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2013 Preview: San Francisco Giants


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 2013 season. Up next: The World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Can the Giants hold off the Dodgers in the National League West?

Fresh off a magical run which led to their second World Series title in the past three seasons, the Giants have mostly kept the band together. Giants general manager Brian Sabean pulled it off by retaining three key contributors from the 2012 team. Marco Scutaro, who batted .362 after coming over from the Rockies and played the role of hero during the postseason, is back on a three-year, $20 million contract. Angel Pagan, who thrived in his first season with the club, was re-signed for four years and $40 million. Jeremy Affeldt, who owns a 2.73 ERA over four seasons with the Giants, was brought back on a three-year, $18 million contract.

It’s a little much to ask Scutaro to replicate what he did down the stretch last season, as it was fueled by a .366 batting average on balls in play. He’s also 37 years old and has dealt with injuries in recent seasons. Hunter Pence batted just .219 with seven home runs in 59 games after coming over from the Phillies last season, so the Giants need him to bounce back in his walk year. 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey is the best bet in the lineup, but he plays the most demanding position in the sport. It would be nice if Pablo Sandoval managed to play a full season while staying in the Giants’ good graces from a conditioning perspective.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner have the potential to be one of the best 1-2 combos in the game, but getting a rebound season out of Tim Lincecum would provide a huge boost to the starting rotation. His 5.18 ERA last season was fourth-highest among qualified starters while his walk rate has jumped from 2.7 BB/9 to 4.4 BB/9 since 2009. The good news is that the strikeouts were still there last year. While Lincecum has received plenty of attention this spring for his new haircut, he’s hoping that an offseason strength and conditioning program will pay dividends on the mound. Don’t rule it out. He pitches in a great home park to facilitate a rebound.

It’s a little odd to see a team which won the World Series be overshadowed by a division rival, but that’s exactly what happened this winter with the high-spending Dodgers. On paper, they are a serious threat to take the division. But we have seen spending sprees backfire in baseball before, so it’s hardly a guarantee of success. Still, the margin for error figures to be smaller than last year, so Bruce Bochy’s squad needs a lot of things to go right to have a chance at a repeat.

What else is going on? 

  • With Brian Wilson out of the picture, the Giants are set to give Sergio Romo a chance at the closer role. The 30-year-old right-hander boasts a brilliant 2.20 ERA for his career and was dominant down the stretch last year and during the postseason, so it’s hard to find a more deserving candidate. However, the Giants have always been extra careful about his workload because he relies so heavily on his knockout slider. Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Affeldt also figure to get save chances.
  • The Giants never considered bringing Melky Cabrera back following his 50-game suspension for synthetic testosterone, so they are hoping that a combination of Gregor Blanco and a returning Andres Torres will be able to hold things down in left field. Defense shouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t the most inspiring combination offensively. If there’s a spot where the Giants could look for an upgrade during the season, this is it.
  • Barry Zito is entering the final guaranteed year of his infamous seven-year, $126 million contract, as the Giants can buy out his 2014 option for $7 million. With a 58-69 record and a 4.47 ERA over six seasons with the club, there’s no disputing that he is one of the biggest free agent busts of all-time. But his surprising postseason heroics have at least assured him of a special place in franchise history.
  • Could this be the year that Brandon Belt breaks out? The 24-year-old has shown good patience and a penchant for spraying line drives, but he has just 16 home runs over his first 681 plate appearances in the majors. That’s quite a contrast to what he did in the minor leagues. The Giants will have to hope that his strong performance down the stretch last year and hot hitting this spring is a harbinger for things to come.

Prediction: It will be close, but I have the Giants repeating as the NL West winners.

The Tigers will listen to trade offers on anybody

Miguel Cabrera
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Earlier this week Tigers GM Al Avila said that his club was going to get “lean” and “efficient” and that their days of spending big money are over. Later in the week Avila said that they would not likely offer a long term contract to outfielder J.D. Martinez, who will become a free agent after the 2017 season.

None of those comments necessarily suggested that the Tigers would be conducting a fire sale or anything, and it’s certainly possible to get leaner while still competing. One would assume that the Tigers could cut fat in the middle but still head into battle with their superstars. But that may not be the plan. Buster Olney:

. . . the message being received from the rest of the industry is a dramatic shift for one of baseball’s oldest franchises: They will listen to trade offers on everybody.

Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander. Ian Kinsler.


Trading those guys would be a pretty big deal. In both senses of the term.

It would take a blockbuster-sized deal to move such players. Verlander is owed $28 million a year for the next three seasons and has a vesting option for 2020 at $22 million. Cabrera just finished the first year of an eight-year, $248 million deal that will be paying him more than $30 million a year between 2018 and 2023, with an $8 million buyout for 2024. And that’s before the fact that both Verlander and Cabrera are 10/5 guys with full no-trade protection if they choose to exercise it. Beyond that Kinsler is a relative bargain at $11 million in 2017 and a $10 million club option for 2018 with a $5 million buyout. Victor Martinez and Justin Upton are hanging around too.

But for as big a trade would have to be if any one of those guys were dealt, it’d be a bigger deal in terms of team philosophy and direction. Cabrera has confirmed his Hall of Fame credentials in his nine years in Detroit. He’s the best player to wear the English D since Al Kaline and has been the biggest star in the organization for most of a generation. Verlander is nearly as important and nearly as famous. I don’t think it’s likely the Tigers will move either of them because the logistics of such deals would be mind-boggling, but even entertaining deals for these guys would alter the course of the franchise for years and years to come. It happens to every franchise eventually, but I don’t think the Tigers fan base is prepared for it to happen to them yet.

Still: the free agent market is thinner that it has been at any time in years and years. Cabrera and Verlander, if they could be had, would be the biggest splashes any team looking to improve could possibly acquire. Kinselr would be a big get for anyone as well. Al Avila knows that. Even if he’s not ready to part with his superstars, he probably owes it to his organization to at least listen.


The World Series broadcast schedule is announced

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Major League Baseball just announced the broadcast schedule for both Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) of the NLCS and the entire World Series.

There are no surprises here. The World Series games are all on Fox. The pregame show starts at 7:30 and the games themselves start just after 8pm Eastern Daylight Time, regardless of whether it’s Chicago or Los Angeles representing the National League. For some reason Game five of the World Series, scheduled a week from Sunday if it comes to pass, starts seven minutes later than all of the other games. Maybe something super exciting will happen then.