Springtime Storylines: Are the San Francisco Giants going to give Brandon Belt a chance?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the San Francisco Giants

The Big Question: Are they going to give Brandon Belt a chance?

One would think that a team that (a) is severely age and offensively challenged; and (b) has a young hitter who has tore the cover off the ball in the minors and has at least held his own against major league pitching despite being jerked around would; (c) give that kid an everyday job and not think twice about it. But the Giants aren’t just any team, and even now, in the last week of spring training, it appears as if the Giants are prepared to continue to jerk Brandon Belt around. There’s been talk of optioning him to Fresno.

In front of Belt at first base is the late Aubrey Huff, in the second year of a regrettable two-year deal he was given by Brian Sabean. He hit .246/.306/.370 last year. If it’s not him, it could be Brett Pill, who also had a nice season in triple-A, but who is four years older than Belt. Slated for right field, it appears, is Nate Schierholtz. Or maybe Gregor Blanco.  It’s all so murky right now.

Why the Giants seem content to let it all continue to play out and to play Belt if a position reveals itself for him — as opposed to putting their most promising young hitter in a position and working the other, lesser players around him — is frustrating as hell.  For a team that has had as much trouble developing hitting prospects as they have had, why they mess with Belt is a mystery. Maybe it’s been so long since they’ve had a hitting prospect that they just don’t know what to do with one now that they do.

What else is going on?

  • Whether Belt is a part of it or not, there is a new outfield in San Francisco, with Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan entering the mix. Pagan is probably an upgrade for San Francisco but wouldn’t be most other places. Cabrera had a nice year last year, but it was quite an outlier for him. If the outfield is going to be a plus for this team, that will have to be the new normal for Cabrera, not his career year.
  • Buster Posey is back, and that’s huge. Is he 100%? He seems fairly close to it in spring training. There have been no issues, at least. If Posey can return to 2010 form, it’s a huge boost. Even if he’s only mostly back to that level, it represents an improvement of what the Giants had behind the plate following his injury.
  • For all of that offensive uncertainty, the rotation is still the rotation. Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner are fantastic, of course. Ryan Vogelsong is not likely to repeat his shocking 2011, but he should still be above average for a fourth starter. Barry Zito is Barry Zito, but the Giants have been carrying his carcass on their back for so long that they’re used to it by now. This is obviously the team’s strength, and no matter how terrible the lineup is, it’s a rotation that can, almost by itself, keep the Giants in contention.
  • An off-the-field issue that will be simmering all year and spooking Giants fans is the contract status of Matt Cain. He’s a free agent after this season, and he’s going to be an appealing one. The Yankees, Dodgers and other moneyed teams would love to have him, but the Giants really need him.

How are they gonna do?

If everything possible breaks right — Posey is back, Pablo Sandoval maintains his production and avoids a 2010-style backslide, Bruce Bochy figures out how to fit in Belt and Pill and all of those moving parts in an ideal fashion and if Aubrey Huff bounces back to be at least useful — this team can win the division. But that’s a lot of ifs, and if this team’s most likely level of performance comes to pass — great pitching and sharply sub-par offense — it’s a second place team at best.

The umps have dropped their Ian Kinsler protest

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Over the weekend the World Umpires Association — the umpire’s union —  launched a protest in response to what it feels is Major League Baseball’s failure to adequately address the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue. They were specifically upset that Ian Kinsler didn’t get suspended for his remarks in which he said that Angel Hernandez should get out of the umpiring business because he’s terrible. Apparently to umpires truth is no defense. In any event, they wore white wristbands Saturday night as a sign of solidarity or whatever.

Now that’s over, it seems. At least for the time being. The Association released this statement yesterday afternoon:

“Today, WUA members agreed to the Commissioner’s proposal to meet with the Union’s Governing Board to discuss the concerns on which our white wristband protest is based. We appreciate the Commissioner’s willingness to engage seriously on verbal attacks and other important issues that must be addressed. To demonstrate our good faith, MLB Umpires will remove the protest white wristbands pending the requested meeting.”

As many noted over the weekend — most notably Emma Span of Sports Illustrated — this protest was, at best, tone deaf. While officials are, obviously, due proper respect, a player jawing at an umpire is neither unprecedented nor very serious compared to, well, almost anything that goes on in the game or in society. At a time when people are literally taking to the streets to protest white supremacy, Neo-Nazis and the KKK, asking folks to spare thoughts for some people who sometimes have to take guff over ball and strike calls is not exactly a cause that is going to draw a ton of sympathy. And that’s before you address the fact that the umpires are not innocent when it comes to stoking the animosity between themselves and the players.

I wouldn’t expect to hear too much more out of this other than, perhaps, a relatively non-committal statement from Major League Baseball and a relatively detail-free declaration of victory by the umpires after their meeting.

 

Minor league teams prepare for a “total eclipse of the park”

Salem Volcanoes
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The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes are a class-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. Today, the path of totality of the big solar eclipse we’re not supposed to look at will pass right through the ballpark in which they play. What’s better: the Volcanoes are playing a game against the Hillsboro Hops as it happens.

This was by design: the team’s owner requested this home game when the schedule was made up two years ago specifically to market the heck out of the eclipse. They’re starting the game at 9:30 this morning, Pacific time, in order to maximize the fun. Spectators will receive commemorative eclipse safety glasses to wear. The game will be delayed when the eclipse hits and a NASA scientist named Noah Petro, who is from the area, will talk to the crowd about what is going on.

Salem-Keizer isn’t the only minor league game affected, by the way. There are six games in all which will feature a “total eclipse of the park.” Turn around, bright eyes.

There are no home MLB games going on in the path of totality, but MLB has put together a helpful guide in order to maximize your baseball and eclipse pleasure. If you line up some good beer with that you’l have your very own national pastime syzygy.