13 Giant questions entering spring training
The San Francisco Giants are about to embark on their 55th season of play since moving west from New York in 1958.
As hope for another World Series title springs eternal, Giants fans have a lot of questions on their minds.
Here are 13 of the biggest ponderings I’ve received recently from readers, followed by my best attempts at answering them…
Question #1: “Who’s on first?”
OK, knock it off with the Abbott & Costello routine, would ya?
Oh, wait. You really do want to know who’s going to play first base this year for the Giants?
My best guess: Here’s what’s gonna happen: Huff is going to win the job out of spring training. Posey will get a day or two at first each week during the first month of the regular season while the team carefully monitors his ankle’s response to playing catcher three to four days a week. Depending on how that goes, Posey will either pick up more games at first (if he’s battling soreness or inflammation) or more games behind the dish (if his rehab is going fine).
As for Belt, let’s face it. As much as we all want to see him succeed (and some of you seem to have a crystal ball and have already anointed him the next Will Clark), he’s a career .219 hitter. And he’s young. That’s not going to bode well for him with Bruce Bochy calling the shots.
However, if Huff looks like the 2011 version (vs. the 2010 version) of Huff, all bets are off. Huff Daddy could find himself in a similar role that Pat Burrell played while he was a Giant: a veteran hitter off the bench with Belt taking over the starter’s role.
Brett Pill? Fresno-bound.
What I don’t think we’ll see at all in 2012 is Huff or Belt platooning in left field. That job’s going to Melky Cabrera (see questions #8 and #9) with occasional starts by Huff or Belt when the Melk Man needs a day off.
Question #2: “Will Matt Cain sign a contract extension?”
Perhaps a better way of asking this question might be, “Will Matt Cain become a free agent after this season?”
My best guess: How the hell should I know? We all hope that Shotgun will sign an extension, but that’s going to all come down to one thing: money.
If the Giants are serious about locking Cainer up long-term (as they have said publicly), then he’ll be signed…before Opening Day.
Question #3: “Who will be the closer if Brian Wilson goes down?”
There’s a good reason this question is being posed.
Brian Wilson hasn’t been fully healthy in a while. He showed up to spring training last year in a cop car and battled back spasms (not related to the police vehicle) which led to him starting the season on the DL. Then he had to shut it down at the end of the season when his Tommy-John-surgically-repaired elbow started acting up.
Yes, Virginia, there’s reason to be concerned.
My best guess: Bochy will likely go with a closer-by-committee if B-Weez hits the disabled list. If we’re talking an extended amount of time on the DL, though, the Giants could go one of three ways:
Question #4: “Will Brandon Crawford be the everyday shortstop?”
He’s young. He hasn’t proven he can hit at the major league level. And Bochy is the manager. It’s a fair question.
My best guess: The Giants have been saying that Brandon Crawford will be the everyday starter at shortstop. But I wouldn’t get too comfy if I were you, Professor.
Despite the progress Crawford made hitting the ball in the Fall League, and despite his flashy leatherwork, the club signed veteran Ryan Theriot for a reason.
Crawford has shown a penchant for struggling mightily against left-handed pitchers and it’s quite conceivable that Theriot will get damn-near every start against southpaws. And because he’s so good with the glove, it’ll be easier for Bochy to put Crawford into games as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Hey, that brings up another good question: “How’s Crawford supposed to improve against left-handed pitchers if he’s not in there to work through it?” (Sorry, pal, this list is limited to 13 questions.)
Question #5: “How many games will Buster Posey play?”
Oooh, another crystal ball question.
My best guess: Well, given the fact that he’s reportedly ahead of schedule and he’s an absolute beast of an athlete and competitor, I’d say the odds of Posey fully recovering from last year’s devastating, season-ending injury are quite good.
During the off-season, Giants head trainer Dave Groeschner worked with Posey, setting goals, and monitoring his progress. From everything I’ve seen, there’s no reason to think Posey will start the season on the DL.
However, any “setbacks” could always muck things up. I’m going to go out on a limb (no pun intended, Buster) and predict that Posey plays in 140 contests this season, with 110 of those games behind the plate.
Question #6: “Will Pablo Sandoval put up MVP-type numbers?”
A lot is riding on the Kung Fu Panda’s success at the plate this year, maybe even more so than last season, when Pablo missed 41 games due to a broken hamate bone in his hand.
After the Giants lost Posey and Freddy Sanchez for the year and just about everyone on the team not named Aubrey Huff got injured too, the chances of the Giants winning the NL West nose-dived.
My best guess: Will the Panda put up MVP numbers? Yes. Why, yes he will.
Here’s the deal: Pablo Sandoval, a first-time All-Star last year, won’t have as much pressure on him in 2012 with the return of a healthy Giants’ lineup. A more relaxed Panda will also have more run-production opportunities, with a much-improved top of the order featuring Angel Pagan. He also got his eye fixed in November (Lasik surgery) so he will presumably be able to see the ball better in 2012. His left shoulder is completely healed and he’s bulked up, adding about 10 pounds of muscle (not fat, as some have suggested).
I can see Sandoval batting .300 or better with 30 homers and close to 100 runs driven in. Seriously.
Question #7: “How many games will Freddy Sanchez miss in 2012?”
LOL. That’s making an assumption, now isn’t it?
