AP PHOTO/MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZEvaluating the Giants’ Offseason Andrew Tweedy February 16, 2014 Giants Columns 1 Comment Welcome to the first edition of the West Coast Bias Roundtable. In this series, Connor and I (who are these guys, anyways?) will each respond to a set of questions regarding the happenings surrounding the San Francisco Giants. In this edition, we will evaluate the performance of the Giants General Manager, Brian Sabean, this offseason in constructing a contending team for the 2014 season along with other key questions as we enter Spring Training. Before we begin, Connor and I would like to take the the time to thank David Schoenfield for officially welcoming us a part of the ESPN SweetSpot blog network. We will be providing our readers with comprehensive coverage of the Giants this season, from the eyes of two college freshmen with dreams of making an impact in the world of baseball journalism. So, from the newest members of the SweetSpot team, we thank you for reading and welcome you to the world we live in, known as the West Coast Bias… Does the current Giants roster appear to be that of a contending team in 2014? Connor: As touched upon in a previous piece, I think the Giants come into 2014 with more “lineup presence,” than even the defending World Champions last year. Assuming (a grave assumption, at that) that there are no major injuries during Spring Training that would affect the Opening Day lineup, they do have a lineup of that of a contending team. The rotation was fortified by the Tim Hudson signing, effectively replacing Barry Zito. Ryan Vogelsong will look to bounce-back (story of the Giants for the last few years, huh?) from his injury-plagued 2013 to hold his own in presumably the fifth spot of the rotation. Lincecum and Cain also need to have significantly better years if the Giants want to challenge the Dodgers, but does this rotation look like that of a contending team? Absolutely. The bullpen is what I’m really bent on when it comes to the Giants in 2014. While the ‘pen posted the fifth-best ERA in the National League last year at 3.30, Jeremy Affeldt isn’t getting any younger and his ERA rose more than a full run last year compared to 2012. George Kontos looked lost for much of last year after a masterful 2012, yo-yo-ing between Fresno and the Major Leagues, not looking much better after each return from AAA. Youngsters Jake Dunning and Mike Kickham were used far too often in ineffective situations when starters failed to get out of the early innings, and didn’t exactly overwhelm hitters. The addition of David Huff from the Yankees should add a bit of competition this spring, and I look forward to seeing Heath Hembree make the club in April. For now, the state of the Giants bullpen is TBD. Andrew: While the current Giants lineup appears to have the potential to contend in 2014, I still see some major issues with this team. As much as I am worried about how much stock San Francisco is putting into Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval, my main concern with this team is depth. A quick look at the Giants projected bench for 2014 reads as follows: Joaquin Arias, Gregor Blanco, Hector Sanchez, and Tony Abreu. None of those names sound like anyone Bruce Bochy could — or should — feel comfortable penciling into the lineup every day if someone gets hurt. This issue is highlighted at the top of the order with the likes of Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. Pagan is coming off of a major hamstring injury from last season and will turn 33 in July. For a player that relies so heavily on his speed, both his physical ailments and aging body could give way to a poor (read: slow) season. Same situation with Scutaro, who could have a crooked pinkie finger for the rest of his life and will turn 39 at the end of this season. I would be hard pressed to believe that both players make it through a healthy 2014 campaign, putting pressure on General Manager Brian Sabean, because the Giants simply will not contend if they are forced to play Gregor Blanco and/or Joaquin Arias every day. However, all things considered, I think the Giants have put themselves in a good enough position to contend with the current lineup, barring any sort of major injuries. In terms of the rotation, I wrote earlier that I think the Giants are banking too heavily on a lot of “bounce-back” seasons. There is no doubt that this rotation has worlds of potential. Can you imagine throwing out a starting-five led by the 2009 version of Tim Lincecum, followed by any version of Matt Cain other than last season, then Madison Bumgarner, an in-his-prime Tim Hudson, and the 2011 version of Ryan Vogelsong? The Giants would be