Pivotal spring lies ahead for Giants: Part 2
We mentioned the outfield and the inability to find an everyday, sure fire answer there. I knew getting a starting left fielder in the winter was going to be a long shot (their best bet, if they find they Mac/Parker aren't the answers would be an in-season trade), but really solidifying this bullpen from top to bottom was something I think could have been given more attention to. Now, not saying the pen as is should be considered bad by any stretch and with a legit closer now, they're much better than they were a year ago on that fact alone. However, going back in line of what I was saying about left field; for a team with aspirations like the Giants should have, I feel like they could have added more than just their new closer. Where else do you see this team upgrading at from last year? They lost their ace RH set-up man Sergio Romo, ace LH set-up man Javier Lopez (although Romo had a nice drop-off in '16 and Lopez's career seems to have ran it's course). And let's not forgot how they never signed a replacement for ever important Jeremy Affeldt after 2015. That caused them to part with an arm and a leg to get mid left-handed reliever, Will Smith, who was no Affeldt in his two months here. He, however, should rebound and I do I have high expectations for Smith in 2017.
All in all, it was a very quiet winter on the Giants front aside from the much needed Melancon signing. They did complete a few, under-the-radar minor league signings/spring invitees, including some that may end up helping the big squad as they need it. My favorite of those was the addition of Nick Hundley for various reasons. I like Trevor Brown and he could end up being a major key in the future or a trade chip, but Hundley brings a veteran presence that should allow Bochy the freedom to move Posey out from behind the plate comfortably, on a more consistent basis. Buster's entering his age 30 season and although that's still pretty much right in his prime, he is a catcher and those guys tend to age a little quicker than first basemen.
The Giants also brought back Michael Morse, the team's starting left fielder for the 2014 championship squad, the last season the Giants brought home a ring. Morse has gotten a little older and much more banged up but it should be fun to see what he does when Cactus League kicks off here. Bay Area native Jimmy Rollins also got an invite, and he too could work his way onto the Giants opening day roster with a hot spring and ability to play shortstop. Then, for good measure, they added yet another name into the infield mix last weekend, bringing in Aaron Hill. It wouldn't surprise me if both Rollins and Hill were the two backup infielders come April but don't forgot about Tomlinson and SF's 2016 postseason Mr. Clutch, Connor Gillespie. They also added reliever David Hernandez on a minor league deal over the weekend in another no-risk, potential reward type deal. Teams were looking at Hernandez last trade deadline, including the Giants, and now they get him on a minor league deal. He had one of his better years last year in terms of strikeout rate and ERA, and garnered interest at the deadline from contending teams (including SF) but his big issue is allowing too many base-runners (1.5 WHIP in '16). He's got good stuff, but he's gotta get ahead of hitters and put them away quicker.
As for the outfield reserves, the Giants don't have nearly the options as they do in their infield. Your likely looking at whoever isn't starting between Parker and Williamson (assuming one of those guys wins the job) as the 4th guy, then the speedy center field prowler, Gorkys Hernandez as the fifth outfielder (another area I feel they could have really upgraded). The concern about that projected OF bench is the lack of proven guys with a track record of succeeding at this level. I mean Parker/Williamson have shown glimpses of being legit players, but neither to the point where they're getting annointed the LF job, much like Panik did at second a few years back and Matt Duffy did at third in 2015.
Then, as far as the outfield depth, when you consider Denard Span and/or Hunter Pence are not likely to make it through the 6-month marathon without at least one or both hitting the shelf for an extended period of time which means a guy like Hernandez all the sudden finds himself starting for 3-4 weeks. That's the area which has really hurt, even in their championship years. Luckily for them they had the likes of Travis Ishikawa, Cody Ross and Gregor Blanco come through and surpass everyone's expectations or else they may not win those three championships, but obviously they can't be counting on that happening every time and need legit plan B's and even C's in some cases.
For example, Chris Carter, big slugger formerly with Houston and just inked with the Yankees 3 days ago, isn't really an everyday player unless he's in the midst of a hot streak, but he brings a lot of attributes in his game and can hit 40 home runs in 400 at-bats. He's just one of the guys who lingered on in free agency and I think he's a good clubhouse guy and would have been well worth a roll of the dice. I don't get why the Giants didn't at least kick the tires on him? Carter gets on base over 35 percent of the time despite having an average down in the lower-.200's. He's a guy I was low key hoping for just to fill that Pat Burell role because dude has way more pop than Burell and is actually in his prime rather than on his way out like "Pat the Bat" was in that 2010 season. Bobby Evans brought in a little bit of depth in the form of Justin Ruggiano and Morse but I just feel like better upgrades could have been made in terms of adding depth.
I really think Hundley is the only guy "guaranteed" a spot on the 2017 bench before any Cactus League play has begun, and for a team with the Giants' expectations, you wanna come into camp with maybe a couple of non-crucial roster spots up for grabs. Not the fifth starter spot, the whole bullpen alignment around Melancon, the starting left field spot and pretty much the entire bench, sans Hundley and probably Tomlinson (who's a Bochy favorite). Parker, Tomlinson, Hernandez, Rollins and Hundley would be my guess for the five man bench the Giants would roll with if the season started tomorrow, but does that bunch really inspire you? I feel like they could have upgraded over Hernandez and could have found a younger, more versatile version of Rollins, but who knows?
The 2017 San Francisco Giants are lining up to look almost identical to the 2016 Giants, minus Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javy Lopez and add Mark Melancon and Nick Hundley. The organization gave only two guaranteed contracts to outside players (Melancon and Hundley), so what that tells me is the Giants' brass is completely confident in the squad they have in tow or they're very confident in their ability to go out and trade for whatever position(s) they may need after spring training.
Extras: As I'm sure your all well aware of, Cactus League play kicks off Friday (tomorrow), as the Giants open up in Glendale vs. the Reds. MadBum will take the hill in the opener and then I believe Bochy mentioned Matt Cain as the Giants starter for game 2. Speaking of Cainer, I don't think there's a Giant who will have more eyes on him this spring than Matt Cain. He's in the final year of his huge deal and probably his last season in a Giants uniform (barring some drastic turnaround of comeback player of the year proportions) but I don't think the Giants are asking too much out of him. He'll be facing other team's fifth guys too, and as long as he can give them 5-6 innings consistently without giving up more than 3 runs, then he should be just fine. Cain's performance, along with how the bullpen shakes out and who takes over in left will be the area's I'll be focusing mostly on as Cactus League play kicks off tomorrow.
Now, I'm not as high on this team heading into spring as I've been the past few seasons. I really liked the 2012 squad and had a good feeling about the 2014 team heading in, but this one feels more like the '13, '15 and '16 teams; right on the brink but just not quite there. But hey, that's why they play the games. Maybe Mac goes on to hit .300 with 20 jacks, the bullpen falls into, Eduardo Nunez is more the player he was with the Twins in 2016 than with the Giants and finally, most importantly, they keep their core 12-14 guys (Pence, Posey, BCraw, Belt, Span, Nunez, Bum, Cueto, Moore, Samardzija, Melancon, Law and Smith) off the disabled list.