Brian Sabean has been lampooned in the past for a wide array of his transactions. This offseason, however, he has done a very decent job in terms of bringing in the right personnel. Josh Phelps joined the team in order to platoon at first base with Travis Ishikawa. Then, Sabes inked Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry to fill out the bullpen. Edgar Renteria, coming off of a down year bound to regress, signed to replace Omar Vizquel. And, most recently, Sabean brought Randy Johnson to the rotation, finishing up quite the formidable pitching staff.
This all leads to one of the hottest topics on the inter-webs these days: can the Giants contend in 2009?
The simple answer is a yes given the context of the division. The Padres are in full rebuilding mode. The Diamondbacks have lost three key pieces in Orlando Hudson, Randy Johnson, and Adam Dunn. The Rockies traded away Matt Holliday and have been actively shopping Garrett Atkins. Even with a healthy Troy Tulowitzki, the Coors Gang is not all that threatening.
Lastly, even though the Dodgers will likely bring back Manny Ramirez, they will be losing ace Derek Lowe and relying on Jason Schmidt to help fill the void. The Dodgers will be the team to beat in the division, but they might not be as scary as some would think.
With this in mind, it seems that ~85 wins could net the division title for any of these teams. Do the Giants have what it takes to reach that threshold?
Their starting rotation, as mentioned above, is extremely stellar. R.J. called it potentially the best in the National League. Though this seemed like a stretch to many commenters, the projections for Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito, range from +1.4 to +5.4 wins. Summed together, this quintet projects to be worth about +15 wins next season.
Affeldt and Howry joined a bullpen featuring the likes of Brian Wilson, Keichii Yabu, Billy Sadler, and Merkin Valdez among others. All of these relievers add up to around +3 wins. Considering that a team full of replacement players would win 50 games, before even venturing into the lineup, the Giants are up to 68 wins.
The lineup, however, is widely considered to be their achilles heel, as they do not really possess any terrific hitting talent. Phelps/Ishikawa look to platoon at first base. The projections for these two do not really tell the whole story, as they will be facing only opposite-handed pitchers. Ishi’s minor league equivalency is not all that sunny, either. These two combine to be about a league average hitter playing -5 run defense. This results in approximately +0.3 wins.
At the keystone corner, Emmanuel Burriss will apparently be logging most of the playing time. With only one year of data, we do not know all that much about Burriss. He appears to be a bit above average in the field while lacking any true offensive prowess. With adjustments for his position and production relative to the replacement level, not average, Burriss could range anywhere from +1.2 to +1.5 wins.
Renteria is a very interesting case, due to his disappointing 2008 campaign. Shifting back to the senior circuit should help his cause, and one would figure he could not perform any worse than he did last season, anyway. I’m calling Edgar a +2-run hitter and +1-run fielder for next season. After adjustments are thrown in for playing time and position, this amounts to +2.8 wins.
Pablo Sandoval will man the hot corner next season. A top-tiered prospect if there ever was one, Sandoval has all the tools to become a household name next season. Weighting his projections gives us a +7-run hitter and +1-run fielder, pitting Pablo at +2.5 wins. All told, this gives the Giants +6.8 wins in the infield. Solid production out of Burriss could bump that up to +7 wins very easily. And, if not from Burriss, a more optimistic projection for Sandoval could do the very same trick.
In the outfield, the Giants will bring back Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand, and Randy Winn. Winn, one of the most underrated players in the game, has a +2.9 win projection next season, which actually leads all offensive players on the team.
After moving to the bay, Rowand struggled both offensively and defensively in 2008, in no way earning his $12 mil average annual value. Prior to last season, Rowand had posted +14, +3, and +8 marks in UZR, and +0, -6, +25 offensive runs respectively. In 2008, he produced like a league average hitter while costing the team -12 runs relative to an average centerfielder. Assuming both of these marks regress a bit, Rowand’s worth will be somewhere in the +2.3 win range.
Last, but not least, Fred Lewis combines some good pop with slick fielding. His 2009 projections call for +4 runs offensively and +5 with the glove. Playing a corner outfield position hurts his value, but overall, Lewis looks to be a +2 win player. These three combine to be worth +7.2 wins. Summing the infield and outfield results in +14 wins. Add Bengie Molina’s +2.3 win projection and we have +16.3 wins for the Giants offense.
The 2009 Giants will be getting approximately 18 wins out of their entire pitching staff and 16.3 wins out of their lineup. If we round that up to +17 for bench contribution or as “insurance” if certain players vastly outperform their projections, we are looking at an 85-win team.
Some of these projections may be a bit too optimistic for their owners, but the Giants appear to be talented enough to win anywhere from 78-85 games next season. Even a 78-win team could jump up to 85 wins a decent portion of the time, meaning that the Giants are in no way locks to win the NL West, but are definitely capable of contending next season.
If Sandoval really pulls his weight, Renteria shows that last season was a fluke, the bullpen holds fort, and the rotation meets their projections, there is no reason this team could not win the division. In the playoffs, we then are looking at a Lincecum-Cain-Unit rotation that could definitely scare some teams. A few key aspects of player performance will need to come to fruition for the team to surpass 80-wins, but it is not out of the realm of feasibility.
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