Giants look to continue even-year trend in 2016
Club ready to rebound, aiming for another World Series title
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants fully intend to maintain their most conspicuous habit: Winning World Series in even-numbered years, as they did in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
The club appears poised to rebound in 2016, particularly after a year in which it remained in contention for the division title until the season's final week despite injuries to numerous key players.
San Francisco already knows what it needs to return to the postseason. The Giants must reach into the grab bag of free-agent starting pitchers and find one, or even two, to bolster the rotation. Madison Bumgarner was San Francisco's only starter to last from start to finish in 2015 as injuries and ineffectiveness eroded the rest of the staff.
The Giants should have the financial wherewithal to add pitching, which is an ever-expensive commodity. The expired contracts of Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Jeremy Affeldt, Marco Scutaro and Ryan Vogelsong will lop more than $46 million off the Giants' payroll and should give them some economic flexibility. The open market will be stocked with pitchers who are likely to intrigue the Giants, including David Price, Zack Greinke (if he opts out of his current deal), Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Mat Latos.
The various ailments that spoiled 2015 for many Giants had one positive side effect -- the Giants saw some of their top Minor Leaguers perform in big league conditions as they were pressed into service as replacements. Thus, the Giants know much more about the likes of infielder Kelby Tomlinson and outfielder Jarrett Parker than they otherwise might.
"They didn't seem intimidated," catcher Buster Posey said of the younger Giants. "Hopefully that bodes well for them in the future."
Arbitration-eligibles: First baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford, catcher Hector Sanchez, right-handers Yusmeiro Petit, Cory Gearrin and George Kontos.
Free agents: Right-handers Lincecum, Vogelsong, Hudson and Mike Leake, lefties Affeldt, outfielder Alejandro De Aza.
Rotation: It's a time of transition for the Giants, who, depending on the year, previously rested hopes either partially or primarily on Lincecum and Matt Cain. They can no longer count on an All-Star-level effort from Cain, whose pitches have lacked precious late movement, and though they're likely to re-sign Lincecum, there are no guarantees that he'll even approach his successful form after undergoing hip surgery. The Giants absolutely must obtain at least a second-tier free-agent starter or preferably a more accomplished one. They missed out on signing free agents such as Jon Lester and James Shields last offseason, but they can't afford to whiff again this time around.
Bullpen: Change is in the air in this area, too. The "Core Four" looks to be broken up as Affeldt plans to retire. However, rookies Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich and Mike Broadway appear ready to vault themselves into big league roles. Closer Santiago Casilla is coming off his most prolific season, Sergio Romo was effective much more often than not, and Kontos thrived while experiencing his first full Major League season.
Catcher: Posey's the man, of course -- unless the Giants decide to make him the man at first base, where he played increasingly toward the end of the season. That was necessitated by Belt's season-ending concussion. But with Sanchez, Trevor Brown and Andrew Susac, who's recovering from wrist surgery, the Giants have plenty of backup candidates available in case they try to move Posey full-time to first.
First base: Even if Posey switches to first, the Giants will still have a place for Belt, probably in left field. Belt hit a career-high 18 homers, but that just whetted the Giants' appetite to get more production from him.
Second base: The Giants genuinely believe that Joe Panik's back inflammation will not be chronic. However, common sense dictates that something's wrong when a 24-year-old experiences this kind of ailment. The Giants missed Panik's all-around excellence, which resulted in his selection to his first All-Star team. Tomlinson filled in more than capably after Panik was sidelined, though he might fit in better as a super-utility player in the long run.
Shortstop: Crawford continues to improve, leading the team in home runs while playing oft-spectacular defense. Don't be surprised if he and the Giants begin discussing a multiyear contract. While Crawford managed to avoid the disabled list, he missed important stretches of late-season games with a strained left oblique. Ehire Adrianza, whose fielding has long impressed the Giants, replaced Crawford and ultimately joined the sizable list of concussion-stricken players.
Third base: Matt Duffy gave every indication of remaining the Giants' top third baseman for a long time. Besides possessing considerable innate talent, the National League Rookie of the Year candidate demonstrated intelligence that was evident in each of his plate appearances. That is, he was smart enough to maintain a simple approach and not overthink his encounters against pitchers. This was Duffy's first full Major League season; just think how good he could be with a little more experience.
Outfield: San Francisco's top priority in this realm is regaining a healthy Hunter Pence, who went on the disabled list three times and was limited to just 52 games. A true leader on and off the field, Pence helps the team just by showing up every day, but of course he's most valuable when he's batting in the middle of the order and protecting Posey. The Giants would also welcome full seasons from center fielder Angel Pagan, who's entering the final year of his contract; Nori Aoki, whose option the Giants are likely to pick up; and Gregor Blanco, who batted a career-high .291. August acquisition Marlon Byrd's $8 million option vested, so he's likely to stick around, and Parker impressed observers with his September slugging.