In an era when teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels are trying to buy success, the Giants have partially returned to an earlier era, developing stars from their farm system.
No team can do what successful teams did earlier, building champions with entirely homegrown talent, as the Giants and Dodgers did in the ’60s, when teams controlled players — and their salaries. The last team to do anything similar was, oddly, the New York Yankees, who rode a rich crop from their farm system to three straight World Series titles (1998-2000). Since then, the Yankees have gone back to trying to buy success, which hasn’t worked as well.
The Giants are trying to build around a core of players from their system, filling in with free agents, when necessary. They’ve signed Buster Posey to a nine-year contract, following the signing last year of Matt Cain to a six-year deal.
They have other farm system players who are critical to them, including Pablo Sandoval at third, Brandon Crawford at shortstop and Brandon Belt at first base. They don’t have to make any immediate decisions on any of them. The hardest probably will be on Sandoval, who may simply gain too much weight to be the player he should be.
Meanwhile, they’re making better decisions on free agents. Angel Pagan was an excellent addition — and re-signing in the offseason. Hunter Pence got a one-year contract before he’s a free agent, and the Giants can make a decision then. No more Aaron Rowands, who was a mistake from Day 1. No more parade of overage shortstops who were once great, but had no range left in the field.
The next tough decision will be on Tim Lincecum, who is in the second year of a two-year contract which pays him roughly $20 million a year. Nobody quite knows what to make of the current Lincecum, probably including Lincecum himself. Last year was mostly a disaster, though he had some great relief appearances in the postseason.
His first start this year, Wednesday night against the Dodgers, was a mixture of good and horrible. He didn’t give up an earned run in five innings, but he also walked seven and threw 91 pitches.
My guess is that Lincecum will wind up in the bullpen. He could be a great closer with his array of pitches, but he doesn’t seem to have enough left with his fastball to be a consistent winner as a starting pitcher. That change won’t come this year because the Giants need him in the rotation, but he may slide to the end of it. And this will probably be his last year in a Giants uniform.
The great advantage teams built on their farm systems had in a previous era was that players bonded as they came through the system. That’s no longer possible but the Giants come closer to that model than most teams. It was clear last fall that the Giants had come together as a team while the Dodgers played like a group of individuals who had just been introduced. That’s still true, and that’s why I think the Giants will win the NL West again this year.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.