No Giant need for splashy moves
03/31/2013 12:00 AM
10/08/2014 10:41 AM
By all appearances, especially when seen through the prism of their rivals' activity to the south, the Giants were largely content to stand pat this winter in the aftermath of their second World Series championship in three seasons.
They brought back 21 of 25 players from their World Series roster, the exceptions being role players. They addressed needs in center field, the bullpen and at second base by re-signing their own free agents.
The absence of splashy additions might have left some wondering if the Giants could have done more to gird for their latest title defense – particularly while around the National League West, the Dodgers took on baseball's highest payroll and the Diamondbacks, if more quietly, made a flurry of offseason moves.
Bobby Evans, the Giants' assistant general manager, sees it differently.
"I think what's interesting about this team is this team wasn't our team last year until the last two months of the season," Evans said during spring training.
"Part of getting better for us was being able to keep a very successful team that had a very successful second half, to keep them together and hope we can improve on what we did last year by being together all year. It's a special group. But where we get better is we're able to see what they do for a full season."
Indeed, it's not easy to pinpoint an exact moment when the Giants of 2012 became the team that stormed Comerica Park in late October, chasing two stunning postseason comebacks with an emphatic sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
Possibilities include July 27 (trade for Marco Scutaro), July 31 (trade for Hunter Pence), Aug. 15 (Melky Cabrera suspended) or later that month, when the Giants made Sergio Romo their regular closer. More likely it was a gradual synthesis, and one the Giants saw no need to disturb.
While the Giants' foundation in 2012 remained their pitching (3.68 ERA, fifth in the N.L.), a lineup that ranked 24th in baseball in scoring in the first half went on to tie for the most runs in the N.L. (306) after Aug. 1.
"The at-bats got better, making contact, getting guys in from third," said manager Bruce Bochy. "They became, as we say, more of a professional hitting club, the way we were executing offensively.
"Now, when you have players that made you better as an offense, like Scutaro and Pence the last couple months, and now you have them all year, I think overall we should be a better offensive team."
That's the idea, anyway. Scutaro would be hard-pressed to match his success – he hit .362 with 44 RBIs in 61 games after arriving from Colorado. But while Pence drove in 45 runs down the stretch and proved an effective motivational speaker, the Giants are hoping he'll improve on the .219 average and 20 extra-base hits he posted in 59 games with them.
Angel Pagan was more consistent in the second half, as were Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, both having a full season in the majors to build on. If the Giants stay healthy, Evans said a lineup with Pablo Sandoval, reigning MVP Buster Posey, Pence and Belt in the middle should produce better power numbers than in 2012, when nobody but Posey hit more than 12 homers.
But, he added, it doesn't necessarily have to. The Giants last year became just the fourth team to win the World Series despite hitting the fewest homers in baseball (103), and Evans said he'd "like to see us just drive the ball and play to our strengths."
"We were keeping the line moving every day," said Pagan. "We've got power. We all can hit homers. But at the end of the day we understood where we were. If you have the mentality of a home-run hitter at AT&T Park, you're in trouble."
Rather, the Giants will again try to just score enough runs to support their pitching staff, anchored by a starting rotation in which all five regulars made at least 31 starts in 2012.
That hasn't always been the case in recent years, particularly in 2011, when the Giants allowed the second-fewest runs in baseball but also scored the second-fewest and missed the playoffs after winning the 2010 World Series.
The experience left a few indelible impressions on the current clubhouse.
They will do their best to stay healthy, an imperative personified by Posey, whose season-ending ankle injury crippled the Giants' offense in 2011 and whose full return invigorated them last year.
And having once basked in the long afterglow of a World Series title – the ring ceremony, the flag raising, the Showtime series (not in the picture this time), the White House visit – they feel confident they're better equipped to handle it this time around.
"The taste of 2011, I think a lot of guys still understand that that didn't end the way we wanted it to," said reliever Javier Lopez. "I don't think anybody in here wants that kind of repeat."
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