The beginning of a baseball season is always met with optimism and hope for a successful year. For the San Francisco Giants, the success of the 2014 season is based on a lot of hope. With a payroll of roughly $147 million, which ranks 6th in the league, and a fan base that consistently fills ATT park, the Giants and their fans have lofty expectations. The Giants have placed their hopes on three questionable off season signings, and the hope of bounce-back years from key under performing players.
In 2013, the Giants pitching staff ranked 22nd in the league with a 4.00 ERA. Down years for Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong were partly to blame. The Giants hope that Cain and Vogelsong will return to form. There was talk of Cain suffering from dead arm last season, as he logged in an 8-10 record with a 4.00 ERA in 184 innings pitched. It’s his highest season ERA since 2006, but he has pitched over 200 innings every year since 2007, last season being the exception. So the hope is that last year was an anomaly, and not a downward trend.
Ryan Vogelsong has had to jump many hurdles in his career and has proved the critics wrong. It’s time for him to quiet the critics once again. He compiled a 4-6 record with a 5.76 ERA in 19 games last year shortened by an injured finger. He has only had two good years at the Major League level, and that was in 2011 and 2012. Can he do it again? The jury is still out, and no one is banking on it. But this bodes well for Vogelsong. One thing he has is determination. And the Giants are crossing their fingers.
The Giants signed Lincecum to two years at $35 million, with the hope that his continuing evolution is a positive one. Lincecum made strides in 2013 by having a slightly better year than his horrendous 2012. He threw a no-hitter and showed signs of better control down the stretch. Plus he finally seems to have accepted the fact that he must evolve in order to succeed. His off season focus on mechanics, his decision to study hitters more, which seems like a no-brainer, and having Tim Hudson around are all good signs for Lincecum having a good year. The Giants sure hope so.
The addition of Tim Hudson is a curious one. Hudson will be 39 this year, and he is coming off an injury that he’s still recovering from. On the plus side, Hudson has been a consistent winner throughout his career, and is a proven clubhouse guy with mentoring ability. One can see the value of having a Tim Hudson around, especially for Lincecum. It’s likely that his signing had just as much to do with helping Lincecum evolve, as with his pitching ability. But the Giants do hope that he can also still win games.
Then there is left field. Lately for the Giants, this is where offense goes to die. The signing of Michael Morse is another one filled with questions and hope. The hope is that this oft-injured, ex-beast of a player, can repeat his past successes. His best year was in 2011 when he played in 146 games and batted .303 with 31 HR and 95 RBI. Since then his production has decreased and in 2013, only played in 88 games because of injuries. Morse can return to beast mode and be the everyday left fielder, become the offensive producer that the Giants are hoping for, and finally give Giant fans a left fielder who can hit. Or, he can just as easily be none of these things. Obviously, the Giants are hoping for the former.
The Giants also need better production from several of their key position players. Brandon Belt, the enigma with so much promise, is on the cusp of becoming what the Giants had hoped for. After finally accepting the advice of his coaches and adjusting his batting stance and grip, Belt excelled in the second half of 2013. After batting .260 in the first half, Belt hit .326 in the second half, finishing with a .289 BA, 17 HR and 67 RBI’s. The Giants hope Belt can get off to a good start and continue his offensive surge. Another player the Giants hope can get it together is Pablo Sandoval. He is getting a lot of press regarding his slimmed down physique. Bottom line, the Giants hope that Sandoval can be injury free and play up to his potential.
No one can call Buster Posey an under performer, but he struggled in the second half of 2013. Posey batted .244 with just nine extra base hits after the all-star break. Posey is about as solid of a player as you can get, and to his credit, he worked hard in the off season adding bulk and got stronger to counter the rigors of the season. The Giants hope that Posey returns to his offensive strengths.
The Giants will field a solid team in 2014. On paper they are not exceptional, but they will be competitive. And chances are good that key players will have resurgent years. Playing in a postseason, toward a World Series Championship, like the Giants did in 2010 and 2012, is grueling. It probably had its affects. It’s the success of the new acquisitions, and the resurgence of their stars, that hold the key to the Giants success in 2014, and the brunt of the Giants hopes.