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02/11/10 10:00 AM EST
Giants to test offensive options in spring
Bochy will be 'open-minded' to try to increase production
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- If the Giants were to adopt a slogan for the spring, "We'll try anything" would be a decent choice. The Giants' top priority as they head for their Scottsdale, Ariz., spring base is to improve the offense that ranked 13th in the National League in runs scored and last in the Majors in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Manager Bruce Bochy indicated that he'll consider multiple alternatives as he searches for a lineup that can score consistently. "It's fair to say we're going to be open-minded," Bochy said. "We're going to look at all the options."
Given the quality of their starting rotation, which features two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, 2009 All-Star selection Matt Cain, former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito and no-hit author Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants expect to sustain the renaissance they enjoyed last year, when they improved from 72 to 88 wins. But they also know that upgrading their offense is essential if they're to capitalize upon their superior pitching. The Giants were 66-15 when scoring at least four runs last year, which reflected not only their pitching prowess but also their inability to generate a modicum of offense for half the season. Unable to acquire an impact hitter during the offseason, the Giants tried to deepen their offensive potential by adding free agents Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff, both accomplished veterans. They also retained two other free agents -- Freddy Sanchez, the 2006 NL batting champion with Pittsburgh, and Juan Uribe, who galvanized the offense late last season. "Can you make the team better than it was last Opening Day? Can you make the team better than it was when the season ended? I think we've done that," said Giants general manager Brian Sabean, asking and answering the rhetorical questions that challenge all club executives. "It's still going to have to play out on the field." Though a projected lineup already has taken shape, the Giants' needs could prompt them to think creatively. For instance, Aaron Rowand is the leading candidate to secure the leadoff spot. Rowand thrived briefly last year during a midsummer stint at the top of the order. But if Bochy wants more speed at the top of a ponderous-looking batting order, he might try right fielder Nate Schierholtz, who's somewhat more mobile, at leadoff. Bochy also can seize upon his players' versatility. Uribe looks like the leading candidate to open the season at second base while Freddy Sanchez mends his surgically repaired left shoulder. But the Giants also could keep Uribe in his utility role, start DeRosa at second base instead of left field and create competition at the latter spot among another group of players who could bat leadoff or at least add speed to the lineup -- Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres or Fred Lewis. Or, if the Giants seek an infusion of power, they could take a longer look at another left-field candidate: John Bowker, who batted .342 with a .596 slugging percentage at Triple-A Fresno last year. There's always room for a surprise. Emmanuel Burriss -- who was last year's Opening Day second baseman, though that's easy to forget -- has recovered from his broken left toe. Kevin Frandsen, who hit .337 with a .907 OPS in 21 games at second base for Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League, also provides useful depth. Bochy said that he intends to try Burriss and Frandsen around the infield in a search for the right fit. One of the most closely watched Giants this spring will be catcher Buster Posey, the organization's top position-player prospect. Bengie Molina's unexpected return as a free agent denied Posey a starting berth -- for now -- but not necessarily a spot on the Opening Day roster. Though Eli Whiteside finished last season as San Francisco's backup catcher, Posey could claim that role with a strong spring. Bochy said that playing two or three times a week as Molina's backup would not retard Posey's development. Moreover, Bochy hinted that the Giants might maximize Posey's presence by giving him some Cactus League activity as an infielder. Posey, who turns 23 on March 27, played shortstop into his sophomore year at Florida State University and once manned all nine positions in a single game. Said Bochy, "We're not going to get set in our minds what we're going to do with Buster. We're going to stay open-minded with him, too." Emphasizing that the possibility of trying Posey in the infield doesn't portend a permanent shift from catcher, Bochy added, "It's just something to keep our flexibility." Bochy acknowledged that he, too, might have to remain flexible, particularly in tailoring his game strategy to fit his personnel. "We may not be as fast as we were last year. I understand that. But that doesn't mean you don't do things to create runs," he said, citing putting runners in motion and bunting more frequently. Sabean admitted that the Giants might be on the advanced end of the high-maintenance spectrum. "Realistically, you're going to have to do some things with this ballclub," Sabean said. "Because you are going to have to pinch-run. You are going to have to play some late-inning defense. But in a lot of ways that gets everybody more involved from day one. You get everybody into the action and they're staying ready, and if somebody falters or gets injured, they're more likely to step up." The Giants will spend the next month and a half determining how all their moving parts fit.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.