12/31/12 10:00 AM ET
Freak, Panda, Romo among Giants' 2013 concerns
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
Midway through another offseason following a championship, the Giants have again elected to avoid personnel turnover. They have 21 of the 25 members of the 2012 postseason roster under contractual control. Though the rival Los Angeles Dodgers have upgraded their pitching staff and are widely considered to be the NL West favorites, the Giants believe that they don't need to tinker with the squad that won the division and six consecutive elimination games in the postseason before sweeping Detroit in the World Series.Complacency, manager Bruce Bochy said, shouldn't be an issue. "Success is never final," Bochy said. "You've got to do it over and over again. We know we have our work cut out for us, but hopefully our motivation is to go out and make new memories." To that end, Angel Pagan, who signed a four-year, $40 million deal, vowed to continue his diligent training. After reaching a three-year, $20 million accord, Marco Scutaro recalled when skeptics thought he'd never stick in the big leagues -- implying that he intends to keep proving people wrong. Others wonder whether Buster Posey can come close to duplicating the production that helped make him the NL's reigning Most Valuable Player (.336, 24 home runs, 103 RBIs). Given that 2012 was essentially Posey's first full Major League season, the notion of placing limits upon his performance is short-sighted. Serious pitching issues exist -- Tim Lincecum's attempt to regain his winning form, Barry Zito's bid to sustain his 2012 success, Sergio Romo's continuing transition to a possible full-time closer's role -- but none of these appears to be a crisis. Here's a look at 10 questions hovering over the Giants as 2013 begins: 1. Can Lincecum thrive again?
Only a fool would write off Lincecum, who has overcome skepticism and the challenge of being undersized throughout his life in competitive sports. His postseason relief performances last October were truly inspiring. Moreover, they proved that Lincecum's arm still has plenty of life, though his fastball may never consistently reach or exceed its former velocity. Should Lincecum remain mentally focused -- and he owes it to himself to do so, given his eligibility for free agency after the season -- being a winning pitcher again is certainly within his grasp. 2. Is the Panda in shape?
One prominent member of the Giants organization saw a television clip of Pablo Sandoval at a 49ers game and suggested that the third baseman should have been wearing shoulder pads. Such remarks will cease to be humorous in February, when Sandoval reports for Spring Training. The Giants must pray that their always-thick slugger has enough mobility to function defensively and run the bases adequately. Sandoval's desire to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic just might prompt him to stay in decent shape. And if he sustains the level of performance that earned him the World Series MVP Award, NL pitchers will run for cover. 3. Can Romo close consistently?
Assuming the Giants don't re-sign Brian Wilson, they'll likely begin the season with Romo as their bullpen ace. After converting 14 of 15 regular-season save opportunities, Romo actually improved in the postseason, yielding one run in 10 2/3 innings spanning 10 outings and recording saves in three of San Francisco's World Series triumphs. That postseason experience surely prepared Romo to serve as a full-time closer, though his tendency to sustain nagging aches and pains might prevent him from becoming an 80-game workhorse. 4. How's life at the top?
Pagan reached career highs in runs (95), doubles (38) and triples (15); Scutaro recorded personal bests in batting average (.306) and RBIs (74). As a formidable 1-2 tandem in the batting order, they contributed greatly to the 118 first-inning runs San Francisco scored last year -- by far its most in any inning. Given the Giants' 67-22 regular-season record when they scored first, they'll need Pagan and Scutaro to approach their 2012 production to maintain their early edge on opponents. 5. What does Posey do for an encore?
All Posey needs to do is stay healthy -- though anyone who recalls seeing him claw the dirt in sheer agony after Scott Cousins plowed into him will never take his presence in the lineup for granted. If Sandoval bats third and hits proficiently in front of Posey, the Giants catcher should receive more pitches to hit and thus will have additional chances to connect with that swing, which is one of the prettiest any recent right-handed batter has displayed. 6. Was Zito for real?
Zito benefited from ample run support as the Giants won his final 14 starts. His 3.92 ERA in the 11 regular-season starts during that stretch indicated that he wasn't dominating opponents. Still, the Zito who pitched in previous years with the Giants might have found a way to cough up at least a few of these games. And his 7 2/3-inning effort in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series at St. Louis helped swing the postseason in the Giants' favor. At the very least, Zito is performing with more confidence than he ever has in a Giants uniform. That alone should sustain him. 7. Can Hunter Pence produce?
Not everybody had a career year for the Giants in 2012. Though Pence collected 45 RBIs in 59 games after the Giants acquired him from Philadelphia at the Trade Deadline, he hit only .219 with seven home runs. It's a testament to Pence's offensive prowess and mastery of situational hitting that he drove in as many runs as he did. Obviously, the Giants would like to see Pence come closer to reaching his career batting average of .285. 8. What's happening in left field?
Though nothing's etched in Sharpie on Bochy's lineup card, it's easy to envision a platoon developing. Left-handed-batting Gregor Blanco would receive most of the playing time, while switch-hitting Andres Torres, who compiled a .286 average against left-handers last year with the Mets, would play against left-handed starters. Considering the streaky tendencies of both veterans, it's also conceivable that Bochy will ride the hot hand, if either Blanco or Torres is hitting well, until the player's performance dips. 9. Is Madison Bumgarner OK?
Common sense dictates that Bumgarner will regain his full sharpness and velocity with an offseason of rest, even a shortened offseason such as this one. At 23, Bumgarner's still adjusting to increased workloads. The left-hander worked a career-high 223 1/3 innings last year. His seven-inning two-hitter against Detroit in the Giants' 2-0 victory in Game 2 of the World Series didn't silence skeptics, because he pitched on 10 days' rest. Still, it proved that nothing was egregiously wrong with Bumgarner. 10. What's Brandon Belt's career path?
Who knows? Is Belt another Mark Grace -- somebody who hits for a decent average and plays solid defense but won't provide much power? Is he somebody with those same attributes but with a little more pop, like Will Clark? Since Belt will turn only 25 next April 20, the best thing to do is to let him define himself as a ballplayer. That will be easier if the veterans surrounding him produce capably and don't force him to shoulder an undue portion of the offensive burden prematurely.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.