unstoppable. However, other than Madison Bumgarner, every member of this rotation is looking to rebound from a poor performance in 2013, which seems like too many question marks to me. Again, if all goes perfectly according to plan, this rotation will be great. If not, the G-Men could be in some trouble. Like Connor, I think the bullpen seems to be the most glaring issue with this team. No need to reiterate his main points here because I see the same main concerns. With questions about Romo’s durability, Affeldt’s age, and everyone else’s general mediocrity, the mid- to late-innings could be an adventure for this team. (AP Photo/Ben Margot,File) All this hype around Pablo Sandoval and his weight, does it even matter? Connor: I think it does. Sandoval showing up to camp in shape this year eliminates just another unnecessary storyline from the Spring Training and offseason rundown. Why should other guys be held accountable and questioned about how their teammates are handling themselves in the offseason? Alex Pavlovic writes here how Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Matt Cain, among others, challenged Pablo to lose weight this offseason, and he responded accordingly. I look forward to the story lines about Sandoval regarding his contract status, and not the number coming up when he steps on the scale. Andrew: If it affects Sandoval’s performance on the field, then it matters. If not, then it is a non-issue. Players have proven for years that it is possible to play high-caliber baseball while packing on a few (or sometimes more than a few) extra pounds. Pablo has been huskier than most of his teammates for his entire career and has still produced offensively when he has been healthy. However, I think the main issue with Sandoval’s weight is his defense. His limited range at third has been a liability to the Giants ever since he broke into the big leagues, so if Sandoval thinks that he can improve his game by losing weight, then by all means he should do it. Reaction to the Morse signing? Connor: Gives the Giants’ depth and lineup presence. The Gregor Blanco experience was not an offensively-filled one in 2013, and while he provided superior defense in the outfield, 2013 clearly didn’t work out the way the Giants hoped it would. It’s not as if Morse excelled last year, hitting .215 with 13 home runs and he ended his season mired in a dreadful 3 for 30 slump while on the Orioles. Again, the Giants are relying on a bounce-back season to help the team improve, and keeping Gregor Blanco in the left field at the start of 2014 was not any improvement. Andrew: I think there is way too much hype surrounding this guy. He’s a solid player and does provide the Giants with some depth, but he is going to be 32 in 2014 and still has only played over 140 games in a single season once in his career. If he can rebound from a -1.8 WAR from last season and post something around a 2.0 WAR in 2014, then the Giants found themselves a steal. Again, this guy gives the Giants more potential for a good season. AP Photo/Alex Brandon Is giving Tim Lincecum 2/35 truly as ridiculous as everyone outside the Giants organization is making it out to be? Connor: Well, kind of. I’ll just say I’m not surprised that’s what happened. The last recent former-Giants-turned-free agent I’ve seen slip through the hands of Sabean was Juan Uribe, who signed a ludicrous 3-year $22 million pact with the Dodgers following the Giants’ 2010 World Championship. You’d be delusional if you thought the Giants didn’t overpay for Lincecum’s services for the next two years, given his last three years. But, I do think that Lincecum would’ve gotten a contract very closely approaching that mark, if not surpassing it on the open market. All it takes is one (mystery) team, after all. Lincecum would’ve been a Met had Brian Sabean not come to the rescue. Or a Mariner. Perhaps an Expo. Who knows. Bottom line, the contract was extremely inflated, but unfortunately that’s what the market has come to now as we are almost numb to the astronomical figures players are signing for. Andrew: Whatever. In my opinion, everyone should calm down about the huge money the Giants shelled out for Lincecum. This team has won two out of the last four World Series and sells out every single game of the season. Merchandise sales are through the roof and they are supported by a decent local TV deal. This team has the money to spend and they showed it with the Lincecum signing. Any way you look at it, the Giants were going to need a middle-of-the-rotation starter going into 2014 and they felt that Timmy was their guy. He has done a lot for this franchise over the course of his career and he was rewarded for that with this contract. This is what