The Giants say they want to get younger, and the key battles to watch this spring are at second base and left field. Manager Bruce Bochy says there will be open competition at both positions. If Kevin Frandsen is the opening-day second baseman and one of the young outfielders is starting in left field, this will indeed be a new beginning. If Ray Durham is the second baseman and Dave Roberts is the left fielder, it will be the same old Giants — emphasis on old.
I’m betting on Durham and Roberts.
The Giants are scared, frankly, because of the example of the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians put together a strong team before they moved into their new park, Jacobs Field (now known as Progressive Field). The Indians finished first in their division in six of their first seven full seasons at Jacobs Field (their first was the strike-shortened season in 1994). In the last six of those seasons, the Indians topped 3 million in attendance, going close to 3.5 million in two seasons.
The Giants also put together a strong team — taking some financial losses in their last seasons at Candlestick — as they came into their new park, winning from 91 to 100 games in each of their first five seasons, and nearly winning the World Series in 2002. Attendance has been over 3 million in each of their eight seasons in their new park.
The Indians fell off competitively after their first seven seasons in Jacobs Field. And so did their attendance, dropping to roughly half their peak totals in 2003 and ’04.
That’s the Cleveland example the Giants do not want to follow.
So far, they have not, though the team has declined and was out of the NL West race last year before the season’s midpoint. But last year, they hosted the All-Star Game, which was tied into season tickets, and they had Barry Bonds chasing the all-time home run record.
This year, they have neither. And, you’d better believe, they’re nervous.
Promotionally, they’re selling history, with a 50th anniversary campaign.
On the field, they’re selling pitching — they should have a strong starting rotation, anchored by the wunderkinds, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and a team that will run more than any Giants team in years.
What they won’t have is much hitting and they won’t be a young team, either. They re-signed shortstop Omar Vizquel, 41, in April because they had no shortstop prospects in their system higher than Class A. Rich Aurilia, 36, is currently the leading candidate at third.
Under Brian Sabean’s direction, the Giants have emphasized pitching in their farm system and they’ve done well with that. Sabean has even used minor-league pitchers in trades, as he did with perhaps his best trade, for Jason Schmidt.
But the last drafted position player who became a starter is Bill Mueller. When the Giants have brought up position players, they’ve had no patience with them. Who knows how good Todd Linden might have been if he’d been given an extended shot.
The Giants have done a great job of selling the ballpark experience. I believe the fans would stick with them if they’d give their younger players a good shot. But it’s not my money. Whatever they say publicly, the Giants do not believe that.
And that’s why I think Durham and Roberts will be in the opening-day lineup.