After winning two of the past three World Series titles, the San Francisco Giants stumbled to an anticlimactic third place finish last year at 76-86. Their California rival Los Angeles Dodgers spending spree allotted to nearly $500 million in contract extensions and free agent signings as they begin as the division favorites. Early spring training reports indicate slugger Pablo Sandoval has dropped the extra weight to show maturity and commitment to the franchise. As long as Sandoval keeps the pounds in check, expect the Giants to make another long postseason run.
Since 2007, the Giants have been a role-model for other franchises to follow in terms of drafting prospects and preparing them for the Major Leagues. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Sergio Romo all developed in the Giants farm system. Each has been a mainstay with the team and imperative for the title runs in 2010 and 2012. After winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards, Lincecum has stumbled in recent years. He was even converted to long reliever during the second title run. Approaching 30 years of age, Lincecum is in his prime. However, should he continue to flatter, he will draw comparisons to his former Giants teammate Barry Zito. No longer with the team after they induced an $8 million buyout, Zito unceremoniously was a bust after signing his $126 million deal in 2007. The Giants have used that contract as an example for committing long term to their players. As Lincecum’s numbers have dropped, so has the velocity in his fastball and strikeouts. Cain was signed to a $100+ million extension, and Bumgarner looks to be next in line for such a raise. If Lincecum wants to make that kind of money, he will need to regain his All-Star form.
Sandoval’s weight-loss is encouraging for Giants fans. Since bursting on the scene in his first full season with 25 homers, 90 RBIs, and a .330 batting average, Sandoval has been a mystery to manager Bruce Bochy. He followed with a .268 average and was even dropped in favor of Juan Uribe in the playoffs. However since tying the all-time record of three homeruns in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, Sandoval’s stock has been on the rise. The drop in weight will make him more nimble on defense. At 27, he will be entering his prime and a year of 40 home runs and 110 RBIs should have Sandoval asking for a Robinson Cano-type contract. The Giants already locked up outfielder Hunter Pence for five years and $90 million. Along with the Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, the nucleus is young and strong. Each is coming off productive years with Crawford only committing 15 errors and Belt hitting 17 home runs. If Belt can continue to develop, Bochy will be forced to play him in the outfield more on days when MVP catcher Buster Posey is at first base. Posey, the poster-boy for Giants fan adoration is the face of the organization and of the game. As baseball moves away from steroid users Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, it is players like Posey and Sandoval who lead the new era. With a motivated Sandoval and a possible 25 homer season from Belt, Posey will look to rebound to his MVP numbers for the Giants to challenge Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
The Giants had their fair share of injuries last year. If they are out of contention by July, look for the team to contemplate using Lincecum and/or Sandoval as bait around the trade deadline. The team will want to build for the future and would rather use resources to reload the farm system and give the big contract to its starting pitchers.
With the free agent signing of former Oakland Athlete Tim Hudson, on paper the Giants possess a team destined for a deep postseason run. If they can avoid the injury bug and Bochy keeps the players inspired, the NL West will be an exciting race.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference. com/.