STARTING ROTATION (Kirk Rueter, Jason Schmidt, Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and Ryan Jensen)
The Giants upgraded their rotation by trading away Livan Hernandez and more than adequately replacing him with rookie Kurt Ainsworth. They have also added another southpaw in the form of Damian Moss. Lefties are always a nice commodity to have, even more so for the Giants since they are in the NL West which is loaded with power lefty hitters like Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green, and Todd Helton.
STARTING INFIELD (Rich Aurilia, Edgardo Alfonzo, Ray Durham, Benito Santiago, J.T. Snow)
David Bell and Jeff Kent were replaced with Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham, respectively. Alfonzo will be batting 5th, behind Barry Bonds, and Durham will lead off. Defensively, Alfonzo is an upgrade over Bell, and Durham and Kent are basically a wash, though Durham may be just a bit better. Though Snow may be lacking at the plate, he is a 6-time Gold Glove winner.
STARTING OUTFIELD (Barry Bonds, Jose Cruz, Jr., Marquis Grissom)
The outfield is vastly improved from last year’s Bonds-Shinjo/Lofton-Sanders squad. At 28, Cruz already has had 1 30-30 season, and if healthy, should be able to reach that plateau again. Grissom, a 14-year ML vet, is a 2-time All-Star and a 4-time Gold Glove winner. Barry… well he’ll be Barry. Expect him to be pitched to even fewer times than last year. He may break the walk record for the third year in a row.
BULLPEN (Jim Brower, Scott Eyre, Joe Nathan, Felix Rodriguez, Tim Worrell, Chad Zerbe)
The Giants have always boasted one of the best bullpens in the league, and this year is no different. Though Zerbe had a rocky spring, he and Eyre are generally consistent and should be able to negate all the lefties in the division. As mentioned before, lefties are good to have. One will have to be moved once Jason Christiansen makes his return. Robb Nen will be starting the year on the 15-Day DL, so Tim Worrell and Felix Rodriguez will have to step up. Last year, Tim Worrell took over the set-up role when Felix Rodriguez couldn’t cut it. Rodriguez has finally added a pitch to accompany his fastball, so look for an improvement there.
BENCH (Marvin Benard, Pedro Feliz, Andres Galarraga, Neifi Perez, Ruben Rivera, Yorvit Torrealba)
Looks like the Giants got the bench they needed one year too late. If there was one glaring weakness the 2002 San Francisco Giants had, it was the bench – they didn’t have one. This year’s bench has a lot of diversity. Benard does well in either corner outfield positions (don’t even think about putting him in center) and Rivera can cover all three, if need be. Galarraga can spot start at first and come off the bench as a power threat. Perez can do well at either middle infield position and decently at third. Pedro Feliz (now two years older) is this year’s utility man. He can play the infield, outfield, and is this year’s emergency catcher. Torrealba will backup Benito Santiago. Should Santiago have a bad start, Torrealba could start in his place. All six bench players had amazing springs, giving the Giants the depth they need.
Baserunning - THERE WILL BE MORE! When asked, Rich Aurilia said he might have around 5 stolen bags this year. Well folks, we all know Aurilia isn’t the speediest guys around. Felipe Alou’s style differs immensely from Dusty Baker’s. There will be no more waiting for the three-run homer. No. Instead, this team will manufacture runs. Expect a lot of hit-and-running, base stealing, and bunting. There may be more suicide/safety squeezes in one month than Giants fans have seen in the past ten years. Also, Benard’s stealing home in the Saturday exhibition game against the A’s may be a hint that we may also see that in the regular season.
Ray Durham – The Giants finally have a leadoff hitter who can set the table for the big sticks or even give the Giants a quick 1-0 lead. Durham can get on base, bunt, steal a bag, and even hit for a little power.
Performance = Playing Time – Ainsworth had an amazing spring. Livan Hernandez did not. Many fans feared that Hernandez would make the team over Ainsworth - despite the fact Ainsworth obviously outpitched him - based on his contractual status. However, Giants were willing to trade away Hernandez with $3.2 million in cash in order to put out the best starting rotation they could. This is a great message to send out to the young guys on the bubble and veterans in the starting lineup alike. If Dusty had one flaw, it was his inability to trust the rookie accompanied with his strong loyalty to his players.
Depth in the Minors – It’s reassuring to know that if one of the players gets injured (knock on wood) there’s someone to take his slot. This year’s rotation looks a little rocky, and should one falter, prospect Jesse Foppert is only a phone call away. Jason Ellison, who also showed promise during Spring Training, or Tony Torcato could come up to replace an injured outfielder. Infielders Damon Minor and Cody Ransom are also available if absolutely necessary.
No Ace – The Giants rotation lacks only one thing: a true ace that can be counted on for a dominant performance. Though prospect Jesse Foppert looks like he could be that guy, he’s still at least a year or two off from reaching that peak. However, the Giants do have a bunch of solid #2 and #3 guys, which helps during the regular season, but is an Achilles’ heel during the playoffs.
Lack of Experience – While experience may be overrated, it is a bit of concern when looking at the starting rotation. Ainsworth is a rookie, and Moss and Jensen are entering their second years. Whether they go through the dreaded “sophomore slump” is yet to be seen. Neither pitcher had a very impressive spring.
MOST LIKELY TO HAVE AN OFF YEAR:
Benito Santiago – Last year, Santiago was the “Iron Man” and a major key down the stretch and in the playoffs last year. However, he is another year older, so a slight drop-off in production should be expected.
MOST LIKELY TO BOUNCE BACK:
Rich Aurilia – After an injury-plagued year in 2002, Aurilia looks go come back and try to duplicate his 2001 numbers, the year he became an All-Star for the first time. Aurilia is now fully healed and had a spectacular spring. Batting in front of Bonds doesn’t hurt either. The shortstop is also in his contract year, so he may try even harder to put up big numbers for a big contract.
KEYS TO THE YEAR:
Stan Conte, Head Trainer – The Giants need to stay healthy this year if they want to make a good run for it. Robb Nen is coming off of arthroscopic shoulder surgery and might not be all there the first few weeks. Santiago and Bonds, two extremely key assets to this team are also another year older. Jason Schmidt has had a history of being injury prone as well. In years past, Conte has done a good job of keeping the team healthy, and hopefully that trend will continue.
Edgardo Alfonzo – The man who will bat behind Barry Bonds. If Alfonso can hit this year the same way he did last year with runners in scoring position, Alfonso could easily have over 120 RBI. Fans hope that Alfonzo’s production will force pitchers to challenge Bonds more often, though this is probably just a pipedream.
Bullpen – The bullpen really has to step up this year. The Giants lost both Russ Ortiz and Livan Hernandez who both pitched over 200 innings last year. Rueter, though reliable for at least 15 wins, rarely goes too deep in a game. Jensen can be unpredictable and often runs his pitch count high. Ainsworth is a rookie and has never pitched more than 158 innings in his minor league career. The bullpen will have to work far more innings than they did last year.
The Giants have the pieces to make it all the way again. They just need to come together. The Arizona Diamondbacks did not make too many positive changes (added Elmer Dessens, traded away Elrubio Durazo, and converted Byung-Hung Kim to a starter) and remember to add the age factor to their two-headed monster. The Los Angeles Dodgers are counting on pitchers Kevin Brown and Darren Driefort, two pitchers coming off injury, to lead the way. The Colorado Rockies did not improve, and the San Diego Padres are injury-plagued. It looks like it may be a three-way race between the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers again.