Spring Training in an Even Year

Welcome to the 1st Czar’s blog of 2016 celebrating the true beginning of the new year – when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale for San Francisco Giants training camp.  Position players reported today.

 

Without further ado, let’s check in on the boys in Orange and Black, who finished last season with a winning 84/78 record but out of the playoffs.

There are many theories behind the odd/even year thing but the one I most favor is the injury theory. That holds that a team playing late into a season doesn’t have time to recover from the inevitable run of injuries attendant to any 162 game season, which made the Kansas City Royals victory last year (and all the Yankee’s back to back titles) all the more remarkable.

However that also points up a Giants weakness, which is their relative lack of depth.

Where we left off in October – The injury list Now

  • Aoki – Concussion symptoms. He was not available in left field for the end of the season run, which forced Blanco to play more than expected. Aoki is now with the Mariners where he can cheer on Ichiro (who will soon pass Pete Rose if you include Ichiro’s Japanese hits).
  • Cain – nerve irritation.  He says he’s fine and is now the 5th starter making $18 million a year.  Matt must a major piece this year and the lingering injury uncertainty is one of the reasons the national press is questioning the Giants pitching staff.
  • Crawford – calf injury and oblique but he still got a gold glove and a silver slugger award.  He is rightfully regarded as the best shortstop in the NL and was rewarded with an appropriate contract in the off-season.
  • Lincecum – hip, out for the season and probably no longer a Giant because there is no place for him on the roster. Especially concerning is that he keeps delaying throwing off a mound.  He could be done but if he is 2 Cy Young’s and 3 rings will keep him forever in the hearts of all the Giants faithful. I will never see number 55 again without thinking of the Freak - - he will be taking tokes in our thoughts forever.
  • Panik – back tightness. Scary stuff after what happened to Scutero and Sanchez but Panik says that his back is healed and he’s full strength.  Let that be so because he’s a legitimate .300 hitter with great baseball sense and a great glove. He has the ability to be our best 2nd baseman since Jeff Kent.
  • Pence – left oblique strain (after a broken arm). He was out for 110 games.  Hunter is the heart and soul of the team.  He is truly the straw that stirs the drink (with apologies to Reggie). He’s healthy with a new haircut, and a new girlfriend. The haircut worries us all.
  • Sanchez and Susac (both back-up catchers!) out for the season in September. Hector is gone and Susac is a question mark. Backup catcher is a position to watch in spring training. Trevor Brown (a very good looking kid) is going to be pushing Susac hard.

What did the off-season look like?

The Giants brain trust stepped up to the plate and addressed the biggest need –starting pitching.  They picked up Johnny Cueto from the Royals and Jeff Smardzija from the White Sox.  Two work horse pitchers (200 plus inning eaters) joining the other horse (Cain).  Then the hole that Aoki left in left field was filled with Denard Span from the Nationals. This was about $220 million in salary commitments but – if they can perform coming off of injuries (Span), and a down year (Samardzija) the rotation and lineup will be solid.  The worry is that the reason the Giants got a bargain was because the players really are injured.

What is this year supposed to look like?

Pitching staff: solid. Bumgarner (personally I will take Bum over Kershaw anytime – the fact that he brought his horse to spring training says it all), Peavy (however, is he healthy? There is a question mark there with his hip – and he did not have surgery in the off-season), Cueto (who was smoking hot with the Reds but less so with the Royals, until the playoffs), Smardzija (a Dave Righetti project) and Cain. Heston, Osich and Kontos will be in long relief, Lopez and Romo will be specialists, and Strickland and Casilla will be fighting it out as closers. Affeldt retired but there may be some real surprises here in training camp. Law and Okert will be fighting for spots.  Keep in mind that the ESPN knuckleheads picked the Dodgers pitching staff over the Giants based on depth.  We will see on April 7th.

Infield: best in the NL?  Belt (with a one year deal to avoid arbitration) at 1st, Panik at 2nd, Duffy at 3rd, Crawford at short and Buster Posey, the best catcher (and probably best player) currently playing baseball, behind the dish.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  The defensive metrics for this group when they are together are off the charts.  The challenge however is behind them. Kelby Tomlinson (Clark Kent) showed at the end of last season that he can play. The question is whether or not he can keep it up this year. I’ve never been a fan of Adrianza and I suspect that this spring will see him seriously tested. It would have been nice to see Juan Uribe as a back-up but that was not to be.

Outfield: improved and healthy, or not ready for prime time? The good news is that Hunter Pence is back, and that the G-Men picked up a really good center fielder and lead-off hitter in Denard Span from the Nationals. However Span spent most of last season injured.  Pagan is slated for left field (Pagan is in a contract year but he is 35, and he is fragile) with Blanco as the fourth outfielder.  The battle for back-up in the outfield will be Maxwell and Williamson, neither overwhelming. This is a unit that is supposed to have power but, except for Pence, the numbers just aren’t there.  I would not be surprised to see some trade moves involving Pagan (and maybe Maxwell or Williamson) in the spring.

The NL West – what’s happening there?  Right now the national press is split over the Giants or the Dodgers coming out on top of the NL West.  This blog of course picks the G-Men to come out on top, but it will be a dog-fight right down to the wire.

It may really be a three-team race. Many (including John Smoltz at MLB) favor the Giants because the Dodgers lost Grienke to the Diamondbacks, and the Giants are a solid team.

Do not leave the Snakes out of this discussion. The may have a really good year and challenge when one considers that the Snakes got Shelby Miller from Atlanta, Patrick Corbin is healthy and Paul Goldschmidt is the best first baseman in baseball not named Adrian Gonzales.  I would also notforget that Tony La Russo in putting together the back end in Arizona.  He is not to be trifled with.

But the Dodgers have young position starters (Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig – with a new attitude that I will believe when I see it -  and the supposed rookie sensation at SS in Corey Seager) along with incredible depth that are causing the national press to favor them over the G-Men. While the Dodger’s also have all-world pitcher Clayton Kershaw behind him are pitchers (such as Kazmir, Anderson and Maeda) that, while serviceable, are not world class.

I do not want to leave out the Padres and the Rockies, both good teams that are in a rebuilding mode. While they are not expected to challenge for the division lead they are not to be overlooked, especially the Rockies hitters.

Finally, do not forget the intangibles.  In the Giants case that includes Bochy and Wotus (the best managers in the league), the Giants front office of Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans and our secret weapons – the fans and AT&T park.

Against that the boys in blue have a new manager (Dave Roberts, who we like but who is a rookie manager after Mattingly got canned and went to Miami) and the Snakes have Chip Hale.  I think that the odds here favor Bochy and Wotus, don’t you?

Now it is time to sit down, pull up the easy chair, get the glove ready for AT&T and enjoy baseball – 2016 style!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar