Baseball circumstances and their own lack of fiscal restraint have caused the Giants to take the path they should have taken years ago: going with players and pitchers from their farm system.
Their early success in what was then Pacific Bell Park misled the Giants because it was a team built around Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. Bonds was such a force that he could have hit the ball out of the Grand Canyon and Kent had developed into a power hitter from the right side.
When Kent left, the Giants never really replaced him. They leaned on Bonds, but when they couldn’t get Kent-type hitters around him, opposing teams decided the best way to neutralize Bonds was to walk him intentionally.
In fact, the best way for the Giants to win in their home park is with pitching, defense and good situational hitting. Belatedly, they turned to their farm system for the first commodity and they’ve done well there, but that isn’t quite enough yet to overcome the mistakes of the past.
There are three bad mistakes on the current roster: Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria.
Zito is on the fourth year of what was the biggest contract ever signed by a free-agent pitcher. Last year was his best season in San Francisco, but only good enough for him to be the No. 3 starter, after Randy Johnson went down, which is hardly what you expect from a pitcher with that kind of contract.
Rowand is on the third year of a five-year, $60 million contract, and has been such a disappointment the Giants are looking for a center fielder in free agency.
Edgar Renteria is on the second year of a two-year $18.5 million contract and is nothing like the great player he was in his prime, has no range in the field and a batting average which has slipped into the .250 range.
With those contracts (Zito’s is backloaded), and Tim Lincecum about to get a huge raise, the Giants can only afford second-tier free agents who will not make a big impact.
In the short run, that means the 2009 aborted playoff run is probably as close as the Giants will get for the next two years.
Long term, the picture is brighter. The young pitching is solid, Pablo Sandoval is going to be a great hitter, Buster Posey has great potential and they have some interesting choices in young outfielders Eugenio Velez, Nate Schierholtz and John Bowker, who might be a long-term candidate at first.
They’ll need a shortstop. They’re afraid Emmanuel Burriss will never be a good major league hitter and they may be right, but he’s much better defensively than Renteria. Freddy Sanchez is a short-time fix at second, but he’s on the decline and injury-prone.
Short term, they really need to work on situational hitting because they’ve got a bunch of hackers. Carney Lansford was made the scapegoat but he tried to teach it. Manager Bruce Bochy should bench players who don’t get the message. That doesn’t include Sandoval, who is a bad-ball hitter. The rest are just bad-ball swingers. Then, he can emphasize the running game, hit-and-runs and steals.
The good news is that the Giants know what they have to do: Build on their strong pitching, improve the defense, get good hitters who don’t have to be power guys.
Just don’t expect miracles in 2010.