In signing Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and Jeremy Affeldt to contract extensions, Giants general manager Brian Sabean said the Giants have another “window of opportunity,” as they had in the Barry Bonds era.
Let’s hope he does a better job of filling in around the edges than he did with Bonds.
There was nothing wrong with the strategy of building around Bonds, but Sabean made mistake after mistake in the free agency market, while ignoring the option of developing hitters in the farm system. As a result, pitchers felt confident that they could intentionally walk Bonds because the Giants had nobody else who could cause much damage.
Lately, the strategy has been to build around pitching. The Giants will have four starters for at least three years: Tim Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and (unfortunately) Barry Zito.
They’ll be even stronger if Madison Bumgarner develops enough to push Zito back to No. 5 in the rotation. Bumgarner struggled in the spring and was sent down for further development in the minors. His fastball velocity, once in the low 90s, has declined to 88-89 mph.
Left-handers throwing no faster than that have been effective — Zito has never thrown higher, and he won an AL Cy Young early in his career — but Bumgarner’s reputation was as more of a power pitcher. So, we’ll have to wait and see.
It was especially important to lock up Cain, because he and Lincecum are a powerful 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. I believe Cain has a good chance to have a better career, despite the consecutive NL Cy Young awards for Lincecum.
Cain is a powerfully built power pitcher who throws with a seemingly effortless motion. Lincecum is more in the mold of Tim Hudson and Pedro Martinez, slighter built pitchers who put a lot of strain on their bodies. Both Hudson and Martinez have had excellent careers, but both have also had significant health issues.
Pitching by itself is only part of the battle. Good pitchers require good defensive support behind them, and the Giants do not shape up as a good defensive team. There are two trouble spots in the infield, at shortstop with Edgar Renteria and first base with the newly acquired Aubrey Huff.
Though Renteria claims to be better because he’s healthier, his lack of range showed early last year before he was injured, and it’s hard to see how another year of age will help. Huff claims he’s a decent defensive first baseman, but his reputation in baseball is as a butcher defensively. Is everybody else wrong?
The outfield is also a question mark. Nate Schierholtz is an excellent defensive right fielder with a strong arm, but he’s struggled this spring. John Bowker has had a good spring, but it’s questionable whether he could play the difficult right field at AT&T Park. Aaron Rowand is on the decline in center. Mark DeRosa is an infielder trying to play left field.
And we haven’t even talked about the Giants’ hitting, which seems only marginally improved from last year.
The Giants are in a weak division, so perhaps pitching alone will be enough. It had better be. Don’t expect any miracles from Sabean.