the open market has become and he would have gotten this kind of money from whatever team he ended up with, in hopes that he can replicate his ’08 and ’09 Cy Young seasons. Most likely starter to rebound from a poor 2013? Least likely? Connor: I’ve got to give the hat tip on this one to Matt Cain. He’s proven himself unbelievably consistent from 2007-12, improving if nothing else. It’s almost too easy to pick Cain as the starter most likely to rebound coming into a new year, but it’s hard to say that Lincecum will have an epiphany allowing him to pick up his third Cy Young Award or Ryan Vogelsong to give more to this team than he already did in 2011-12. As for least likely starter, I think Giants fans might be a little overly-confident in the services of Tim Hudson. Hudson is coming off a well-publicized, gruesome ankle injury, and at 38 years old, is far from a guaranteed success story for the Giants. Here’s to hoping for the best with Hudson, but a season much like Randy Johnson turned in for the Giants in 2009 seems like a real possibility. Andrew: Easy pick here, as Matt Cain has to be the most likely to rebound from his lackluster 2013 campaign. The guy is still only 29 years old and he has been a workhorse for the Giants since he was 21, throwing at least 184 innings every season since 2006. Even counting last year’s inflated ERA of 4.00, Cain has posted a career ERA of only 3.35. He is a seasoned veteran and will not be shaken by a flukey poor season. For least likely to bounce back in 2014, I have my doubts about Tim Hudson, but for the sake of argument with Connor, I will make the case for Ryan Vogelsong. As heartwarming as Vogelsong’s story is, he has seemed to be in decline since 2012 as his ERA has steadily risen from 2.71 in 2011, to 3.37, and all the way up to 5.73 last year. I won’t argue that he will post another ERA over 5.00, but I also will not blindly claim that he will regain his 2011 form and lead the Giants’ rotation to another playoff run. Turning 37 in July, Vogelsong is far from a safe bet to rebound in 2014. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith) What’s the ideal scenario for the Giants coming out of Spring Training? Connor: Well to start, I’d be thrilled to see a legitimate top-dog fight to claim the fifth-outfielder spot on the 25-man roster among Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick and Gary Brown. Yes, that Gary Brown guy who was slated to be the star center fielder in 2013, or even 2014. After having seen Kieschnick and Perez at the Major League level, selfishly I’m pulling for Brown to surprise everyone and shine this spring. Also, as if it needed to be said, a Spring Training without major injuries to any players would certainly be welcome. And finally, remembering that this is the ideal scenario in the most perfect world, Pablo Sandoval proves the doubters wrong and looks electric in the field and at the plate, and agrees to a three-year contract extension. Andrew: For some strange reason, the Giants are committed to keeping Joaquin Arias around for a while, but I would love to see Sabean pick up another utility infielder to play a supporting role on this team. Tony Abreu is not a guy I am hoping to see on the 25-man roster on Opening Day because the Giants could be in need of some infield support other than Arias if an infielder goes down with an injury. Same scenario with the bullpen. Sabean’s acquisition of David Huff was a start to creating some healthy competition in the ‘pen, but the late innings appear to be no sure thing at this point in time. Another quality arm out of the bullpen would make me a lot more confident in this ball club coming out of Spring Training. Other than that, the lineup and rotation seem to be all but locked down, so now we can only pray for an injury-free spring and see what these “Bounce-Back” kids can do against the mighty Dodgers and the rest of the National League this summer. ott2squat428 Andrew, I believe Blanco and Arias are important parts of this team. Either can start, and both did quite often last year, especially Blanco. His hitting dropped off, sure, but he has the ability. I’d like to see him use his speed a bit more to get on base. His fielding’s not a problem. As for Arias, you don’t lose a lot at the plate with him in the lineup and fielding is only a slight drop-off (not as good as Crawford and about equal to Sandoval and Scutaro). Connor, since you aspire to be a journalist, may an old writer/editor comment? It’s among, not amongst. Also between is used comparing two things; among is correct with three or more. Back to baseball, I’m not sold on Kieschnick. It think he was played more often than his skills warranted. Looking forward to continued blogs.