01/30/2003 6:01 pm ET
Giants Spring Training preview
New-look Giants hope to defend NL crown
By Chris Shuttlesworth / MLB.com
Spring Training rundown
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Less than three weeks before pitchers and catchers were due to report to Spring Training, the Giants were preparing to arrive in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a head-scratching puzzle to solve.
General manager Brian Sabean, faced with the task of reshaping the team that came within six outs of winning the World Series, had indeed assembled a remarkable collection of shiny new parts, but how those pieces fit together would be quite a challenge for new manager Felipe Alou.
But on Jan. 28, almost everything clicked into place when Jose Cruz Jr. signed a deal to be the team's right fielder. Now the biggest challenge facing the Giants and their fans may be learning everyone's name since Spring Training jerseys only have numbers on the back.
Programs should be a hot item at Scottsdale Stadium, as half of the San Francisco starting lineup will be new. Second baseman Ray Durham, third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, center fielder Marquis Grissom and Cruz will take the place of Jeff Kent, David Bell, Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders, while Damian Moss replaces Russ Ortiz in the starting rotation and infielder Neifi Perez will take over Ramon Martinez's utility role.
"Even though over half the team's names and faces have changed, it's pretty amazing the quality we've been able to add as well as the quantity," said Sabean, who still needs to trim a few million dollars off the payroll before Opening Day.
"In my mind, as we're constituted going into Spring Training, we've got a team that's going to compete for a playoff spot."
After suffering through years of severe financial restraints as skipper of the Expos, Alou has made no secret of how much he's relished getting new players. Picking up Cruz finalized his starting lineup, and he can now focus on adjusting to his new surroundings, both in Arizona and in San Francisco.
"It was very obvious to Brian and to Peter that I wanted another player," said Alou. "The Giants lost four players and I felt we were short. I'm very thankful the club went out of their way and got me this guy. I believe we're ready to do war with anybody."
Well, they won't quite be ready until Alou figures out a batting order, his other big challenge heading into Spring Training. The only thing that's certain is that Durham will lead off and Barry Bonds will be somewhere in the heart of the order, hoping to see some pitches to hit.
"Our job is to offer [the manager] as many quality players and as many choices and as much flexibility [as we can], and then within that context, it's up to him to mix and match, either on an everyday basis or an as-needed basis to react to pitching matchups or even injuries," said Sabean. "That's always a work in progress; there's not many teams in baseball that use a set lineup."
Fans coming to Scottsdale will not only have to get used to the new faces, they'll also have to adjust to a new style of baseball. Built around sluggers the last few seasons, when the team was at or near the top of the league in homers, the Giants instead will emphasize little ball -- getting on base, taking the extra base, advancing runners and driving them home with timely hits that don't necessarily go over the fence.
"Felipe's style is an aggressive one and a little offbeat," said Sabean. "He's not going to wait to hit into the double play, potentially, or wait for the three-run homer. We've got some guys throughout the lineup who can hit home runs but we really only have one bona fide home run hitter [Bonds]. That's not a bad thing when those other guys are going to be on base or that they can get base hits.
"This is going to be a base-hit team. This is going to be a team that I think will do damage because of that."
The new acquisitions share many traits, including the ability to get on base, speed, solid defense and RBI potential. Sabean said that wasn't the result of a concerted effort, but more the result of how things fell into place as players like Bell and Kent left and the team looked to fill certain priorities.
"I think we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be thankful for," he said. "We've brought in baseball players that are starving to either play in a winning situation and/or prove to baseball that they can make a difference on a ballclub like ours, and that's a very positive and powerful influence."
Chris Shuttlesworth is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.