Thursday, February 19, 2009

San Francisco Giants Spring Training—Trimming the Fat

Every spring breaks down pretty much the same way for most teams. Pitchers and catchers report first, the rest of the guys show up several days later, and the team spends a few days knocking off the rust. Routine is established, fundamentals are polished, new wrinkles are introduced, the moving parts are fine-tuned, and then it's Opening Day.

Along the way, we're all told the same thing—player X looks great, player Y spent all off-season working on this, player Z re-dedicated himself, and everyone agrees this is the year it comes together.

The San Francisco Giants have never been excluded from this general trend and 2009 looks to be no different. However, with the bitter disappointments of the last several years (read: entire SF history) fresh in mind, I've grown skeptical.

I don't know who's fooling whom—whether the players fool themselves, whether the agents fool the team, whether the team fools the media, whether the players use the media to fool everyone—I just know that somebody's not playing straight. At least if history is any indication.

So I'm taking a look at the early news filtering out of camp sans the Kool-Aid this year:

1. Jonathan Sanchez has added a changeup to his arsenal.

In all sincerity, this is great news—diabetes-inducing drink or not. It's obviously good news because a good changeup would make Sanchez devastating since he throws the rest of his stuff hard. But it's great news that just an average change would vastly improve the young gun.

As long as he can mask its delivery, just the fact that the velocity would be so different will make it effective enough to use. That will make the chances of improvement from Jonathan Sanchez go up.

Oh, and a changeup is one of the easier pitches to learn plus Sanchez would've known all winter that Noah Lowry would be gunning for that fifth spot in the rotation come spring.

Yeah, this is the genuine article: a reason to hope.

2. Randy Johnson feels great and looks even better.

Yawn. This one smells just a little stale. Maybe it's because the last several years have all featured the same bit of news coming out of the Giants' spring about a newly-acquired, aging veteran. It's always the same song and dance because I'm sure these guys do sincerely feel great.

But it's February—I'm still betting on a good season from the Big Unit, just not because of this little nugget. It does nothing for me.

3. Edgar Renteria learned his lesson in 2008 and showed up in shape.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Partially because it's another tried-and-true line of spring baseball. Every year features a player or two who coming off a sub-par year that most "experts" attributed to extra tonnage. That player shows up in camp and everyone starts heralding an immediate return to form.

Sometimes it happens, other times not.

But there are supplemental markers to support Edgar. He's a former five-time All-Star who has always played better in the National League. He played much better post-break in 2008, after he had clearly played himself into better shape.

I'll go one foot in, one foot out on this development.

4. Noah Lowry's shoulder is throwing up red flags.

This one actually could help the Gents either way. If Noah needs to be shutdown for a bit, then SF can turn to Sanchez from the get-go. If not, then Lowry continues to push Sanchez for the spot and hopefully the competition will bring out a better pitcher in both.

Regardless, injury reports tend to be pretty reliable so no reason to doubt Lowry's status.

5. Brian Wilson is working as hard as ever to build on his 2008 accolades.

This is good news, but only because it means that Wilson isn't a moron. The closer's job has to be one of the most tenuous spots in Major League Baseball. These guys come out of nowhere without warning and disappear into the cornfields just as mysteriously and suddenly.

So if Brian Wilson thought he was just gonna coast on one good year, it woulda been bad. Really, really bad.

That might look like a cynical interpretation to the casual observer. And it might just be that.

In my defense, however, I do think the new addition to Jonathan Sanchez' repertoire is the real deal and one bit of genuinely good news like that this early in the process ain't too shabby. Plus I'm a semi-believer in Edgar Renteria's sleeker physique.

Furthermore, have you seen the San Francisco Giants in the last three years? I think I've earned my cynicism.

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