Restoring the rosters: No. 15 – San Francisco

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
No. 21 – Tampa Bay
No. 20 – New York (NL)
No. 19 – Houston
No. 18 – Oakland
No. 17 – St. Louis
No. 16 – Florida
The Giants’ legendary inability to develop hitters under GM Brian Sabean doesn’t keep the team from cracking the top half of the rankings, if only barely.
Rotation
Tim Lincecum
Matt Cain
Francisco Liriano
Jonathan Sanchez
Noah Lowry
Bullpen
Joe Nathan
Brian Wilson
David Aardsma
Scott Linebrink
Carlos Villanueva
Bobby Howry
Jeremy Accardo
It’s hard to beat that one-two punch, and I still have high hopes for Liriano going forward. I’m not sure Lowry is the right choice to round out the rotation, as he may never make it back after two lost seasons. He can be replaced by Shairon Martis, but it’s nearly moot, as Madison Bumgarner, arguably the top pitching prospect in the minors, will claim the spot soon enough.
The bullpen possesses perhaps baseball’s best closer, two more ninth-inning guys and plenty of other setup options. Jason Grilli was next in line for a spot, but the rotation is good enough that the team should be able to go without a long reliever. Sergio Romo was also considered. It’s a couple of years too late for Keith Foulke.
Lineup
CF Fred Lewis
C Buster Posey
RF Nate Schierholtz
1B Pablo Sandoval
LF John Bowker
3B Pedro Feliz
2B Kevin Frandsen
SS Emmanuel Burriss
Bench
OF Todd Linden
C Yorvit Torrealba
INF Brian Buscher
INF Cody Ransom
1B Travis Ishikawa
The scary thing is that this qualifies as huge progress. Three years ago, this would have been an absolutely horrible list populated by Feliz, Torrealba and a bunch of fringe bench players, like Jason Ellison, Lance Niekro and Dan Ortmeier. Feliz and Rich Aurilia were the only legitimate regulars produced during the late 90s and the first half of the aughts, and Aurilia actually spent three years in the Texas farm system before joining the Giants. Even worse, it sure appears as though what did develop did so more as a result of steroid use than from any actual instruction in the San Francisco system.
The lineup above isn’t embarrassing any longer. Sandoval has played like an All-Star this year, and I think Schierholtz and Bowker are both capable of some 800 OPS seasons in the majors. Producing offense at the bottom of the order will be a major problem, but at least the infield defense should be strong.
As for Posey, well, that might be something of a reach at this point. I considered sticking Sandoval back behind the plate and going with Ishikawa at first base, but the Giants are going to need Sandoval’s bat in the lineup at all times. If Posey isn’t quite ready to cut it yet, then Torrealba could start, with Steve Holm as the backup.
Summary
The Giants have improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years, and they might be even higher in the rankings if they didn’t blow their 2004 and ’05 first-rounders to sign free agents. With injuries taking a toll on some quality arms, the Giants went the entire 1990s without getting a quality return on a first-rounder. However, they’ve been scoring big since with Lincecum, Cain and now Bumgarner and Posey. They should move up further when these lists are revisited in a couple of years.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.