My best guess: Freddy is fragile, his injury history proves as much. That’s not to say he’s soft, though. There’s a difference. When he dislocated his shoulder last season, it was because he was playing all out, the only speed The Mole knows.
Since 2005, Freddy has missed an average of 40 games a year, so I’ll go with that. Forty.
Question #8: “Which outfielder will get the most playing time?”
While the Giants have an abundance of infielders (particularly first basemen), they are actually kind of thin on outfielders. The current list of outfielders includes Pagan, Cabrera, Nate Schierholtz and perhaps Belt, Huff and Emmanuel Burriss.
My best guess: Look for Pagan, Cabrera and Nate the Great to be your everyday starters in the outfield with the other dudes I mentioned filling in as needed.
Question #9: “Can Melky Cabrera repeat his 2011 performance?”
The Melk Man collected 201 hits last year for the Kansas City Royals and batted .305/.339/.470 (0.809 OPS) with 18 HR and 87 RBI.
Was it a breakout year or a fluke?
My best guess: Cabrera, 27, is not in Kansas anymore, Toto. He will now play half his games at AT&T Park, a notorious pitcher’s yard, so there’s that to think about. Then again, he’s in a contract year again, too. The switch hitter has always been considered a very talented player who just never reached his potential before now.
Can he repeat (or come close to repeating) his 2011 performance? Yes. Will he? Probably not. Look for something closer to his career batting average of .275 with a dozen homers and 65 runs batted in. Overall, though, I think Giants fans will be pleased with his performance.
Question #10: “How many bases will Angel Pagan steal?”
I like this question a lot. Must be from a fantasy baseball player wanting to know whether or not he’ll be good for some stolen bases.
My best guess: Pick him up. He’s not nicknamed “Crazy Horse” because he’s slow. In a mostly undefined role with the Mets, he still managed to swipe 69 bases in 2010–’11. He’s going to be a running fool this year for Bochy. You thought Andres Torres was a good leadoff hitter? Pagan’s on base percentage the past four years has been around .337, which ain’t half bad. Playing at AT&T Park, I really believe Pagan has the potential to lead the league in triples.
Defensively, I think he’s way underrated. But I’ve watched him play and he’s actually quite good in the outfield. He’ll be out there every day.
Like Cabrera, Pagan is also entering a contract year. Without the bright lights of New York watching and criticizing his every move, I think he’ll flourish in San Francisco. Look for a breakout year for the switch hitter.
Question #11: “Will any of the Giants starters miss any significant time with an arm injury?”
Another fair question, considering none of the Giants starters has been shelved due to arm problems. And that’s really unheard of in baseball these days.
Take a look at the career innings pitched totals for the current Giants starters and the number of days each has missed due to an arm injury:
- Tim Lincecum: 1,028 innings. Days missed due to arm injury: 0
- Matt Cain: 1,317.1 innings. Days missed due to arm injury: 7
- Madison Bumgarner: 325.2 innings. Days missed due to arm injury: 0
- Ryan Vogelsong: 494.2 innings. Days missed due to arm injury: 123
- Barry Zito: 2,252 innings. Days missed due to arm injury: 0
My best guess: Obviously, the odds of staying healthy get worse each year that these guys stay so doggone healthy. All of them except MadBum have missed some time due to finger, neck, back, or foot problems, but only Vogelsong has missed significant time due to an arm injury (he had TJS in 2001). Cain missed some time in ’09 after he took a liner off his elbow right before the All-Star Break.
Getting back to Question #11, I’m a firm believer in positive thinking. And being a Giants fan, I’ve gotta answer this one with my heart: NO.
Question #12: “Who will take the last three roster spots coming out of big league camp?”
It might be easier to just cut to the chase and tell you who I think won’t make the cut for Opening Day. But that would take all the fun out of it.
Let’s start by taking a look at the no-brainers:
» Catchers (1) — Posey…duh
» Infielders (4) — Sandoval, Huff, Sanchez, and Crawford are all a given
» Outfielders (3) — Pagan, Cabrera, and Scheirholtz are the obvious choices
» Starters (4) — Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogey are also in the “can’t miss” group
» Bullpen (5) — Wilson, Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, and Casilla are all no-brainers, too
My best guess: The no-brainer list of 17 above leaves eight “debatable” spots available. I’m going to say Chris Stewart wins the back-up job behind the plate over Eli Whiteside and Hector Sanchez. That’s 18. Belt, Theriot, and Mike Fontenot should all make the squad, too. That’s 21. It’s probably safe to assume that Zito will be the fifth starter. That’s 22 and leaves us with just three open spots.
Drum roll please…
I’ll go with Burriss over Pill or Justin Christian for the final utility spot. And Guillermo Mota and Clay Hensley will grab the last two spots in the bullpen, giving the Giants 13 hitters and 12 pitchers (7 relievers).
As I said, all of this will hinge on whether anybody gets hurt.
Question #13: “Will Duane Kuiper get a plaque on the Giants’ Wall of Fame?”
Ah, you must have read my recent article pushing for the Giants to give him a spot on the Wall.
My best guess: Even though it’s the 35-year anniversary of the season when Kuip hit his one and only home run as a major leaguer, sadly, I don’t see the Giants making an exception for him. Not unless we all start some kind of campaign….any takers?
Well, readers, did I miss any burning questions? If so, shoot me a line.