Checking in With the Champion San Francisco Giants

It is dark, the temperature is around 20 degrees and we were just blanketed with over a foot of snow.  It sounds like the perfect time to think about Spring Training.  72 hours before pitchers and catchers are due to report to camp (Abe Lincoln’s birthday, no less) and it’s time to take a peek at the team that won it all last season, the San Francisco Giants.  Remember them?   There has been a lot of noise made by a handful of teams, each with the thought of unseating the champs.  According to early prognosticators, the Giants are not favored to repeat as World Series winners or even win their own division.    That line of thinking would be a mistake for those who think San Fran won’t be able to successfully defend their title.

Hunter Pence is a tremendous player and clubhouse presence.  Image:  zimbio.com

Hunter Pence is a tremendous player and clubhouse presence. Image: zimbio.com

Their two California neighbors to the south, the Los Angeles duo of the Angels and Dodgers were once again very busy this offseason.  The Dodgers doled out $140 million dollars for pitcher Zack Greinke and the Angels lured Josh Hamilton away from the division rival Texas Rangers with a $125 million dollar contract.  Big acquisitions by the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals among others had the baseball world abuzz about new contenders and loaded returning squads.  On the other hand, outside of outfielder Andres Torres and pitcher Chad Gaudin, the Giants were quiet in the free agent market, preferring to sign their own players.  Outfielder Angel Pagan, second baseman Marco Scutaro and reliever Jeremy Affeldt were re-signed to multi-year deals.  San Francisco has no reason to react to what other teams are doing.  They have a strong management team in place with Brian Sabean, entering his 17th year as general manager and skipper Bruce Bochy now in his seventh season.  Together, these two men are rank among the best at their respective positions and are arguably the best GM-manager combination in baseball.  Combine that with the skills and leadership of catcher Buster Posey, who will become this generation’s Derek Jeter, and you have an organization with a great present and future.  It also does not hurt to have a deep farm system which in 2012 produced shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt, vital members of the championship club.  The midseason acquisition of Hunter Pence gave SF a more vocal leader than the reserved, lead-by -example Posey.  It was also a stroke of genius by Sabean as Pence fit the team like a glove.  Last but not least is the pitching staff led by perfect game hurler Matt Cain and two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who shed his long locks and has opted for glasses.  A deep bullpen headed by another bearded closer, Sergio Romo has SF poised to return to the postseason.

Has there ever been a team that has won two World Series titles in a three-year span get as little respect as the Giants currently receive?  Part of the reason could be that the club hit an astonishingly low 31 home runs at home in 2012.  I am willing to bet that a full season from Pence and Belt will increase that number slightly.  The Giants are built for their ballpark, great pitching and hitters that make use of that spacious outfield.  Why should anyone harp on their lack of power if all the team does is win?  Outside of a four-year stretch (2005-2008), San Fran has won at least 86 games per year since 1997, making the playoffs six times.  Whenever we see preseason lists of teams who have a chance at postseason play, the Giants are usually not in anyone’s top five.   Check back with me in about five or six weeks to read about how I think they will fare in 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

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