This might be an odd question, but to place less pressure upon Tim Lincecum, is it possible to make him the fifth starter? Would that deflate him or would it benefit him to match up with other teams' fifth starters and boost his confidence?
-- Jordan N., Santa Rosa, Calif.
Given the Giants' anticipated lack of competition for positions and roles, the sequence of starting pitchers that manager Bruce Bochy selects promises to be one of the bigger stories of Spring Training. Obviously, if Bochy bases his judgment on last year's performances, Lincecum's the fifth man. But if Bochy throws the rotation's pecking order open to Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito (after Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, who most likely will be 1-2), the Cactus League will feature a lot more intrigue.
To address Jordan's questions, being the fifth starter might dent Lincecum's pride somewhat, but I believe he would respond with sincere effort in an attempt to gain a promotion. As for Lincecum's matching up with other fifth starters, that wouldn't happen very often. After the season's first few weeks, the variations in each team's schedule, due to off-days, will disrupt the symmetry of pitching matchups.
I have been looking over various prospects in the Giants' system and came across Adam Duvall, who appears to have the makings of a real slugger. He blasted 30 home runs and collected 100 RBIs. But for some reason, he isn't ranked among the organization's top 10 prospects. Do you think the Giants have overlooked some possibilities, such as placing a guy like Duvall at first and putting Brandon Belt in the outfield? In no way can I be a judge of one's progress, but seeing how players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper soared through their Minor League systems, don't you think it's time to get creative with left field and make some room for our prospects?
-- Rob M., Novato, Calif.
Duvall's age probably prevents him from ranking among truly elite prospects. He's 24, which doesn't make him ancient, but most guys on the proverbial fast track are younger than that when they play at Class A, as Duvall did this past season at San Jose. His .266 batting average in three Minor League seasons may sour some talent evaluators, too. The Giants, like all other organizations, closely scrutinize each player in their system. If they believed that moving Duvall across the diamond from third base to first would make a significant difference, they would have done it.
So, no, I don't believe that they've overlooked any personnel options. As for making room for prospects, at the risk of citing the obvious, it's up to each farmhand to earn his way to the big leagues. What's the point of creating spots for a younger performer if he's just not that good? Consider Belt and Brandon Crawford. They played regularly by the end of the 2012 season because they proved that they deserved to be in the lineup. If Duvall does the same, you'll see him at AT&T Park.
I love this team, but there is little depth and pop on the bench. Do you think they will spend a little extra to bolster up? Because without it, I can't see a championship repeat. Among the outfielders, I like the speed -- Andres Torres, Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan -- but only Hunter Pence has pop. You can't depend on Belt's power. Nick Swisher is dead-on perfect for us, but they claim he's too expensive. Who out there could we get with some pop? Then Bochy could bring in Torres and Blanco late for defense. A slugger in left field is the biggest hole on this team. Can you see them acquiring a left fielder through trade or free agency? Because I don't see the Blanco-Torres experience working all year.
-- James F., San Jose, Calif.
The Inbox is on record as saying that the Giants are courting trouble by not making a significant offensive upgrade where it's feasible. James is correct; Swisher would be an ideal acquisition because his presence wouldn't block Belt's development. Perhaps later in the offseason, when clubs have more leverage and salary demands likely will drop for free agents remaining available, the Giants could re-examine the market for a Scott Hairston, Austin Kearns or even Lance Berkman.
While I always believe in the Giants, during the 2012 season I lost my confidence a couple of times. Do you have a explanation why the players does not constantly perform their best?
-- Nick L., Daly City, Calif.
The explanation is simple. Constant efficiency, much less perfection, is impossible to maintain in baseball. Major Leaguers play nearly 200 games per year, counting exhibitions. Slumps are inevitable over such a long haul. A hitter isn't always going to swing with his best timing; a pitcher's arm won't feel fresh each time he goes to the mound. Moreover, baseball's mental challenge is daunting.
You think you lose confidence, Nick? Doubt plagues even some of the best big leaguers from time to time. It's widely agreed that hitting a baseball is the single most difficult act to perform in sports. Preventing hitting is almost as hard. That's why scouts and executives place so much emphasis on a player's "makeup" -- his attitude and outlook. Players must possess the mental strength to deal with falling short of their best on many days and the ability to adjust accordingly.