Whiteside. The Theriot signing is a headscratcher, since Fontenot and Manny Burriss already clog the middle infield behind Crawford and Sanchez.  Then again, Giants management has always been so ambivalent about Burriss that we might never see a lick of him all season. Brett Pill will be a tough cut, but I don’t see where he fits, unless he became an outfielder this offseason.

Names like Angel Villalona, Conor Gillaspie, Steve Edlefsen and Roger Kieschnick should be filed away, because their times are coming, though perhaps not in 2012.  Eric Surkamp comported himself well at the end of 2011 and should be ready for the call this year if a starter goes down, but probably won’t break camp with the team.

This Giants team, again, will depend on its pitching, and the margin for error and injury will, again, be thin.  My fingers are crossed for productive seasons from Posey, Sanchez, Sandoval, and Cabrera, and breakout years for Crawford and Belt.  Pagan needs to get on base and score runs, and Schierholtz and Huff will be integral parts as well.  The starters and the bullpen will do what they do, and Giants fans should expect a whole heap of close games.

2012 promises to be an interesting and exciting season.  I like the Giants’ chances to be the last team standing in the West, but it won’t be easy.  Let’s go Giants!!

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