Was last year an aberration or do you think Pablo Sandoval is trending downward? What should we expect from him in 2014?
-- Matt R., Benicia, Calif.
Anybody should wonder why Sandoval, 27, hasn't built upon seasons such as 2011, when he raised his batting average 47 points to finish at .315, or performances such as his three-homer game in the 2012 World Series opener. The fact remains that though Sandoval has improved his plate discipline, he's still a work in progress. Moreover, his fluctuating weight and vulnerability to nagging injuries have prevented him from establishing consistency. Thus, Sandoval defies trends. Anything can happen with him next year. I'd bet that he'll put up impressive 2014 numbers, since his three-year, $17.15 million deal is expiring and, according to social media, he appears to be improving his physical condition. Sandoval's unfulfilled promise explains the trade rumors involving him. But his tantalizing all-around game and contract status suggest the Giants will hold onto him in the belief that his impending free agency will motivate him to excel.
Do you think Brett Pill fits into the Giants' 2014 plans at all? When he was recalled at the end of July, he was 7-for-13 with four RBIs, a home run and only two strikeouts in three games. Mike Krukow pointed out that Pill had not been given an opportunity to stay in the lineup for a while to prove himself, but that he would this time. That didn't happen, and his reward for hot hitting and power on a team starved for both was a return to the bench, again! Granted, Brandon Belt was greatly improved, particularly over the season's second half. But it don't understand why Pill's Triple-A [stats] haven't gotten him a legitimate look.
-- Bob C., Chico, Calif.
Pill certainly fits into the Giants' plans, if only because he has nothing to prove at Triple-A. I don't think he necessarily should rob playing time from Belt, whose progress this year was indeed encouraging. But Pill never has received an extended opportunity to demonstrate his skills. After that aforementioned 7-for-13 binge, the Giants kept using Jeff Francoeur in left field for nearly three more weeks before releasing him. Francoeur was one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but the 63 plate appearances he received as a Giant should have been Pill's. Given the club's fall from contention by that point, allocating more activity to Pill would have been more constructive. He might get shunted aside again if the Giants obtain a proven hitter to play left field, which is among their offseason priorities.
How much more time will the Giants give Gary Brown to develop before they lose patience? Or has that already started?
-- Herb H., Mesa, Ariz.
Count on the Giants giving Brown at least two more seasons before they consider cutting ties with him. At that point, Brown will have spent six years in professional baseball, making him eligible for Minor League free agency. In defense of Brown, the club's No. 1 selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, concrete timetables for a prospect's development don't exist. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for Brown, 25, to accelerate his improvement. But he must halt some daunting trends. Since batting .336 with High Class A San Jose in 2011, Brown finished at .279 at Double-A Richmond the following year and .231 at Triple-A Fresno last season. Alarmingly, Brown hit just .221 off right-handers last year. At least he knows which problems he must solve.
If the Giants are willing to squander another $35 million on a has-been starter like Tim Lincecum, why wouldn't they just keep everybody else that was with this club last spring?! Go ahead -- keep Ryan Vogelsong. Keep Gregor Blanco. Who cares if they produce or not? It is astonishing how management will bash their collective heads against the wall to keep mediocrity or worse! Frustrating!
-- David W., Carmichael, Calif.
Remember, general manager Brian Sabean is on record as saying that the "window is closed" upon the nucleus of personnel from the last few seasons. Adding free-agent right-hander Tim Hudson to the starting rotation was the first major roster change. If Sabean is a man of his word, as he has proven to be during his 17-year tenure as GM, he'll make more upgrades before players report for Spring Training. Until then, David, I'd like you to meet Oscar (see below).
Brian Sabean, with small-bankroll players, does a very good job. The Giants have a good ballclub! Just staying healthy is the key. The hangover is gone! Time for another championship!
-- Oscar G., Bay Point, Calif.
Yes, Virginia, there really are eternal optimists.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.