Wednesday, January 14, 2009

San Francisco Giants Look Good for 2009, and Even Better for 2010

It happens every year. The closer we get to Spring Training, the more I tend to think about the San Francisco Giants and convince myself that this is the year we'll see the boys return to contention. The glory days of 1997 through 2004 are still fresh in my memory so it's no great task.

In 2005 and 2006, the ineptitude of the National League West kept SF "alive" in the playoff picture. But let's be honest—the Giants were built around Barry Lamar Bonds and he was either absent or a shell of himself for most of both years.

Consequently, the Giants were brutal.

Still Bonds had a pulse and that was always enough to begin each season with hope.

After two years of such brutality crushing said hope, I was desperate. Apparently, so was management because Brian Sabean and friends threw the kitchen sink at Barry Zito. We all know how that turned out. Heading into 2007 though, I drank all the Kool-Aid.

It was a bigger park. It was an easier division. Pitchers have to hit in the NL i.e. no designated hitters. I bought it all and headed optimistically into 2007.

Yeah...took a while to recover from that one. About a year.

I had no illusions about 2008. Although Chase Utley said the Aaron Rowand signing wasn't as bad as the experts opined, I wasn't buying it. I'm sure the guy was a good teammate so it made sense for Chase to laud him. The problem, though, was that Rowand in SF would be an offensive centerpiece. Such a role is not where he belongs and, sure enough, the offense produced little with him as one of its main engines.

But, like I said, the shock from 2007 didn't last.

In hindsight, I did underestimate Rowand. He was a defensive stud, a warrior, and better offensively than I expected. Tim Lincecum matured into the dominant pitcher everyone thought he'd be (except he did it in about one season) and won the Cy Young. Bengie Molina made me believe in catchers again; I wouldn't be surprised if half of Big Money's 155 hits came with two outs (OK, I would but you get the point). And Zito continued to show improvement.

So I'm back on board the San Francisco bandwagon, complete with my rose-colored frames and half-full glass o' water.

Except I'm a year older and 2007 made me a bit wiser. My optimism is tempered and that temperance combined with Ken Rosenthal's recent observation about John Lackey allow me to see beyond 2009.

Even if the Giants added one of the bigger bats available on the market, they're still probably be looking at an uphill battle against teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs. And that's just in the Senior Circuit.

I've already aired my grievances with the three-headed monster taking shape in the American League East.

Not only that, adding a big bat at this stage would almost certainly mean either Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, or the trade of Jonathan Sanchez in a relatively neutral market. All three options would seriously hamper the organization's options moving forward as well as the development of the youngsters that made great strides last year (Freddie Lewis in particular).

My newfound perspective shows me another big move would be too much risk for too little reward.

And that brings me to Rosenthal's article about the post-2009 free agency period.

Ramirez and Dunn are both non-starters in my opinion. Manny comes with too much baggage and Dunn isn't versatile enough while striking out at an obscene clip. But trading Sanchez might be a good move in the right scenario.

What might that look like? Well, a lot like next year's free agency period.

Consider that, after 2009, the following front-end starters are on track to be available:

Josh Beckett
Erik Bedard
Justin Duchscherer
Kelvim Escobar
Rich Harden
John Lackey
Cliff Lee

Brett Myers

Brandon Webb

As Mr. Rosenthal mentions, the top three (Webb, Lee, and Beckett) all have club options that are sure to be exercised. That leaves a relatively underwhelming crop of starters available on the open market, especially considering the free-for-all we just saw this time around.

On the other hand, check out the list of lumber that's available:

Rick Ankiel
Jason Bay
Adrian Beltre
Hank Blalock
Carl Crawford
Chone Figgins
Khalil Greene
Vladimir Guerrero
Matt Holliday
Nick Johnson
Adam LaRoche
Victor Martinez
Benji Molina

Xavier Nady
Brian Roberts

Both Victor Martinez and Crawford have club options, but the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays tend to be frugal. They also have players waiting in the wings who could step into the voids created by either departure. Regardless, that's a much stronger group.

The icing on the cake?

With another year of data, the Giants should have a better idea of what they've got in not only Sanchez, but Noah Lowry, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson, and Angel Villalona as well.

Assuming all four young pitchers throw to form, the Giants would be trading from a strength in a down market for that commodity and a pretty good year for buyers as far as offense is concerned. All that offense means the Gents wouldn't necessarily have to part with any if their prized arms.

In the business, I believe that's called sittin' pretty.

So let's hope sittin' is all San Francisco management does until then.

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