The infield took a big hit with the departure of third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox. Much speculation surrounded who would replace the Kung Fu Panda at the hot corner for the champs. Chase Headley was a rumor for a while. Will Middlebrooks in a trading places but not for each other scenario also was bantered about. Even moving All-Star catcher Buster Posey was rumored to move to third, although that one was quickly shot down by GM Brian Sabean. San Fran eventually settled on Miami's Casey McGehee, whom they sent two minor leaguers to South Beach to acquire. McGehee's power is all but gone and his lack of quickness will make even the departed Sandoval look like Usain Bolt. The thing that McGehee still does very well is drive in runs. He was able to knock in 76 runs last year in Miami with just 4 home runs to speak of. That is three more RBI than Sandoval with 12 less dingers. Brandon Belt returns at first base. Belt's job was safe even after an injury riddled 2014 because his potential replacement, Travis Ishikawa, was just as hurt in 2014 and will start 2015 on the disabled list. Belt may still develop a bit more power than he's shown in his four years in the Bay Area, but he'll probably max out as a .270, 20 HR guy. Joe Panik will start his first full season at second base. He hit .305/.343/.368 in 73 games last year and finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He may not be much but he's light years better than the cavalcade of uselessness the Giants trotted out at second before his call-up last season. That list includes the corpse of Marco Scutaro, Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza, and the baseball player formerly known as Dan Uggla. Joining Panik up the middle is shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford tied for second in the NL in triples last year. In terms of regular season statistics, that is pretty much all I got for you. In the playoffs though, he hit the grand slam that opened the floodgates in the NL Wild Card game. He also knocked in three runs in Game 5 of the World Series. 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey will catch. Aside from his catching responsibilities, Posey has been able to stay in the lineup more these past few years by platooning at first. The Giants would rather have him behind the plates most nights because backup Hector Sanchez is quite lousy. It'll be interesting to see if Posey makes a permanent move to first when top hitting prospect Andrew Susac is ready to rock.
The outfield wasn't that great to begin with but takes a substantial blow with the injury to Hunter Pence. Pence broke his forearm and will start the season on the disabled list. Taking his place in right field is Gregor Blanco. Blanco saw the majority of his time last year in center filling in for Angel Pagan and in left for Michael Morse. The Venezuelan should be adequate until Pence's return. He'll steal bases (an average of 19 a year in SF) but not much else. Center field will see the full time (hopefully) return of Angel Pagan. Pagan has been hampered by injuries the past two years. Management and fans alike are hoping that supposed 100% health will produce the results of his first season in sunny NorCal when he hit 38 doubles, an MLB-best 15 triples, and stole 29 bases. You know what, after two basically lost seasons, they'd probably take even half of that. Left field sees a new face in Nori Aoki from Kansas City, the team San Francisco bested in last year's World Series. Aoki just adds to the speed potential in the outfield but At&T Park is only going to further expedite his decline in power, which wasn't much to begin with.
The starting rotation, which was once an overwhelming strength, has now become Madison Bumgarner and his travelling band. Bumgarner positioned himself firmly as the team's ace going 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.09 WHIP (including 4 home runs as a hitter) in 217 innings. He cemented himself in playoff lore with a remarkable postseason, capping it off with a shutout in Game 5 of the World Series and a five inning save in Game 7 on just three days rest. Manager Bruce Bochy will have to get creative to limit his workload this year so that his money maker can potentially replicate that magic in 2015. Bochy need only look to #2 starter Matt Cain for proof of what can happen if he doesn't. Cain was limited to just 15 starts last year and was grossly ineffective in most of them. He seemed to have lost confidence in his fastball and he posted his second consecutive 4.00+ ERA season. He'll be hoping that his mid-season shutdown and September ankle surgery will help right the wrongs and return him to the upper crust of National League pitchers. While Cain is looking to bounce back, Tim Hudson is looking for a nice ride off into the sunset. The 39 year old Hudson has made it known that he's pretty sure he'll retire after this upcoming season. Huddy has had quite the career with 2014 marking the eighth straight year he's been under 4.00 in ERA. He ran out of gas in Game 7 of the World Series, but as stated before, that Bumgarner guy bailed him out. If nothing else, Hudson will provide the younger pitchers who could come up this year such as Kyle Crick or Adalberto Mejia an example of how to do things right. The rest of the rotation will probably be on a rotation for most parts of 2015. Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Yusmeiro Petit are all interchangeable at this stage of their careers. The depth will allow Bochy to use the hot hands and have reliable long relief with the others.
The bullpen is unheralded but once again very deep. Santiago Casilla will return as the team's closer after unseating Sergio Romo from the role in 2014. Casilla isn't a flamethrower in the ninth but he record 19 saves last year and keeps the ball down. It is much harder to score when a closer doesn't walk people often (15 in 58 1/3 innings) or give up home runs (3 allowed). Romo walks even fewer (12 in 58 innings) but was susceptible to the long ball (9 allowed). Jean Machi will reprise his role in the seventh and eighth innings. Machi spent several months with an ERA under 1.00 but still ended at a respectable 2.58. Like Casilla, he is another guy that lets his defense do a lot of the work for him. From the left side, crafty veterans Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez are still around. If things go well, they'll have Steven Okert and his 97 MPH fastball join them as soon as May.
If you gave a non-baseball fan the Giants roster, they may be able to pick out one or two players. A casual baseball fan would tell you they should more than likely stink with their current roster construction. As a Dodgers fan, I would hope that one of these years they finally will. It just isn't the case. Since their recent run began, Bruce Bochy has done great at putting together the puzzle with even the most oblong of pieces. The Giants needed a Brewers' meltdown last year to sneak in and then Madison Bumgarner did the rest. They'll somehow run into some fortune of that ilk again this year and make the playoffs. There they will meet a Cardinals team looking for some retribution. The Cardinals will get that because well the Giants don't win World Series in odd years.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #14 (UP 7)
PREDICTED RECORD: 89-73
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Madison Bumgarner (starting pitcher), Buster Posey (catcher)
Trevor Utley has hated writing this preview both years so far. Having to be impartial when it comes to San Francisco is very difficult.
Image Credit: Giants logo (sportslogos.net)